BY ASHLEY THOMAS
Two Black women are among the six nominees for the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court judge.
The position opened because of the retirement of Judge Hubert L. Grimes, 60, the first Black judge in Volusia County. He was elected in 1988. His resignation is effective Jan. 30, 2014.
Along with Regina Nunnally and Alicia Washington, four other names submitted by the Judicial Nominating Commission to Gov. Rick Scott 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.
About the circuit
The Seventh Judicial Circuit is one of 20 in the state. It serves Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties. Forty-two judges, including 27 circuit judges and 15 county court judges, make up the circuit.
In Florida, the circuit courts are one of four types of courts created by the Florida Constitution – the other three being the Florida Supreme Court, the Florida District Courts of Appeal, and the Florida county courts.
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.
Based in Bunnell
This week, the Daytona Times focuses on Washington, a graduate of Louisiana State University A&M in Baton Rouge, who received her Juris Doctorate degree from Texas Southern University Law School in Houston and began her legal career in 1995 drafting legal briefs and motions in criminal and civil cases in Houston.
Washington owned her own practice in Daytona Beach from 2003-2005, later serving as the juvenile division chief in the public defender’s office of the Seventh Judicial Circuit from 2005-2009. In 2009 she opened a private practice in Bunnell where she currently practices criminal defense, family law and civil litigation.
The former assistant public defender, who has also served in the juvenile, misdemeanor, sex crimes and felony divisions in both the seventh and fourth circuits, told the Daytona Times why she believes she is the best candidate for the job. She credits the practice of family law as giving her the most insight.
“The family law is really where I think I learned the people skills, you can’t always just tell people what they want to hear; you have to be able to tell people what they need to hear,” she shared. “That’s a delicate balance; it doesn’t win you a lot of friends a lot of the time but it’s about maintaining your integrity not just making your opinion follow where the dollar is.”
Admitted to both the Florida and Texas State Bar Associations, Washington has expertise as both a prosecuting and defense attorney and has served as a mentor and teacher to junior attorneys.
“Aside from the legal accomplishments, I think it’s very important for judges to be well-rounded. I’m a lawyer, but I’m also a wife, a mother. I’m involved in the community. I try to keep my experiences varied so that I’m not tunnel-visioned.
“I told the nominating committee that other than my qualifications I offer diversity and I think diversity is important. Being a Seventh Judicial Circuit judge is a role of public service. The judiciary should reflect the community. It doesn’t make sense to me not to have a diverse judiciary because the community is diverse. I think that’s important because that goes to perception.’’
Compassion for litigants
Washington also explained that she understands those who find themselves in a courtroom.
“I talked to the committee about how a lot of times when I had to go to courtrooms in Hillsborough County or Dade County, it was very intimidating to me as an African-American woman to walk into a courtroom and only see faces that don’t resemble mine and I have an education and I have skills and it was still very intimidating. So I can’t imagine what that feels like for a litigant who does not have that much education or experience. I would imagine that they walk in and feel like ‘I’ve lost this battle even before I’ve had a chance to open my mouth,’” she remarked.
“So I think the perception of the fairness is just as important as the actual process of fairness. I’m not trying to insinuate that any of the judges that we have here aren’t fair or impartial jurors, but I think if you ask the public because they don’t feel a connection with a lot of them that they might perceive that.
That kind of erodes the integrity of the process. You’re serving the public. The public has to believe in the system. If you don’t diversify, you are going to have some real problems.”
First Black woman?
Washington added that her background brings added understanding.
“I have the unique position of being biracial,” she continued. “My father is African-American, my mother is Korean. I am equally proud of both parts of my heritages, and I understand that you have to know where you come from to know where you’re going. I understand the obligations to continue to make sure that just as people pave the way for you, you pave the way for others.”
The nominee added that women are as equally prepared for the position as men.
She noted that it was shameful that at the time of the appointment, it is possible that a first will be happening in the history of the open seat, that a Black woman would hold it.
“There are two African-American females on the short list, myself and Regina Nunally. I think it is a shame that we can say in this day and age, in 2014 it may be the time when Governor Scott appoints the first African-American female judge in the Seventh Judicial Circuit, that we’re even talking about the first in 2014.’’
Qualifications speak for Washington
Washington said she’ll keep trying for a judgeship.
“I’ve heard some people say to me, it will only be because you’re Black and you’re a female it’s a political advantage,” Washington shared; speaking of those who believe the appointment by Scott may be a political ploy.
“It’s not how I get it, but what I’ll do with it. There will be other openings that come available. If if I don’t get this one, they’ll see me again for the next one.
When you know your destiny, when you know where you’re supposed to go you march forward.”
Nunnally and Washington are the only Blacks up for consideration of Scott’s appointment to the soon-to-be vacant seat.
Nunnally is a graduate of Barry University’s School of Law in Orlando and is the assistant public defender in Flagler County.
The governor has recently received flack for a lack of diversity in the state’s upper level offices, as well as around the state even though the second-highest seat in Florida was held by Jennifer Carroll, who is Black. She resigned as lieutenant governor in March after she became part of an investigation into a charity organization for veterans, which was tied to an Internet cafe company suspected of racketeering.
Next week: An interview with Regina Nunnally.