Circuit Judge Maria Ruhl recognized during Hispanic Heritage month

Circuit Court Judge Maria Ruhl was one of six judges recognized by a coalition of voluntary bar associations as part of the group’s second annual Recognizing Hispanic Excellence event, held on September 23. The judges were celebrated in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs through October 15. Judge Ruhl was interviewed by Dana Keane, president of the Sarasota County Bar Association.

This is an image showing the three male judges and three female judges recognized during the Second Annual The Florida Jurist: Recognizing Hispani Excellence event.

Judge Ruhl said she was a young child when her parents, she and her six sisters fled Venezuela’s tumultuous political climate in 1981 for a “better life and better opportunities” in Florida.

Judge Ruhl’s parents eventually separated. And despite her mother not speaking English and the hardships of a single parent, Judge Ruhl credited her mother’s strength and perseverance to she and her siblings becoming professionals as adults. But their journey wasn’t easy.

She said seeing her parents, especially her mother struggle with language barriers and the injustices of being a non-native English speaker greatly impacted her and “became part of the fabric of who I am.” She said she experienced firsthand how people treated her mother differently because of her skin color.

As a little girl, Judge Ruhl said she knew she wanted to become a lawyer. As some children of non-native English speakers do, Judge Ruhl translated for her parents. She recalled translating for her father during a meeting with the Internal Revenue Service. Even at that young age, Judge Ruhl said she felt her father was at a disadvantage. “It didn’t seem like he was on an even playing field,” she said.

It was during those moments, translating for adults and witnessing the obstacles that non-native English speakers must overcome, coupled with a child-like understanding of procedural fairness, that led to Judge Ruhl’s legal career.

Judge Ruhl said she believes cultural diversity on the bench is just as important as other areas of diversity, such as gender diversity or having judges with different backgrounds. “It’s a reflection of your community and it instills trust to see someone reflective of themselves,” she said.

To watch Judge Ruhl’s interview, or to view the Hispanic Heritage interviews of the other recognized judges, please visit The (2021) Florida Jurist page on the Broward County Bar Association’s website.

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