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9225: Victim of injustice takes `tiny step' toward justice (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Victim of injustice takes `tiny step' toward justice
Stephen Van Drake
To understand justice, it helps to know injustice.

Ask Miami-Dade County public defender Fred Seraphin, 43.

Seraphin is one of six lawyers from a field of 47 applicants nominated Sept. 
6 to fill a Miami-Dade county court seat vacated by Kevin Emas, who stepped 
up to circuit court.

If appointed to the bench by Gov. Jeb Bush, Seraphin would be county's first 
Haitian-American judge.

"It's a heartening sign of continued growth of Haitian involvement in 
calling the shots in South Florida, although it's only a tiny step," said 
Bryan Page, chair of the University of Miami's anthropology department.

"A Haitian-American judge would say volumes: Haitians can be incorporated 
into the system  all those messages are there," Page said. As board chair 
of the Center for Haitian Studies, Page said that in the past 10-13 years, 
Haitians in Miami-Dade have become more "economically marginalized."

Seraphin and a handful of others seek to serve as models and mentors to 
change this picture.

Never on the short-list
Seraphin sought a judgeship at least three times before, said Gonzalo R. 
Dorta, chair of the newly constituted, nine-member 11th Circuit Judicial 
Nominating Commission.

But the Democrat-dominated JNC never short-listed him to the governor.

"It's interesting that a Republican-controlled JNC would send this very fine 
practitioner out on the first shot," Dorta said. "But all six candidates are 
equally qualified and there is no priority sequence."

The other nominees are Christienne H. Sherouse, John Schlesinger, Shirlyon 
McWhorter, Madelyn S. Lozano and Susan S. Lerner.

For Seraphin, however, defending the indigent charged with crimes or 
delinquency since 1986 draws on painful injustice that is most personal.

Born in Port-au-Prince, Seraphin was only 1 when dictator Papa Doc Duvalier 
kidnapped and murdered his father, Frank.

"It left a lasting impression on me."

His father was a journalist, politician and businessman, who served in 
Haiti's lower house as a deputy.

"They [Papa Doc's regime] disappeared him," he added.

Then, Papa Doc's son, "Baby Doc" jailed Seraphin's older brother Andre for 
six years in Fort Dilmanche without a trial: "the dungeon of death where 
they sent you to die, not to live," Seraphin said.

Thanks to Amnesty International and U.S. government pressure, Andre and 
other political prisoners were released.

Immigration, injustice
At age 11, Seraphin, his mother, four sisters and two brothers immigrated, 
first living in New York.

And there, he faced the ugly specter of racial profiling and injustice.

Charged with armed robbery during his senior year at New York's City 
College, Seraphin, then a pre-law major, got help from a caring legal aid 

"I was falsely accused and was the only light-skinned man in a highly 
suggestive line up; everyone else was taller and darker than I was," he 
said. "I was the one who stood out."

A crime victim nominated him as the accused.

But thanks to a vigorous defense by a legal aid lawyer, a grand jury 
exonerated him. In 1986, Seraphin earned his law degree from Hofstra 
University on Long Island.

That, too, cut a deep imprint on the young lawyer.

Right out of the shoot, he started working as an assistant Dade County 
public defender. He joined his sister, Maryse Tavernier, who had moved to 

He molded his mission: "People who don't have money deserve the best 
representation possible," Seraphin said. "We are much needed in the justice 
system to protect the U.S. Constitution."

Since 1989, he has defended accused felons at the public defender's office 
at 150 N.W. 12th St. (Jackson Towers).

"It's the one-on-one contact, helping individuals and seeing that justice is 
administered fairly," Seraphin said. Now, he added, he wants to take his 
public service career to a "higher level."

Support network
Others  besides his wife, Barbara; daughter, Tatiana, 17; and son, Andrew, 
12  join in a chorus of support.

"He's an American dream come true," Ringo Cayard said about Seraphin. 
Cayard, executive director of the Miami-based Haitian-American Foundation, a 
non-profit social service agency, added: "He's the last guy you could accuse 
of being arrogant; Fred's a guy who is at peace with himself."

"He is a no-nonsense person who will go with the law," Cayard said. "The 
fact that he is qualified and a minority won't affect his judgment."

"Fred's very balanced in the analysis of any situation and a real advocate 
of tough love: compassionate and fair," said Leonie Hermantin, Cayard's 
predecessor for three years. Seraphin was the first one to urge a mentoring 
program for Haitian boys, she added. "And he's very respectful of women; he 
worships his wife."

Seraphin said he and Barbara are active in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters 
programs. Seraphin also leads 35 young people as head of the altar ministry 
at St. James Catholic Church in North Miami.

Fellow Haitian-American lawyer Yoli Robinson said Seraphin gives 100 percent 
to whatever he does. She knows him as a friend and one of Florida's 30 
Haitian-American attorneys. Robinson, who plans to run against Miami-Dade 
Circuit Judge Celeste Muir in 2002, said Seraphin could make a big 
difference on the bench. She sees Seraphin as another critical mentor and 
model for Haitian youth.

He speaks Creole, cares about people and understands the Haitian culture, 
she said.

"He's a very dedicated person," she said.

E-mail real estate and general assignment writer Stephen Van Drake at 

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