Judge Rodney Smith became the newest rookie on the Miami-Dade Circuit Court bench in a lunch-hour ceremony Friday marked with infectious joy.
Friends and colleagues began packing the historic Courtroom 6-1 a half-hour ahead of time. Smith, 37, worked the crowd with smiles, hugs and handshakes before his investiture began.
"It is not common in the halls of justice that we celebrate the achievements of a young man from Liberty City," said Hans Ottinot, Sunny Isles Beach city attorney and a childhood friend.
Three Boy Scouts from Troop 204 in Liberty City led the pledge of allegiance for Smith, who grew up in the neighborhood, became an Eagle Scout at 14 and serves as an assistant scoutmaster.
When Smith goes camping with them, "I try to show them that they can be a judge, and not be judged by a judge," he said.
Friends in attendance included 14 Kappa Alpha Psi red-coated fraternity brothers in the audience and three in the judges' pews.
Circuit Judge William Thomas said Smith overcame growing up in the "rough streets" of town.
"All of Liberty City should be here in this room," Thomas said.
Eugene Pettis, president-elect of The Florida Bar, said Smith had an extra duty as a judge.
"It's more than just rulings they're going to make. It's the role model," he said.
Smith was on the county court bench for four years before he was elevated in June. His resume includes senior assistant city attorney in Miami Beach, practice at the Law Office of Rebecca W. Ribler in Miami, with McGrane, Nosich & Ganz in Coral Gables and the Miami-Dade state attorney's office.
As of Aug. 23, Smith moved from the Miami Beach courthouse to hear criminal cases at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building.
Garrett Biondo, president of the Dade County Bar Association, said this was the first investiture of a judge he had previously faced as opposing counsel.
"Why couldn't you go to the bench sooner and save me and my client a butt-kicking?" Biondo joked.