Local public defender Regina Nunnally tells why she’d like to be next circuit judge
BY ASHLEY THOMAS
Regina Nunnally is one of two Black women to be considered by Gov. Rick Scott for the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court judgeship.
Nunnally and Alicia Washington are seeking the seat being vacated next month by retiring Judge Hubert Grimes, the circuit’s first Black judge.
Four other names have been submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission to the governor. They are David P. Gillespie, Howard O. McGillin, Jr., Dawn D. Nichols and Michael S. Orfinger. Scott has until Feb. 3 to pick a replacement for Grimes, who was elected as a Volusia County judge in 1988. Grimes’ resignation is effective Jan. 30.
Last week, the Times shared an interview with Washington, a former juvenile division chief in the public defender’s office of the Seventh Judicial Circuit who has a criminal defense, family law and civil litigation practice in Bunnell. This week’s focus is on Nunnally.
About the circuit
The Seventh Judicial serves Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties.
The circuit courts primarily handle civil cases where the amount in controversy is greater than $15,000, and felony criminal cases, as well as appeals from county courts, according to a description on the Florida Court System website.
Nunnally was born and raised in Daytona Beach and is a graduate of Daytona Beach Community College (now Daytona State College). She received her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Florida, and received her law degree from the Barry University School of Law in Orlando.
Her legal background includes time served as an assistant public defender in Bunnell. She has held that position for the past decade and handles an array of cases, including any and everything up to the point before capital murder.
“Being a judge would be a dream of mine,” Nunnally shared with the Times.
“When I was in law school, my main focus was always dealing with young people. I was a youth minister at Macedonia Missionary Church in Oak Hill and my dad was pastor there.”
Nunnally’s mother also was well known in the community as a school bus driver.
“Our young people need someone to look up to, especially in this area because I deal with youth and they idolize so many people, but they don’t have many people to say ‘this person made it or this was the key and this is the goal,’’’ Nunnally explained.
“I feel like it is another opportunity for me to serve. That’s all I’ve done, whether ushering at church, in ministry, teaching Bible study or Sunday school.”
Ready for next step
“So being a judge is the next step of serving others,” Nunnally continued. “I’ve been a public defender for 10 years. These people come in, they don’t choose me, I don’t choose them, but we are brought together through circumstance.”
“I help them work through their anger, bitterness and pain. As a judge, especially if I go into family law, that’s what I’ll be dealing with.”
In addition to being a servant, Nunnally argues that being a judge is about treating every party fairly that would come in front of her bench.
“I believe the judge is supposed to be a public servant, to make sure people are treated fairly. Some come to court and they are afraid, they don’t know what to expect.”
“But if you know how to resolve conflict, especially when people are conflicted that’s an asset and it’s one of the assets that I have to be a good judge and later on a great judge.”
‘Treat everyone fairly’
If appointed by the governor, Nunnally would be the first African-American female to hold the seat. Though historic, Nunnally shared that neither gender nor race plays a part in being fair.
“I think when it comes to the bench, a judge’s job is to make sure everyone is treated fairly. It is not a level playing field on the floor. The truth is, depending on what court you are in, you may have litigants representing themselves that don’t understand the law and the other side may have an attorney,” she related.
“There is an imbalance there. The judge’s job is to follow the law, be humble, treat everyone fairly, make sure no one gets taken advantage of, especially if you are representing yourself. I think from the bench, whether you are Black, White, male or female, you should always be neutral.”
Relating to litigants
Nunnally also shared the sense of camaraderie some litigants feel when they enter a courtroom and see faces that resemble their own.
“Sometimes being African-American, they may feel like they can relate to you, which may not always be the case. One of the things we learn from jury trials is that at times people can be judged harsher because of similarities,’’ she noted.
Nunnally explained a case in point would be a jury trial where someone may be facing a charge relating to alcohol. In that case, a lawyer may not want someone on the jury who once drank alcohol but has since kicked the habit. “People who are ex-addicts or ex-something may feel if I can kick it, then you can kick it.”
But typically, she shared, “To see someone who looks like them, the fear of being mistreated or not fairly treated is not there.”
Nunnally added, “If you do what is right and fair, they won’t have to worry about what color you are or what sex you are.’’