MIAMI — By now, the story of the South Florida woman who flipped the bird at a judge has caught the attention of thousands, who alternately applauded and vilified the judge on the Internet for rewarding the woman’s cheeky attitude with a 30-day jail sentence.
But the young woman who appeared in the Miami-Dade courtroom Friday barely resembled the flippant teen who cursed at a judge earlier this week.
After four days in the county jail, 18-year-old Penelope Soto returned to Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat’s courtroom looking shy and scared.
Her waist-length hair was pulled back into a tight braid and her hands were folded under the too-big handcuffs.
At 4-foot-11 and weighing only 99 pounds, she was swimming in her county-issue orange jumpsuit.
Soto stood with her lawyer while Rodriguez-Chomat recapped the reason she was there.
“You were apparently, obviously a totally different person than the way you are acting now,” he said.
While she was in jail, Soto met with Alfredo Hernandez, an anxiety and addiction counselor.
Hernandez found Soto has a history of anxiety and panic attacks, for which she’d never been diagnosed. She was self-medicating with Xanax and alcohol, he told the court Friday.
Soto admitted to taking two Xanax pills, commonly referred to as bars, Sunday evening.
That was a high dose for someone of Soto’s size. Hernandez testified that her rude behavior in court the next day was because she was still experiencing the effects of the prescription drug.
Facing the judge Friday, Soto admitted she had done wrong and tearfully expressed her regret.
Her shoulders shook as she apologized to the judge, then to her family, who joined her in court.
“My behavior was very irrational and I apologize,” she said.
Soto originally appeared before Rodriguez-Chomat on a Xanax possession charge.
She was arrested Sunday, after crashing her bicycle and telling police officers that she had taken Xanax and had more in her purse. The 26 pills she was carrying earned her a misdemeanor charge.
During her bond hearing Monday, Soto giggled and stroked her long red-streaked hair.
After the judge initially set her bond at $5,000 and said “bye-bye” to Soto, she replied with a laugh and an “adios.”
She walked away, but the irritated judge called her back and doubled her bond amount.
“Are you serious?” Soto gaped.
“I am serious,” the judge replied. “Adios.”
To that, Soto offered up the rude gesture and an expletive.
Rodriguez-Chomat called her back again, issuing a 30-day sentence for contempt of court.
“OK, that’s fine,” Soto snapped as she stalked away from the stand.
The courtroom video quickly went viral and made national news.
Rather than slapping her with a felony contempt charge that would have made it difficult for Soto to get a job later in life, Rodriguez-Chomat on Friday vacated her $10,000 bond and remaining jail time with a warning: Get help.
Per Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jeffrey Rosinek’s order earlier this week in drug court, Soto is required to attend addiction counseling.
On Friday, Rodriguez-Chomat implored Soto’s family to participate in her counseling to ensure she doesn’t wind up back in drug court.
“I’m counting on you,” he said.