In My Opinion

Fabiola Santiago: Jail time for this brat was a good call

If you hear the walls of the Miami-Dade criminal justice building rattling, it’s from the applause for Circuit Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat.

A father of two described to me by a court insider as “such a gentleman,” Rodriguez-Chomat delivered to Penelope Soto, 18, the kind of education she apparently missed during her short life.

You see, Soto could stand as the poster child of a flaky celebrity-worshiping generation that believes it is entitled to flaunt its lack of respect for authority regardless of the circumstances — even when one is a defendant in a courthouse and one’s freedom is at stake.

Most of the time, we and the system dismiss these young people with a slap on the wrist, because our court dockets and prisons are crowded. When we do, we send the wrong message.

But Rodriguez-Chomat charged Soto — the sort of disrespectful, dismissive brat who high school teachers deal with these days on a daily basis — with criminal contempt of court and sentenced her to 30 days in the county jail.

She earned every bit of it.

The New York-born teenager was charged with possession of a controlled substance Sunday evening after she crashed her bicycle at Southwest 96th Street and 142nd Avenue while high on “Xanax bars.”

She carried three baggies with 26 bars in her purse.

As if endangering her life and carrying drugs wasn’t stupid enough behavior, she arrived in Rodriguez-Chomat’s courtroom for a bond hearing Monday laughing and stroking her long, red-streaked hair as if she had just been waved through the velvet ropes of a nightclub.

She laughed when Rodriguez-Chomat didn’t pronounce Xanax correctly, too young, perhaps, to recognize the self-loathing in her attitude.

When the judge asked about her financial status to determine her bond, she laughed and said she had jewelry.

“It’s not a joke, you know, we’re not in a club now,” Rodriguez-Chomat warned her. “. . . be serious about it.”

“I’m serious about it, you just made me laugh,” Soto replied. “You just made me laugh, I apologize. It’s worth a lot of money.”

“Like what?” the judge asked.

“Like Rick Ross. It’s worth money,” Soto said, a reference to the South Florida rapper who was shot at last week on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

Whether the judge understood the reference is unclear. But that’s of no consequence to what transpired; it only adds a little perspective to the kind of mind-dulling information Soto consumes.

Seemingly perplexed with her behavior, the judge asked Soto whether she had taken drugs in the last 24 hours.

“Actually, no,” Soto answered, again exhibiting amusement.

Rodriguez-Chomat set her bond at $5,000 and waved her away saying, “Bye bye.”

Another person might have counted her blessings, but Soto couldn’t resist one more tease at the judge’s heritage, flippantly replying into the microphone, “Adiós!”

Rodriguez-Chomat called her back and upped her bond to $10,000.

“Are you serious?" she asked, not laughing this time.

“I am serious. Adiós,” the judge replied.

As she walked out, Soto flipped the judge the middle finger and blurted out the F-word.

He summoned her back and sent her straight to jail.


Somewhere along the line, this child of the crass age of reality television might have stumbled upon a parent, a teacher, a mentor — anyone who cared, really — who might have predicted this day would come and acted in time.

Hopefully not too late, the judge delivered what Soto sorely needed: a reality check and a lesson in respect.

She’ll be wearing an orange jumpsuit for a while unless the judge takes pity on her. And it’s not hard to see that behind the ugly façade and the mask of laughter is a scared little girl with no self-esteem.

On Wednesday, she’ll get another chance to redeem herself or blow it when she appears in Drug Dependency Court before founding Judge Jeri Beth Cohen. If she agrees to follow treatment and drug-testing, the possession charges could be dismissed — though she will still serve time for the contempt charge unless Rodriguez-Chomat decides to let her off the hook.

She might get a second chance — and for her sake, I hope she’s finally learned a thing or two, and that the resolution to her case includes a sincere letter of apology to Rodriguez-Chomat. Maybe a word of gratitude, too.

Read more Fabiola Santiago stories from the Miami Herald

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