Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Judge gives bird-flipping defendant 30 days in jail: The rest of the story [UPDATED x1]

UPDATED 1x below.

You don't have to travel very far in South Florida to find someone like Penelope Soto. She's the 18 year-old girl who flipped-off a Miami judge this week during an appearance in bond court. The judge, Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, gave her 30 days in jail.

South Beach is full of Penelope Sotos. As a Miami Beach cop I know has told me on more than one occasion, "If rude behavior ever becomes illegal, South Beach will be the world's largest penal colony."

Enter the Miami Herald's Morals Watchdog, columnist Fabiola Santiago.

In a column in today's paper, Fabi calls Soto a "disrespectful, dismissive brat" and "a poster child of a flaky celebrity-worshiping generation."

And Judge Rodriguez-Chomat? “Such a gentleman,” an unnamed "court insider" told Fabi.

Well, that settles that! Kind, sweet, grandfatherly, "gentleman" judge - a model of judicial restraint -  metes out justice to snotty "brat." We know it's true because Fabi said so. Case closed.

Not quite.

In Aug. 1998, the Miami Herald reported:
State Rep. Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat , R-West Dade, is betting voters will overlook his reputation for having a short fuse and a sharp tongue and return him to Tallahassee for a third term representing District 114.
In February [1998] when Florida International University professor Dario Moreno described Miami on national television as "almost the definition of a Third World Banana Republic," Rodriguez-Chomat retaliated by threatening FIU President Mitch Maidique to hurt the university when funding issues came up in Tallahassee if Maidique didn't take a stand against Moreno. Maidique refused and Rodriguez-Chomat was forced to apologize and retract his statement."

In a 2010 Dade County Bar Association judicial poll, Rodriguez-Chomat "was rated unqualified by more than 46 percent of respondents," according to Jose Pagliery, then a Daily Business Review staff writer. Fabi conveniently ignored those juicy tidbits when when crafting her column.

But wait, there's more!

As is sometimes the case, the comments left by readers at the bottom of Herald stories are more informative and balanced than the stories themselves. This is one of those occasions.

Someone who calls himself "skepticinMD," left this comment after reading Fabi's column:
I saw the video and while it is clear the girl is not exactly the model of decorum, it also seems to me the judge was on a bit of a power trip. After setting her bail, he shows a lack of decorum with his dismissive "bye-bye," to which she respectfully replied in the native tongue of much of So. Florida (and evidently, both she and the judge,) "Adios" -- which is much more respectful than the judge's high and mighty "bye-bye." Sure the girl is a bit of a dope, but she also appears to be a druggie -- heavy volumes of Xanax are usually reserved for people with major panic disorders. The doses can make people excessively talkative (like she was) and irritable/impulsive -- especially upon withdrawal.

But that's still no reason for the judge being a thin-skinned bully. But there's a pattern here. When the judge was the [Florida] State Legislature, there's a famous picture of him mixing it up on the floor with another lawmaker when the judge thought the other lawmaker got personal.

It is easy to see this in black and white -- a disrespectful party girl who is used to flirting her way through life, getting her comeuppance. But this bully in a black robe is hardly the model of humanity who should be delivering society's disapprobation. His snickering mockery is simply the flip side of the girl's callow disrespect. The thing is, the judge should know better -- but bullies rarely do. They just seek out more powerful positions. As a judge, his ability to [exert] power over a pretty but bubble-headed party-girl seems, [to Santiago], to be a virtue. When he was on the floor of the legislature engaging in fisticuffs, the other party had the ability to hit back. We should expect better from our robed jurists!

UPDATE:  From the St. Petersburg Times, April 10, 1998:
[Carlos] Valdes said [Jorge] Rodriguez-Chomat had walked over to him and repeatedly called him a jackass.

"By the third or fourth time (he said it), I just said, "You must be looking at yourself in the mirror,' " Valdes recounted. "He grabbed my tie, and I was just trying to keep him away." He said Rodriguez-Chomat also tried to punch him.

TALLAHASSEE, FL. 4/9/98-Reps. Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat, R-Miami, left, and Carlos Valdes, R-Miami, scuffle on the floor of the House of Representatives as Rep. Bruno Barreiro, R-Miami Beach, right, tries to intervene Thursday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. Earlier during debate over the School Readiness Voucher Program bill Valdes pointed out that Rodriguez-Chomat's children attend a private school. Rodriguez-Chomat took exception to the comments and said he felt the statements overly personalized the debate. Photograph by COLIN HACKLEY


  1. Nice research. The judge seemed very spiteful to me. Your research validated my suspicion. Thanks.

  2. I heard about his reputation, but to be honest, it does not affect how I see him with regard to this case. The girl was dead wrong and trying to be cute. She got her just desserts. I only hope that other people who display her same insolence to authority meet with a similar fate.

  3. When drug dealers and murderers are in court, nearly all of them know not to be disrespectful to the judge. The Judge was very clear with his questions to her and she dismissed his directions. He provided opportunities for her to explain herself, i.e. being high, and she continued being disrespectful. Being held in contempt of court is a serious event and has serious consequences. It,s debatable on whether he was extreme in his sentencing because you have to ask yourself how most judges would have responded to her behaviors...I,d have been suprised if she hadn't received any jailtime.

  4. LOL - I suspect that the judge's behavior violated Florida's Judicial Canons - probably a complaint to the Judicial Qualification Commission is in order. I feel fairly sure his peers advised him of such, and therefore the rationale that the very next day ANOTHER judge reduced her bond, placed her in the drug program whereas her drug charges will be dropped, and a few days later the judge threw out the contempt sentence. While the judge may have won the battle, Soto won the war

    1. If the war was getting her to act appropriately when dealing with authority, then the verdict is still out. It is pertinent to note that she was very subdued the next time that she appeared in front of a judge.

  5. If you remember that instance with Valdes, Valdes brought Chomat's kids into the discussion. Uncalled for in the Florida House debate

  6. She deserved the 30 days; the judge doesn't deserve to have his past transgressions touted as an excuse for her disrespect of the Court.


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