Miami-Dade County Court Judge Jason Dimitris moved to South Florida, he said, “for the crime.”
The son of a Greek ship captain and a New Yorker who met on a cruise and eloped, Dimitris didn’t start out planning to be here—or in law.
“My biggest passion,” he said, “is working with people.”
His resume bears the evidence.
He’s been a firefighter, an Outward Bound teacher, and Florida Department of Children and Families chief of staff. He began as an EMT.
“It was a way of doing community service in a very exciting way that also involved some education, some intelligence, working with people and doing something that most people wouldn’t be able to do because they don’t have the background and skill.”
He went to college, though, and hoped to become a corporate consultant. When he graduated, he found out his youth was an obstacle, except at Outward Bound. They told him they’d help him work his way up to consulting.
First, though, they wanted him to launch a base camp—with no running water or electricity—in Myakka City southeast of Tampa.
“I would take these kids who had been arrested out into the wilderness. I would teach them a curriculum that I designed that would get them school credit while they were away from school,” he said. “I really enjoyed the impact we were having on these kids.”
But after three years on the job, he wanted to do more. “I saw that I wasn’t going to have that impact as a schoolteacher who was working their way up,” he said. “So I thought, ‘Let me go to law school and I’ll gain the tools and I’ll become a community leader and then I will have that impact on education.’ ”
During law school, he said, “I realized that trial work is very similar to teaching and all of a sudden I became very engaged with trial work. I really enjoyed it.
“That led me to prosecution which gives you the most opportunity to do really good trial work.”
And, as he interviewed with different state and district attorneys’ offices, he realized that Miami—and its crime—offered the best chance of getting into the courtroom quickly.
It also gave him a chance to help others, he said, especially with kids.
“I saw that prosecutors could have a tremendous positive impact,” he said. “Oftentimes these kids need services, which a prosecutor can help them get.”
He spent five years in the state attorney’s office, moved to the state attorney general’s office and, later, to the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami.
Then came an opportunity to have a direct impact on children’s lives, as chief of staff at DCF.
“People consistently asked me, ‘How do you do it, with all of the tragedies?’ ” he said. “The insider perspective is what they don’t see—it’s all the good that we do and they also don’t see the reward that we get from it. On any given day you might have 50 people thanking you for the things that you’ve done that have been monumental in their lives.”
After four years there, Gov. Rick Scott took office and moved people around. Dimitris became general counsel for the Florida Department of Management Services. Then, in April, he was appointed to the county bench.
He put his name in for nomination, he said, for the same reason that shaped so much of his career.
“To me this is a great alignment of a lot of things that I am very interested in: a love of the law, community impact and to be able to use the trial skills and legal skills I developed.”
On the bench, he said: “I strive for formality. I think that formality and following the rules and the law allows for the most fair outcomes and the most just outcomes. But, that being said, I don’t want the formality to get in the way of reaching the truth and the merits of the case.”
He likes motions and arguments filed in writing in advance and, he said, he tries his best to make sure pro se litigants fully understand what is happening during a proceeding.
“What I’m up against is that I’m trying to give everybody their day in court and spend time with them so they understand,” he said. “But if I spend a lot of time on one case then the next ones following don’t get as much time because there is just not enough time in a day. So the question is where on the continuum do you place yourself and strategy to do the best job—to get through the most cases and to give everyone individual attention.”
There, though, he said his experience in Tallahassee helps.
“I’m definitely a student of efficiencies,” he said. “I always say, ‘I like refried beans. But I’d like to try fried beans because maybe they’re just as good and we’re just wasting our time.”