Nubia Barahona was found dead on Valentine’s Day 2011 in the back of a pick-up truck parked off of I-95 in Palm Beach County. Her nude body was drenched in chemicals. Her 10-year-old twin brother, Victor, was found in the cab with acid burns and taken to the hospital.
Their adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, have been charged with Nubia’s murder and multiple counts of aggravated child abuse and neglect. Who could have prevented this tragedy?
An independent investigation commissioned by the Florida Department of Children and Family Services found that the “collective wisdom of all professionals who played a role in making decisions about the physical and emotional well-being of Victor and Nubia never coalesced into an effective focus.” In other words, everyone failed in their duties.
Among those in charge of the children’s care was Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr. She approved the children’s 2009 adoption by the Barahonas, who are now behind bars for the heinous crimes they allegedly committed.
Judge Manno-Schurr denied the children a chance at a safe, normal life when she turned away pleas in 2007 to adopt the twins from their biological uncle and aunt, Isidro and Ana Reyes. Ana is the sister of the father of the twins. They told Judge Manno-Schurr that they could take care of the children, and provided references and financial statements to prove their worthiness.
Yet, Judge Manno-Schurr said no, preferring to keep the siblings in the foster care of the Barahonas. The DCF says that decision was “based on an incorrect assumption by all professionals involved in the case that it would be harmful for children of this age to experience a change in parents.”
When asked why Judge Manno-Schurr didn’t listen to the Reyes couple, their attorney, Steven Grossbard, said, “That is a piece of the puzzle that is not clear to me to this day, and I find it somewhat troubling.”
Miami-Dade voters should feel troubled when they consider whether to re-elect Judge Manno-Schurr. She has a spotty record marked by appeals court reversals and documented mishandling of cases. Can she exercise the kind of judicial wisdom and common sense needed to serve Miami-Dade residents? Do voters want other children’s lives in her hands?
The failure to approve the adoption by loving relatives in Texas wasn’t Judge Manno-Schurr’s only mistake. She also mishandled a 2007 evaluation of the children’s mental health. According to the DCF report, “The delay of more than five months to perform the psychological evaluation ordered by Judge Valerie Manno-Schurr appears inexcusable in light of the fact that it was compelled by the very serious concerns raised by the principal and teacher at the children’s schools about the safety of Nubia and Victor in their foster home.”
Why didn’t Judge Manno-Schurr push for quicker psychological evaluations of the twins? The results could have altered their fates. An evaluation in June 2007 – many years before Nubia was killed and Victor was burned — found that Nubia exhibited signs of depression and suicide. More troubling: She had a “premonition that something terrible was going to happen to her,” according to the DCF report.
Where was Judge Manno-Schurr? Why didn’t she consider the report when evaluating whether the Barahonas were qualified to be foster parents and later adoptive parents?
Given an apparent lack of judgment, does she deserve to continue to handle important cases like this? Is Manno-Schurr the kind of judge Miami-Dade County wants?