Judge Alex Ferrer stays true to Miami roots

For the last eight years, Alex Ferrer has been solving consumer complaints, landlord disputes, and conflicts and confrontations between families and co-workers. He does it in 30-minute TV episodes seen daily in 96 percent of the country.

According to Variety magazine, his show, “Judge Alex,” averages about 3 million viewers a week.

While he is now a national figure, Ferrer built his success right here in Miami-Dade County – with an important stop at the University of Miami School of Law.

Ferrer’s parents came to Miami from Cuba, fleeing Fidel Castro’s communist regime in the early ‘60s, when Ferrer was just a baby. His parents gave up a comfortable life in Cuba to start from scratch in Miami.

His father’s first job was unloading plantains from hot railroad cars. Ferrer’s mother, who had learned English in Cuba, was able to get a job in Miami as a legal secretary, but she also worked during her lunch hours selling shoes to bring in money for the family.

“They taught me to have a strong work ethic,” Ferrer said. “Watching them succeed, and watching the fruits of their labor, really motivated me to start working.”

At age 15, as a freshman at Coral Park Senior High School, Ferrer took a job at a gas station and would work eight-hour shifts, seven days a week. By age 17, he was managing the station.

He had met several policemen during his stint with the gas station, and his grandfather had been a police officer in Cuba, so after his high school graduation, Ferrer obtained a job with the Coral Gables Police Department patrolling at the University of Miami. At 19, Ferrer was the one of the youngest police officers in the state of Florida.

His parents encouraged him to continue his education, so Ferrer got his bachelor’s degree from Barry University and then decided to go to law school at the University of Miami.

Ferrer would go to school from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., and would then patrol from 4:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. Some days, if he made an arrest late at night, he would be filling out paperwork until 2 or 3 a.m.

After graduating law school as a published member of the University of Miami Law Review, he took a job with the law firm of Sparber Shevin, then followed Bob Shevin to another law firm, Stroock & Stroock Lavan. Later, he opened his own law firm.

“I liked law, but litigation wasn’t so appealing to me because you were always fighting with someone,” Ferrer said. “Somebody said black, and you said white. I wasn’t looking forward to work every day.”

Ferrer then decided that he wanted to be a judge.

“I’ll bet being a judge is gratifying because you’re always trying to do the right thing,” he remembered thinking.

At 33, he was elected Circuit Court judge in Miami, a position he held for 10 years: nine as a criminal court judge, and one as a family court judge.

At 44, Ferrer said, he hit a fork in the road. Shortly after he applied for a position as an Appeals Court judge, he was offered a daily television show.

The decision was difficult because he knew that eight out of 10 new TV shows fail every year. The Appeals Court was a dream position for any judge, and he could lose that opportunity forever and be out of a job in a year if the show didn’t succeed.

After weighing his options, he chose to take the show, which is now syndicated across the country. A big attraction was the fact that he would be able to spend more free time with his family and see his children grow up.

Ferrer would have to shoot episodes periodically for four months, and he could spend the other eight months on other endeavors.

Ferrer has two children who have been instilled with the hard work ethic that Ferrer grew up within his own household.

“In my house, there were no excuses,” said son Taylor Ferrer, 20, a pre-med student at the University of Miami majoring in psychology. “Every time I would complain about something, my dad would tell me how much harder he had it as a kid and how much he worked to be successful.”

During the taping season, Ferrer flies from Miami to Los Angeles for a full week every three weeks. He tapes about nine shows a day.

During the other eight months, he appears on different television and radio shows throughout the country, doing legal commentary and promoting his show.

He also gives speeches at schools concerning law and the benefits of perseverance and a hard work ethic.

In each episode of “Judge Alex,” a different case is presented and resolved, with Ferrer offering a thorough explanation of why he made that particular ruling, teaching viewers more about the nuances of the law.

“I’ve been watching ‘Judge Alex’ for three years,” said Carmen Florez, a 77-year-old Doral resident. “Every episode brings an interesting case that my girlfriends and I love to sit down and discuss over coffee.”