05/29/14-- Miami-- Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
05/29/14– Miami– Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda, 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida. (J. Albert Diaz)

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda is a fighter.

Or, at least, she knows how.

She’s a second-degree black belt in tae kwon do, trained in tai chi and ju-jitsu, and “I’ve been practicing my MMA.”

She’s also a certified yoga instructor and now is pursuing her latest passion, honing her skills riding hunter-jumpers.

“I love to learn,” she said. “I love to learn about anything and everything. If you tell me ‘take a class in basket weaving,’ I’m there. I might not be the master basket weaver or whatever. But I will get obsessed with it so much, so that I feel that I’ve learned everything there is to learn about it. And then I move on to something else.”

That competitive spirit was part of the attraction to being a prosecutor, and her determination—along with her then-blonde hair—earned her the nickname the “Pitbull Barbie.”

She realized it the first time she stepped into the courtroom, as an intern at the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office.

“Every day the issues that would come up. Thinking on your feet. The stress of the moment. It was just so inspiring and addicting,” she said. “And I said I don’t think I could do well sitting behind a desk. I need to be in the courtroom. That was my path. I didn’t apply anywhere else but the state attorney’s office when I graduated.”

That resolve was instilled from an early age. Her father, a successful businessman, insisted “there are no quitters” in the family.

The law, though, was nowhere in her plans. She thought she would be a teacher.

“It’s what I was pointed towards,” she said. “In high school I used to teach music after school. … I really enjoyed it. So I thought that that would be a career path for me. And I was always kind of pushed toward that because you have the summers off if you wanted to have a family or whatever.”

She went to college to study elementary education and psychology. But, she said, “after my first semester I decided I really wanted to go to law school. I just felt that I didn’t want time to pass me by and say I never did it.”

Her inclination was to study international corporate law. “It just sounds good,” she said. “It was an idea—having no concept whatsoever of what it really would entail.”

Then came the internship at the state attorney’s office, and she was hooked.

She started in county court, did juvenile and felonies, and moved up to division chief. Then she became the first woman in the felony gang unit.

“It was a wonderful experience where I really, really got to be an attorney,” she said. “I was part of the cases from their inception, before they were ever in the courtroom. I could give ideas as to how to structure them so they would be more efficient in the courtroom. We tried the very first gang RICO case in the state of Florida.”

Less than a decade into her career, though, she went for the bench. “I had always had aspirations of being a judge from the point that I was in the courtroom. I wasn’t tired of being an attorney, but it was a goal of mine,” she said. “I think that I felt that the bench was so well respected and they were so knowledgeable. Not that I thought that I was there at that level, but it was an aspiration that I wanted to be at that level.”

Then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to a county seat. She was 32.

“I have to say that I think being a county court judge before you’re a circuit court judge is invaluable,” she said. “You actually learn to be a judge. You have direct contact with pro se litigants every day. County court is involving. You need to learn how to run your division efficiently, and to learn patience and understanding.”

Five years later, she put her name in for circuit court. She was appointed in 2012, after the death of Judge Maxine Cohen Lando.

“I feel and I believe I am extremely respectful to everyone,” she said. “Attorneys need to conduct themselves the same way.”

She’s also flexible about some things, but firm about others.

She said she understands attorneys often are expected in multiple courtrooms, or have to shuttle between court buildings. So she’ll take cases out of turn.

“In that manner I’m flexible,” she said. “I’m not flexible in respecting the rules. I think that once you lose that in a courtroom then it’s chaos. Everyone has the same rules to follow so we have to follow them.”