Get to know Miami attorney Carmen Cabarga, who’s running for judge against Roderick “Rod” Vereen in the August primary election.
Carmen Cabarga, defense attorney at the Office of Criminal Conflict & Civil Regional Counsel in Miami, is running for Miami-Dade Circuit judge, Group 57 in the August primary elections. Here’s what she says qualifies her for the judgeship. Responses have been edited for style and content.
Her opponent, Miami criminal, civil and appellate litigator Roderick “Rod” D. Vereen, did not respond to requests for answers. Vereen practices at the Law Office of Rod Vereen & Associates, and is a former prosecutor, public defender and past president of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association.
Cabarga is a defense attorney with the Office of Criminal Conflict & Civil Regional Counsel in Miami. She’s also a former litigator and prosecutor, and has served as an attorney for the city of Miami Community Redevelopment Agency for Overtown/Omni/Midtown.
Why are you running for this position?
I am driven by a desire to help others. I know that serving is my true measure of success. This is where my gratification and self worth reside. This is exemplified in my 20 years as an attorney. I have litigated on behalf of elderly wards of the state of Florida. I have acted as a fiduciary of the state to prosecute cases where children have been the victims of abuse. I have worked in the poorest of our neighborhoods, drafting contracts between the city of Miami, developers and small business owners. Currently, I represent the fundamental legal interest in preserving families by litigating on behalf of parents and their children.
I believe that I now have sufficient experience to serve at a higher level. In addition, my children are now teenagers, and I am committed to dedicate the necessary time to this position. Our legal system is made up of the people that pass through our courts on a daily basis, on matters that greatly affect them individually. Each person’s facts are impartially heard and decided. Not all cases make the papers, nor will most set legal precedent. The daily tasks may seem menial. However, it is this daily commitment, not grand gestures, that define our legal system. Every person has the right to have an impartial judge hear the facts of their case and apply the rule of law. This is what makes our legal system so great.
What about your experience qualifies you for the position?
I am currently a defense attorney for parents who have been accused of abuse, abandonment or neglect of their children. I have been shunned by those who once saw me as a hero for children, when I was a prosecutor with the Department of Children and Families. They believed I had changed as a person of moral character. This is especially true, because I zealously advocate for my clients’ legal rights. What matters to me is that I provide my clients with the due process and legal representation required by law. However, the judges, case managers, attorneys and experts in the field came around to respecting my work and seeing the value it provides in reaching a just outcome. I have personally witnessed, as a dependency prosecutor for five years and a dependency defense attorney for seven years, that both sides need to be heard, so that justice can prevail. I believe this is an invaluable characteristic that I will have as a judge.
In addition, I have resided in Miami-Dade County since the first grade. I graduated from Hialeah High School, proceeded to Miami Dade Community College and went to law school at the University of Miami. I am married to a 21-year veteran district chief with the Hialeah Fire Department. We have created many ties in our community through our jobs, our children’s school network and church organization.
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
As proud as I am about my legal accomplishments and all the people I have helped, my greatest achievement to date is raising my two kind, beautiful children.
What would a successful term look like for you?
I would be prepared and versed in the law and facts of the cases that come before me. I would make myself available to hear cases and issue rulings in a timely manner. My rulings would be impartial, free of any political or personal interests, based on the specific facts of each case and pursuant to the applicable law. My demeanor will portray respect, professionalism and impartiality on and off the bench.
What is the most important issue facing your county at the moment?
The most important challenge we are facing right now is how to continue to have a functioning judicial system under the parameters of the COVID-19 pandemic. Issues that greatly affect people’s daily lives, such as family, financial and personal freedom, require the court’s intervention. We have done a great job in maintaining the courts open via Zoom hearings. However, Zoom hearings are not adequate in some cases, especially highly contested evidentiary hearings and trials. The challenge continues to be balancing safety from the virus, with the safety of those in custody awaiting trial, parents who have not been able to visit with their children, and financial hardships on families perpetuated from the inability to have matters addressed in court.