Juana Olga Durand, a popular Miami-Dade court bailiff known for her kind touch with lawyers and jurors, found herself behind bars Wednesday accused of accepting cash to help arrange legal work for a South Florida attorney.
Miami-Dade detectives audio- and video-recorded Durand — in uniform, on-duty and outside the downtown family courthouse — accepting envelopes of cash from a man facing several traffic charges, according to court documents.
In exchange, she arranged for attorney John Amarantos to take his case, collecting money on his behalf and arranging a fake certificate showing that the defendant had completed traffic school, prosecutors say.
Later, according to an arrest warrant, Durand boasted to an undercover detective — posing as another defendant, all while secretly recording her — that she might convince “friends” in the police department to not show up for traffic court.
Durand, a county employee, was charged with three felonies: uttering a forged instrument, official misconduct and illegal compensation. She was also charged with a misdemeanor count of violating the county’s ethics code, which bars employees from recommending the services of a lawyer.
Amarantos, a private defense lawyer who is not accused of any criminal wrongdoing, could not be reached for comment.
“For the courts, and for all of us that work in the judicial system, it’s very sad,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle. “The system depends on the confidence in the employees and when you see a video like that, it certainly undermines that confidence.”
Durand’s arrest shocked colleagues at Miami-Dade’s criminal courthouse, 1351 NW 12th St., where she worked for years as the bailiff for Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz. Her husband, Jorge Durand, also is a bailiff there and her stepdaughter is a Miami-Dade police officer assigned to the building.
Durand still worked for Diaz, who had moved to the family division at Miami-Dade’s downtown courthouse.
The petite bailiff was known for her doting ways, frequently handing out candies and thimbles of Cuban coffee to lawyers, judges and jurors. After a 2011 high-profile murder trial that lasted months, Durand bawled as she gave good-bye hugs to the jurors with whom she had grown close.
Her defense attorney could not be reached for comment. Durand walked out of jail Wednesday after posting $7,000 bond.
An arrest warrant, prepared by Miami-Dade Detective Luis O. Rodriguez and prosecutor Breezye Telfair, tells this story:
The case unfolded last year when Maciel Gonzalez — who had been ticketed recently — was introduced to Durand, whom an acquaintance said “works for a judge at family court” and could help him “take care” of the traffic tickets for $750.
Gonzalez was later told he needed to pay an additional $750. The reason: his case would require more work because he had been arrested for driving with a suspended license.
Suspicious of the arrangement, Gonzalez hired the Savola Ticket Clinic, telling an office manager of his contact with Durand. She contacted prosecutors, who, in turn, contacted Miami-Dade Police’s public corruption bureau.
By then, Gonzalez had been arrested in Homestead for speeding, knowingly driving with an expired license and drunk driving. He was again in need of legal help.