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9703: Dade gets first Haitian judge (fwd)

From: leonie hermantin <lhermantin@hotmail.com>

Published Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Dade gets first Haitian judge; a community feels pride, joy

An old professor once told Fred Seraphin, ``Take your job seriously, but not 

On Tuesday, Seraphin couldn't help remembering those words as the former 
assistant public defender became the first Haitian-American judge in 
Miami-Dade County.

``I try not to make a big deal out of this,'' said Seraphin, 43, who was 
sworn in Tuesday as a Miami-Dade County Court judge for the 11th Judicial 
Circuit. ``I look at this for what it is, a judgeship to serve and to 
provide justice and be fair.''

But in Miami's Haitian community, Seraphin's honor is theirs to share.

``This is a tremendous milestone,'' said Gepsie Metellus, a Haitian 
community activist and executive director of Sant La Haitian Neighborhood 
Center. ``It's a recognition of our present existence.''


In appointing Seraphin to the bench last month, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush made 
him part of an elite group of Haitian Americans who are leaving their mark 
on South Florida's political landscape by winning public office. They 
include a state legislator, the mayor of North Miami and council members in 
North Miami and El Portal.

That Seraphin was appointed by Bush, who hailed him for his patience, 
compassion and experience, was a recognition that even Tallahassee is taking 
note of the community, leaders say.

``When you consider who makes up the majority population in Miami-Dade 
County, it's very interesting these kinds of milestones have been set right 
here,'' Metellus said. ``It seems like just yesterday we were arriving by 
boat and people were asking, `Where the hell is Haiti?' ''

Many hope it's just the beginning.

``Fred Seraphin being appointed to the bench is a step forward, a step in 
the right direction, and I hope there will be many many more to follow so 
the Haitian community can be represented at all the levels here in the 
county,'' said the Rev. Jean Pierre, a priest at St. James Catholic Church 
in North Miami, where Seraphin worships. ``The Haitian community now is 
coming of age.''


Both Metellus and Pierre were among dozens of Haitian Americans and others 
who turned out Tuesday at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse to witness 
history in the making. Later, they continued the celebration at the Coral 
Gables Country Club, where a private reception was held in Seraphin's honor.

There were hugs, kisses and well-wishing, including greetings from 
Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas, who sent a note via a representative.

Asked how he was feeling, Seraphin responded in Creole that he ``was still 
filled with emotion.''

``I hope the Haitian community will be honored to have me there,'' said the 
father of two, Tatiana, 17, and Andrew, 12. ``And perhaps be a role model to 
a few of our youths.''

Seraphin was only 11 when he moved to Queens, N.Y., from Port-au-Prince. He 
was raised by his mother, Madeline, and never knew his father Franck, a 
journalist, politician, businessman and political opponent of Haitian 
dictator Francois ``Papa Doc'' Duvalier. Franck was murdered when Fred 
Seraphin was barely a year old.

Seraphin attended City College in New York City and Hofstra School of Law. 
He came to Miami to work as a public defender in 1986.

He was in private practice from 1991 to 1995, then returned to the public 
defender's office. His wife, Barbara, is an administrative assistant at 
Barry University.

``His life experience is critical to his ability to sit in judgment on other 
people, since he came from a background where there was no freedom to a 
country with the best justice system in the world,'' said attorney David 
Rothman, who attended the ceremony and spoke on behalf of the Florida Bar.


Seraphin will be be based at the Caleb Center, presiding over small claims, 
landlord-tenant disputes, and traffic and other misdemeanor cases.

Rothman said the governor could not have chosen a better person to fill the 
vacancy left by Judge Kevin M. Emas, who was elevated to the circuit court.

``Everyone I spoke with has talked about him in glowing terms,'' Rothman 
said. ``His common-sense approach, his integrity, his warmth. He is a person 
who you find very easy to like and trust -- perfect qualities for a judge.''

 2001 The Miami Herald and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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