By Onz Chery

A smiling Lody Jean in the courtroom. Photo courtesy of Lody Jean

Judge Lody Jean, unexpectedly, saw a client she had as a lawyer, Charitable Compere, with his two children at the airport in 2018. She had helped Compere win a case that allowed him to bring his children to the United States. The children’s mother had died in Haiti. Hence, it was crucial for them to move to the United States to be with their father.

That enjoyable unexpected encounter reminded Jean why she got into law – to serve.

“Serving has been the greatest honor of my professional career,” Jean said. “My mentors have always told me to do the right thing whether I’m going to go forward on a case or dismiss it. I have a higher duty to serve the community by making the correct decisions on all my cases.”

Being a server in the courtroom is rewarding but is extremely demanding mentally and pressuring. For instance, as a lawyer, amid Compere’s case, Jean felt as if she was in a tight corner because if she didn’t win the case his children’s future would’ve been in jeopardy. But now, she’s the one making the decisions, which can be even more pressuring.

“It’s [law] very human, you deal with human emotions, human cases, human tragedy,” the 40-year-old said. “It’s easier for me to sort of wrap my head around it [as opposed to other careers]. And also, you have to balance, balance what’s fair, what’s just. You balance the rights of the accused but also the rights of the victims.”

Despite the stressful part of Jean’s job, she’s all for it. And she’s excelling. Jean was appointed to the bench of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida on April 17, 2020. She’s the first Haitian-American to sit in the Eleventh Circuit Court.

Lody Jean’s headshot. Photo courtesy of Lody Jean

Jean was born and raised in Port-au-Prince by a Haitian father and Lebanese mother. She showed plenty of promises since her young days. Jean was the president of the student council at Quisqueya Christian School and often made the honor roll. As a child, she dreamed of going overseas to become a doctor, then return to Haiti to work.

After high school, Jean was accepted at the University of Miami while living in Haiti. It was a major milestone for the then-teenager as she was moving to the U.S., where she calls “the land of opportunities.” But it was also a terrifying move. She migrated to the U.S. alone.

“It was very scary,” Jean said. “I had never been away from home and I grew up in a very small school, so going to a large university there was a lot of pretension as to whether or not I would succeed.”

Jean’s mother, Marie Farah Jean, was downhearted after her daughter moved out, but she understood it was for the best.

“I accompanied her, coming back, and leaving her was very sad,” Marie Farah said. “That was very hard on the whole family. Lody was always a very smart person and she knew what she wanted.”

As noted, at first, Jean wanted to be a doctor, but she later realized that she got “very noxious at the sight of blood.” She double-majored in international studies and political science at the University of Miami to pursue a career at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Jean chose this path to “help those that were displaced” and because she herself grew up around different cultures.

One particular professor influenced her to go into law instead, Benton Baker. He often told stories from the days he worked under former U.S. Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy.

The former Quisqueya student wasn’t sure what type of lawyer she wanted to become then, but her main desire was still to “make a difference by helping others.”

On a personal note, during Jean’s college days she was very homesick. She talked to her mother every other day. It took a few years for her to feel comfortable living the American lifestyle. Nevertheless, she graduated from undergrad then went to St. Thomas University School of Law.

After law school, Jean worked for the state attorney in Miami-Dade County from 2004 to 2012. At first, she was an assistant state attorney. She then became a felony division chief with the main job of prosecuting homicide cases and supervising assistant state attorneys.

The then-lawyer went a different route in 2012 as she opened a law firm, Lody Jean P.A. It specialized in immigration and criminal defense with a focus on deportation. About half of her clients were Haitians. She won the love of many of her compatriots by helping them tremendously.

“Listen, if I could kiss Lody, I would,” Fredline Dauphin said, one of her former clients whom she helped reinstate her permanent resident card.

It was a bittersweet moment when Jean closed her law firm to become a judge in the Miami-Dade courts as the first Haitian-American woman in January 2019.

When she first sat in front of a courtroom to make a decision, it was nerve-wracking. But she was well-trained and craved to make the right choice. Jean prospered as a judge, to the point that she was appointed to the Eleventh Circuit Court in April.

“I wanted to do cart-wheels. I was very, very honored,” the judge said about her latest position.

Being a judge is a noble profession, Jean explained, in which she has to set her feelings aside — particularly towards the many Haitians she encounters in the courtroom — and be thick skin to make decisions that will leave people unhappy. But at the end of the day, she finds an overflowing amount of pleasure in making the right decisions and helping people by granting them justice.

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Onz Chery is a Haiti correspondent for The Haitian Times. Chery started his journalism career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He later wrote for First Touch, local soccer leagues in New York and Elite Sports New York before joining The Haitian Times in 2019.

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