Thursday, February 7, 2013

Judge Rodriguez-Chomat - Hero to the Civilized

Judge Rodriguez-Chomat – Hero to the Civilized
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
February 7, 2013

Finally someone who doesn’t suffer fools, pissant derelicts with no respect for self or others, or indolence.

Three cheers for Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat. Not happy with the flippant response from an already disrespectful defendant, Rodriguez-Chomat doubled the amount of bond from $5,000 to $10,000 which elicited an even more disrespectful response and gesture that will cost Penelope Soto, 18, of Miami, 30 days in jail.

Soto appeared before Rodriguez-Chomat on Monday, February 4, charged with felony possession of 26 bars of Xanax – a drug used to treat anxiety and panic disorder. ( While chastised for seeming to make light of the proceedings, Soto laughed, used slang words in her answers regarding the value of her possessions such as jewelry, and was then given bond of $5,000.

The judge said goodbye to Soto, who responded with a disrespectful “adios.” At that point, Rodriguez-Chomat requested Soto be brought back before him where he doubled Soto’s bond for her poor attitude. Soto then offered the judge her middle finger as she belligerently questioned the doubling of the bond figure and said “f-ck you” to Rodriguez-Chomat.

Rodriguez-Chomat called for Soto to again reappear, asked her if she said “f-ck you,” to which she admitted she had used the profanity all the while twirling her hair. At that point he cited her with contempt of court and a 30-day jail sentence.

Although this is Soto’s first brush with the law, it was painfully obvious she lacks respect for the process, the judge, and quite frankly, for herself, and the 30 days will hopefully do her a world of good.

There are some who believe Judge Rodriguez-Chomat, a 67-year-old jurist born in Havana and a graduate of the University Miami School of Law, overreacted to Soto’s disrespectful behavior and should neither doubled her bond nor sentenced her to 30 days in jail. Some suggest the judge did not have the authority to cite Soto with contempt of court.

“Being rude is not contempt,” said Fox News contributor Kirsten Powers on The O’ Reilly Factor Wednesday, February 6.

I couldn’t disagree more virulently with Powers and her ilk. A message must be sent to miscreants like Soto that respect is the order of the day in court, out of court, whether with ones elders or not. And yes, Rodriguez-Chomat had every authority to pin a contempt charge on Soto.

Contempt of court is “an act of deliberate disobedience or disregard for the laws, regulations, or decorum of a public authority, such as a court or legislative body.” It “is behavior that opposes or defies the authority, justice, and dignity of the court.” Further, a judge has “wide discretion… in determining both what constitutes contempt and how it is punished.” (

Soto’s behavior certainly fits the definition of contemptible.

Soto is merely a symptom of the deleterious nature of society in these United States. While Powers would not have sentenced Soto to 30 days in jail for her antics, saying she would have given Soto two weeks of community service, Powers contradicted herself on a similar issue of disrespect in the New York City Public School System.

On the same episode of O’ Reilly, it was noted that the New York City Public Schools disciplinary code has been softened to the point where students cursing at teachers ranks low on the infractions list requiring nothing more than a slight reprimand. Powers objected to this, noting the cursing should be more strongly punished.

“The new rules will keep kids who commit ‘low level infractions’ in class, where they can learn from their mistakes,” said New York City Education Spokesman Margie Feinberg. (New York Daily News, 08/22/12)

As someone who has taught in charter schools and in inner city schools, this decision by New York City Public Schools is disgraceful. Lowering the bar where cursing and disrespect are virtually ignored under the guise of keeping students in school simply encourages others to act out just as churlishly. This then takes more time away from teaching and learning, thus punishing all the students in a given class and setting them further and further behind other classes. Ultimately it gives children carte blanche to push the envelope of worse, more destructive behavior – either towards themselves or others.

Instead, the “Broken Windows” theory should be employed. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, in his excellent book Leadership, credited James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling’s theory that one of the best ways to cure the ills of New York City  began with “paying attention to ‘minor’ infractions like aggressive panhandling, graffiti, and turnstile-jumping would greatly reduce all crime, including major felonies.” (P. xiii)

The slippery slope of incivility must be reversed by, as Giuliani said, “sweating the small stuff.” Cut it off at the pass, to use an old Western’s movie phrase. Crack down on the minor infractions before students run amok in schools and take their miscreant behavior to the streets where lawlessness and chaos ensues. Perhaps then there will be fewer Penelope Sotos appearing before Judge Rodriguez-Chomat where jail time is meted out for disrespect and contempt. Until then, job well done your honor.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

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