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.
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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.
In a series of recorded phone calls conducted alongside police, Durand acted as a broker to arrange for Gonzalez to hire Amarantos, according to the warrant.
On July 14, 2011, detectives video-recorded Gonzalez handing $2,000 cash in an envelope to Durand outside the courthouse. She even gave him a receipt.
In January 2012, detectives also filmed Gonzalez paying Durand $1,500 for more legal services outside the family courthouse. Ultimately, on Feb. 6, the case was dismissed in court when a Homestead officer failed to appear in court.
Gonzalez still had more traffic charges stemming from a third arrest. Durand told Gonzalez that to clear his record, he needed to complete traffic school — and that she could get him a certificate saying he had completed classes, according to the warrant.
Even though he never attended class, she got him the certificate, from Hialeah’s Luz Traffic School, police said. Detectives later followed Durand to the Department of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles office in Pembroke Pines, where she worked before becoming a bailiff, and saw her handing several documents and “unknown amounts of money” to an employee.
Miami-Dade Detective Luis Robainas later went undercover posing as a pal of Gonzalez’s who also needed legal help. In a conversation caught on video outside the family courthouse, Robainas presented a phony citation purportedly from Sweetwater police.
In the video, she claimed she had “friends” at Sweetwater, and suggested she could get an officer to not show up for court.
There is no evidence that Durand succeeded in getting any tickets dropped, although authorities are still investigating.