The son of Cuban immigrants, Judge Alex E. Ferrer understands a thing or two about sacrifice and dedication. His parents, who immigrated to Miami when he was an infant, left behind everything they knew and loved in Cuba to move to the United States and remake their lives outside the repressive shadow of the Fidel Castro regime.
It wasn't easy for Ferrer's parents – or for many of the other Cubans attempting the transition to life in the United States. "I remember walking down streets in Miami and seeing signs that read 'No Cubans – big letters, with multiple exclamation points,'" Ferrer, a Miami Law alumnus and host of the nationally syndicated courtroom show Judge Alex, told an audience on Wednesday at a Miami Law luncheon co-sponsored by the Entertainment and Sports Law Society and Hispanic Law Student Association.
Despite the opposition they encountered, his parents – like so many other Cubans now living in Miami – worked hard to be accepted.
From an early age, Ferrer recognized that the key to success in life is a strong work ethic. To get where he wanted to go, he knew it would take hard work and determination. "You'll have hurdles throughout your life that you'll need to be able to overcome," he said.
Before landing his current job as one of television's most successful syndicated judges, Ferrer charted quite an eclectic career path, clearing his fair share of hurdles along the way. While still a teenager, Ferrer decided he would become a pilot – "a very strange career choice for someone who gets air sick," he joked. Despite his aversion to flight, Ferrer pressed on, becoming a licensed pilot by the age of 18.
He quickly decided, however, that full-time flying was not in his future. "Flying around from place to place was a nice hobby, but it wasn't the career I wanted," he said.
Ferrer found himself pumping gas at a full-service gas station. There, he met a number of Miami-Dade police officers and, sure enough, decided that he too would become a cop. He began lobbying his officer friends to talk to their chief of police so that he could secure a nomination to the police academy.
But, as with flying, trying to become an officer would prove a challenge for Ferrer. "I was 18 years old with braces on my teeth," he recalled. "There was no way that the chief was going to send me to the police academy."
As Ferrer had feared, the chief of police refused to nominate him. Yet the rejection only prompted him to press harder. He pestered the chief, and he would have other officers pester the chief every day, until finally the chief gave in and sent Ferrer to the academy. Once in the academy, he went from being the skinny kid with braces whom everyone tormented to receiving top honors as Most Outstanding Recruit.
Thrilled to have made it out of the academy, Ferrer began patrolling the streets of Miami, but kept an eye on the books. "My parents gave me the greatest piece of advice: don't quit studying," he recalled. "They knew that I may not want to be a cop forever and that if one has an education, they'll have options."
And so began a period of his life in which he worked as both a full-time student and police officer. Ferrer would go to school during the day and transition to his patrol shift at night, or vice versa. He maintained this hectic pace throughout undergrad and law school, even finding time to write on to Law Review at University of Miami School of Law.
After law school, Ferrer entered private practice, handling everything from medical malpractice and wrongful death cases to commercial business disputes. In 1995, only nine years after graduating with his J.D. from Miami Law, Ferrer was elected a circuit court judge in the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida. He served in the Family and Criminal division for ten years.
In 2005, while Ferrer was as a finalist for a vacant seat in Florida's Third District Court of Appeal, he received a call about hosting a TV show. Ferrer, blessed with chiseled good looks, consulted with family and friends and ultimately decided to withdraw his name from consideration for the Third District Court of Appeal position and try his hand at syndicated television.
As with all his other life endeavors, Ferrer – or rather, Judge Alex – has been a hit on television. Now in his seventh year on the air, his show has been picked up for an eighth and ninth season, so we can expect to see more of him.
What comes after that? Ferrer is not sure. What he is certain of, however, is that opportunities in this country are tremendous, as long as one has a solid education and the determination to succeed.
"It's just a matter of perseverance," he said, "pushing for what you want, and not giving up."