From Courtroom to Classroom

By Ashley James

Years ago a 13-year-old boy started his first job at a local shoe store. Inspired by his father, that same little boy grew up to be a lawyer and worked his way up to the distinction of a judge. Now at 57 he’s traded in his robe and gavel to teach the young minds at the University of Tampa.

Manny Alvarez has accomplished all that he has wanted to in life and is now giving back by teaching the students of UT about criminal justice or as he likes to call it “criminal injustice.”  Alvarez said that as a teacher, he can give his students an opportunity.

“The quality of teaching comes from my experiences.” Alvarez said. He says that his past brings legitimacy to what he discusses in the classroom.

Samonia Mclaurin, criminology major at the University of Tampa, has a class with Alvarez for the fall semester. “He’s a good teacher and he knows his stuff.” She recommends anyone who wants to take a criminal justice class to choose his.

“He’s caring and considerate of his students,” Mclaurin said. “Not to mention, he keeps you laughing while learning about the material.”

In 1996 Alvarez started as an adjunct teacher.  “I took a class over for a friend at El Centro College in Dallas.” After his friend died Alvarez took over her class permanently.

He’s taught his way through school and today Alvarez is still in front of the classroom sharing his knowledge with his students.

Alvarez was born in Tampa. His mother was a homemaker and father was a career employee for the Department of Revenue. At night his father would also do tax work as a CPA.

As a child, Alvarez spent much of his days sitting in the back of courthouses. “My dad would sit me in the back of the courthouse then go to the government building across the street.” It was there watching the trials that Alvarez knew that he wanted to become a lawyer and eventually a judge.

“Being a lawyer was a respectful thing to do and judge is the ultimate,” Alvarez said.  It was not only a dream of Alvarez but also his dads to become a judge.

Alvarez learned the value of work ethic at an early age. When he was 13, Alvarez had to acquire a special work permit to work at his first job as a stocker in a local shoe store.

“I worked at Self Service Shoe Store,” Alvarez said. “I was head of layaway.” From there he was promoted to manager and worked as manager of the store while in college.

He attended Jesuit High School and went on to the University of Florida. After receiving his bachelor’s in criminal justice he attended South Texas College of Law for his master’s and received certification for judicial studies at the National Judicial College also located in Texas.

In 1995, Alvarez became a criminal district judge. He dealt with felony cases including the death penalty. His toughest case was the Leon Dorsey case which involved the murder of two teenagers at a Blockbuster who were executed on camera. Dorsey was found guilty and sentenced to death. “The outcome justified the crime,” Alvarez said.

Among the many cases he was faced with, Alvarez was also the judge in the Michael Irvin case. Irvin was a Dallas Cowboy and also made it to the Hall of Fame. He was caught with drugs and after three weeks of trial he was found not guilty.

Alvarez left the bench in 2006 after having an open heart surgery. Although he enjoyed being a judge, he always knew his calling was teaching.

Beyond his professional background, Alvarez has another important job that he attends to. His second a job involves taking care of his 16-year-old son, Nicholas “Nino” Alvarez.

“He’s always been a dad first [and] friend second,” Nicholas said. Nicholas moved to Florida with Alvarez after his freshman year of high school. He is now a junior.

“I feel like I made the right choice,” Nicholas said. Although he chose to live with his dad in Florida Nicholas still remains a “momma’s boy.”

Alvarez continues to be a teacher at home instilling in Nicholas values that would carry on with him into adulthood. “He’s taught me honesty and work ethic,” Nicholas said. He stated that honesty is the most important value for his dad.

Both of the Alvarez men share a common love for cars. Growing up, Nicholas remembers his 11th birthday when he and his dad were shopping for tile and carpeting because they were renovating their home and across the street from the store was a Lamborghini dealership.

“He posed as a businessman interested in buying a Lamborghini,” Nicholas said. They spent the rest of that time looking at all the cars that were there.

Alvarez enjoys buying, restoring and selling old cars. He will sometimes ask his son for advice on what he should do with a car that he’s restoring or about to buy. “It’s more of a friendship/partnership,” Nicholas said.

His favorite car that he’s restored and sold was a 1963 Ford Thunderbird convertible with white, leather interior. And when he’s not restoring and selling cars, Alvarez cranks up his jukebox and plays a few games of pinball on an actual pinball machine.

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