By Jan Pudlow
In Courtroom 2-A at the Palm Beach County Courthouse, Veronica Limia sat in the same chair where she was shackled as a 17-year-old convicted felon about a dozen years ago.
But on this June 17 day, the courtroom was festooned with balloons, and 30-year-old Limia stood proudly in a business pantsuit, raised her right hand, and took the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar.
Fifteenth Circuit Judge Ronald Alvarez — the juvenile judge who believed in the power of redemption of the young woman he helped get on the right track — raised his right hand and swore her in as a new Florida lawyer.
“Administering the oath of attorney at law to Veronica was an incredibly emotional and personally and professionally meaningful moment,” Judge Alvarez said.
“She begins a career journey that will benefit all with whom she interacts, be it other lawyers, judges, clients, or the troubled children for whom she has so much understanding and empathy.”
When the News first chronicled Limia’s story on February 1, 2010 (“A law student with a checkered past fights for a second chance”), she was a 27-year-old law student at Florida International University hoping for a happy ending.
With matter-of-fact frankness, Limia shared how she had gathered her juvenile record and every arrest report and had them copied and bound, and it was thick as a book. It told the story of the “mad-at-the-world” daughter of a drug-dealing father and an alcohol-abusing mother who was basically left to fend for herself at the age of 11. Fast forward through many rebellious domestic and school fights later, when at age 17 she broke into a house and ended up prosecuted as an adult for burglary and grand larceny. A convicted felon, she served 18 months behind razor wire at the now defunct Florida Institute for Girls and was set free on her 19th birthday.
Limia attributes her turnaround not only to Judge Alvarez, but to staff members in detention centers who became her second family, like mothers and aunts, and a special therapist, Yvonne Rose-Green, who finally broke down the walls built around her heart.
At the swearing-in ceremony, Rose-Green was there to say: “I saw beyond the defiant young lady,” and kept in touch with Limia.
In 2011, Limia graduated from FIU law school and passed the bar exam. But she had to wait two years for a Florida Board of Bar Examiners panel to finish its character and fitness investigation. Meanwhile, she worked as a paralegal in a real estate development office in Boynton Beach.
On June 13, she got the green light to officially become a lawyer and immediately sent a happy text to Judge Alvarez.
To anyone who may say a convicted felon should not become a lawyer, Limia answered: “Am I a criminal? No, I was a kid crying out for help. I was lost in the world. I think my accomplishments have spoken for themselves. A lot of kids in law school, their parents are judges and lawyers and doctors. Where they started at the middle ground, I started behind them with something to prove. I have accomplished that. I don’t think I should be judged by my record.”
When she talks about her time in secure lockup when she should have been in high school picking out her dress for the prom, Limia said: “I wouldn’t change it for anything. It molded me. It put me in line to help a lot of people. It gave me understanding and the intelligence and ability to make it through law school. Coupled with my experiences, I will have the power to help a lot of people.”
As she stood beaming with happiness in Courtroom 2-A, at finally being a Florida lawyer, Limia said she hopes one day to be a juvenile judge — one with a big heart who sees troubled kids’ potential, like Judge Alvarez.