Duval County Judge Roberto Arias was recognized during the second annual “The Florida Jurist: Recognizing Hispanic Excellence.”
He is one of six judges honored Sept. 23 by the Broward County Bar Association, Broward County Hispanic Bar Association, Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association, Hispanic National Bar Association, North Dade Bar Association, Tampa Hispanic Bar Association, Orange County Bar Association, Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida, Sarasota County Bar Association, Hillsborough County Bar Association, Cuban American Bar Association, Hispanic Bar Association of Central Florida and the Jacksonville Bar Association.
Arias and his family fled Cuba in June 1965 after Fidel Castro took over the country and established communist government.
They waited for permission from the government to leave the country as tourists because his father did not want to endanger the family by “putting us on a raft,” Arias said.
Their first stop was Mexico, one of the few countries Cubans were allowed to visit.
“Everyone in Cuba knew that if you went overseas to visit, you weren’t coming back,” Arias said.
The day after they arrived, they went to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and applied for asylum.
“It took four months for our application to be approved,” Arias said.
After the family became residents of Miami, Arias attended high school and community college, then received a degree in political science from Florida International University in 1977.
One of his uncles in Cuba was an attorney. He was put to work in a factory after Castro took over, part of the communist policy to limit authority in the country to government.
Arias said he grew up admiring the respect shown to his uncle and other attorneys, so he applied and was accepted to law school at Ohio State University.
After the first snowfall, Arias said he was enlightened beyond his class work and knew what he would do as soon as he graduated.
“I knew why people from the north move to Florida and I learned that I should have gone to the University of Florida or the University of Miami when they accepted me for law school.”
After passing the Florida Bar Exam in January 1981, Arias began his career as an assistant public defender in Jacksonville. He later went into private practice until the late former Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him to the Duval County bench in 1995.
His community service includes the Hispanic American Business Association, Hubbard House, Lutheran Social Services and mentoring students.
Arias said he plans to retire from the bench in late 2022.
“My wife retired a few years ago. We are looking forward to taking a long RV trip around the U.S. and visiting the national parks,” he said.