District Judge Cecilia Altonaga handles a varied caseload as drug cases no longer dominate federal dockets in Miami
As the first Cuban-American woman to serve as a federal judge, Cecilia Altonaga is breaking new ground.
"Every time I achieved what I set out to do I saw myself not only as a Cuban-American, but as a woman opening doors," she said. "It's important for our community to see [themselves] in our judiciary. We want to have a diverse judiciary."
Ms. Altonaga was appointed to federal court by former President George W. Bush in 2003, and like all federal judges, will serve a lifetime appointment upon good behavior. She presides over both criminal and civil cases that have a basis in federal jurisdiction.
She began her law career clerking for a federal judge in Miami, where she became acquainted with judicial responsibilities.
Ms. Altonaga went on to become a practicing attorney, dealing with commercial and construction litigation. She served as an assistant county attorney for Miami-Dade County, advising the county commission and county administration.
Her first experience on a judge's bench was as a state judge, where she served in various divisions, including the domestic violence and the criminal division.
Today, she encounters a wider variety of cases, which she says reflects Miami's diverse community. From identity theft to Medicare and bank fraud, she now deals in complex cases.
Ms. Altonaga is involved with law-related organizations and is often a speaker. She has supported FIU's law school and says she is proud of how much the university, which she and many of her family members attended, has grown.
Ms. Altonaga discussed her path to becoming a federal judge and her current role with Miami Today staff writer Patricia Hoyos in her downtown Miami office at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. US Courthouse.
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