Growing concerns of bullying among teens and young adults are turning up with greater frequency in Miami-Dade’s courts, according to Judge Michelle Alvarez Barakat, one of 17 jurists in the County Court Criminal Division.
“Domestic violence is responsible for nearly all civil injunctions issued today,” said the mother of two, elected in 2012 to begin serving as as a County Judge in January 2013, following a 14-year law career.
Judge Barakat, who daily hears minor criminal cases and traffic matters at the South Dade Justice Center, 10710 SW 211 St., told of her efforts to avoid sentencing minors with a first-time misdemeanor offense by offering options within her legal role. They may even include composing an essay.
“I’ve often given a first-time offender the chance to write a 250-word essay instead of having a court record but they must be first-time offenders and not have committed a second offense within 60 days of providing what they have written,” she explained.
Some cases result from posting of photos on the Internet, she said, describing an instance of a broken relationship in which a young male sought revenge by exhibiting photos of a former girlfriend.
“Incidents like these can quickly grow out of proportion,” she advised a West Kendall audience at a Citizens Advisory Committee meeting on Feb. 24.
“They often cause embarrassment and the victim seeks retribution. Young people don’t realize how they are making a serious mistake by taking chances with exposure on the Internet, unaware of the consequences that may occur,” she said.
“We try to emphasize how starting off with a conviction on their record will follow them throughout their lives, affecting their future ability to obtain a tuition scholarship, a job or even a license in some professions.”
A native Miamian of Cuban heritage, Judge Barakat is a member of the Cuban Bar Association and, while dedicated to ensuring equal treatment under the law, she tries to rule with a passion for understanding personal circumstances.
“In a city like Miami, with many different cultures and languages, those new to our country often wait before calling police. In their former homes, the police were not looked up as someone who could help people with domestic issues,” she noted.
A school board member at Granada Day School, Judge Barakat is an active member with Of His House Orphanage (aiding abused children) in Miami Gardens, Big City Moutaineers and teaches Sunday school at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables.