August 26, 1999
Commencing at 4:00 p.m.

Polk County Courthouse
Main Courtroom
255 North Broadway Avenue
Bartow, Florida

Honorable Judith J. Flanders


Thank you, Judge Curry, Your Honors. It is indeed my privilege to be here today and to present for investing as our new Circuit Court Judge, Judge Judith J. Flanders, who I've known for quite a while, along with her husband, Bennett. Judy -- and she gave me the authority to call her Judy today for a while -- Judy was born on a farm in South Georgia, graduated from Lyons High School in Georgia as the valedictorian of her class. She went on to Mercer University, where in 1959 she graduated with a degree in English magna cum laude.

In 1960 Judy and Bennett were married. And Bennett proceeded to veterinarian school at the University of Georgia, and Judy began her career as a working lady, including a teacher teaching in the third grade. In 1966 then Dr. and Mrs. Flanders moved to Polk County, Florida. And for the next 15 years or so, Judy was a super mom. She was involved in PTA, home room mother, taught Sunday school; and in addition to those things, helped Bennett in his practice, all the while Bennett becoming a highly regarded vet, cattleman, and a less highly regarded Georgia Bulldog. In 1983, about 24 years after Judy got her college degree, she decided it was time to go to law school. And she enrolled in the Stetson College of Law, was on The Law Review there, and graduated cum laude. Following her graduation and admission to the Bar she worked as a law clerk for Judge Jack Schoonover, who's here with us today, at the Second District Court, where she worked for approximately two years, leaving there to join a firm whose name at that time was Lane, Trohn, Clarke, Bertrand, Vreeland and Jacobsen. That is where I had the pleasure to practice law with Judy for about ten years. She was a superb lawyer, she was a credit to our firm, and we were proud of her. She left that firm to become a Judge of Compensation Claims in District F for the State of Florida. And her outstanding performance there led to her selection by Governor Bush from an extremely strong field of applicants and nominees as our new Circuit Court Judge. From those academic achievements which I have outlined, it clearly shows that Judge Flanders has the intellect necessary to become a good judge, and those of us who have known Judy can attest to the fact that she also has a natural sense of justice and fairness. She is a compassionate person, she's honest and has a tremendous work ethic, all that is necessary to become an outstanding jurist. And I think she will do that. And it is indeed my pleasure to present her here today.

                                                        Judge Flanders.

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That's the first time that I've been told to take as long as I want. Everybody has said consistently, make it short. And I do plan to do that. Not that I don't have a lot I would like to say and need to say, but this will be very brief. First of all, as I stand here and look out at all of you, my friends, my family, and my professional colleagues, I can't tell you how pleased I am to see each one of you here for this special time in my life. I'm particularly happy today to have with me my mother, Ila Jerriel, and my sister Karen Wilson from Georgia; my other sister Betty Price from Cocoa Beach; my brother Allen Jarriel and his five boys from Luray, Virginia. And of course, you've already met my husband and my two daughters. I'm also happy to have my son-in-law, David Bayhan here. And last but not least, my grandson Joe, who is one of the main loves of my life. And I hasten to say that he has twin sisters that are two, but for obvious reasons, we didn't invite them today. At any rate, those of you who have known me very long know that for quite some time now I have sought the appointment to Circuit Judge, and have gotten here by sort of a circuitous path. But I'll have to tell you that when I decided to go to law school in 1983 when Lori was in college and Carrie was in the eighth grade, I really didn't have any judicial aspirations. I just wanted to get a law degree and I wanted to practice law. But when I graduated from law school, I became staff attorney or law clerk, whichever one you want to call it, for Judge Schoonover at the Second District Court of Appeal. And I served there for a little over two years. And it was during that time that I think I really began to appreciate the importance the judiciary has in our society. I began to see how one judge's decision could so greatly impact the lives of those who came before them. And I also saw the appellate judges struggle on a regular basis to apply established principles of law to novel situations in our rapidly changing world, sometimes situations that had no real legal precedent. And it was at that point that I began to think maybe one day I would like to be a judge. But of course, I had not even practiced at that point. And all that's history now.

But as I think about the road that I've traveled to get here, I realize that there are a number of people to whom I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude. First of all, there are my parents, who early on in my life and regularly took me to church and Sunday school and instilled in me the basic moral principles that have guided me well throughout my life. They also had the wisdom, I believe, after I had polio at three-and-a-half years of age, to encourage me in my growing-up years to believe that even though I had a physical handicap, there were very few things in this world that I would not be able to do if I really tried hard enough. They encouraged education, they applauded every achievement. My dad died just before my second semester in law school, so he only got one report card out of law school, I'm sad to say. But my mother is here today, and I want to publicly thank her for all she has contributed, for her love, for her encouragement and her support and for always being such a good role model. And in saying that, I want to explain to you that she's the oldest of ten children who graduated from high school sometime about the Great Depression and was unable to go on to college at that time. But after rearing five children of her own, returned and graduated from junior college at the age of 62, and today at the age of 87 still sometimes substitute teaches at the high school in our community where I grew up. And I'm real proud of her, and I want to thank her.

Then there's my husband, Bennett, who not only supported me financially through high school -- not high school, through college. I'm sorry. We met in high school, married after college, and then he supported me through law school. At the same time he had Carrie in private school and Lori in college. But he has also demonstrated a lot of patience and has very quietly accepted a lot of personal inconvenience, sometimes no dinner on the table -- very often that happens -- to give me the freedom and flexibility that I needed to practice law and now to serve as judge. And I really appreciate that from him. He, along with both of my daughters, have always been there to celebrate with me my successes. They've also been there to encourage and support me in mydisappointments. And I think they're probably my three greatest fans. And in that I feel that I'm richly blessed.

Then there's Judge Schoonover, who I had the good fortune of working for a little over two years and who in my opinion has all the qualities that it takes to make a good judge. And I think all of you who know him will agree with me on that. I was very fortunate in that he was not just interested in what I could do for him in a support role as his staff attorney, but also what he could teach me that would help me when I went out into the practice of law. He's been very important in my professional progression. When he said, "We're going to do this again," he administered the oath to me when I
was admitted to the Bar in 1986. He administered the oath of office when I became Judge of Compensation Claims just a little over two years ago. And now today I'm very honored and pleased that you were able to come and administer the oath today. I count him as one of my dearest friends, and he's a friend whose counsel and advice I frequently seek and I sometimes heed. He thinks I don't very often, but I do.

And then I went from there to the law firm of Lane Trohn, where collectively there is probably one of the finest groups of lawyers I think in Polk County and probably all of Florida. And I'm not even sure about the United States because I'm not that familiar with the attorneys nationwide. But they were a fine group of lawyers, and they very patiently, collectively and individually, taught me how to practice law. They also very unselfishly supported me in my judicial pursuits. And I want to thank you -- there are many of you here today, and I'm so pleased to see you -- for your patience, for your willingness to share your experience and knowledge, and for your friendship and continuing support. It means
more than you could ever know.

And then last but not least, there are all of you who, every time I sought a judicial position, were willing to write letters, to make phone calls, to make personal contacts, not just once, but I think it's been four times now. And I do appreciate so much your continuing support. I don't know all that each one of you have done to make this moment possible and to influence Governor Bush's ultimate decision to appoint me to this position, but I really will be forever in your debt for that.

I'm really excited about the possibilities and the challenges that I have. One of the things that
I am most pleased about in this position is to have my good friend, Barbara Patray, working with me again. Many of you know that she worked with me as legal secretary very capably, could not have asked for better, for nine years at Lane Trohn. And for a number of reasons she did not go with me when I became Judge of Compensation Claims. I missed her sorely for a year-and-a-half, and I was so excited and thankful when she decided to take on this new challenge with me. I think there have been days in the last six weeks that she wonders if she made the right decision, but she's still hanging in there with me. And I'm very grateful for that.

I'm also well blessed to now have working with me as my specially-assigned bailiff, Bruce
Starling, sitting here with you, who has taken very good care of me since day one. And I feel
very comfortable and secure with him in the courtroom. And I'm very fortunate in that.
Also I want to thank all of these judges that sit here behind me who have been very warm
in receiving me and who have very generously offered to be of any assistance that they can.
A number of them have had to make good on that offer a number of times because I have lots of
questions, and they've been very generous in answering my questions. And I'm very fortunate
in that. I also want to thank my friend and former law partner, Buddy Clarke, for his kind
words. Thank you, Buddy.

I've now been on the bench in the family law division for approximately six weeks. And I must tell you that I'm not nearly as naive today as I was six weeks ago. It is probably the most interesting job I've ever had, and it's equally the most challenging. I have had the opportunity of presiding over a number of adoptions, and that's probably one of the most pleasant things that a Circuit Judge ever gets to do. I regret to tell you that I have lost track of the number of divorces that I have granted in six weeks. Very frequently the parties will have resolved their property issues and their child custody
issues before they ever get to my hearing room. And I'm always happy to see that, because whatever they can agree upon between themselves they like better than anything I could ever
decide. But when they have not, I found myself trying to divide their property, their debts, and unfortunately, many times their children, not literally dividing them, but trying to decide who should be the primary residential parent, and visitation, et cetera. Sometimes you have two very good parents, and that's a very hard decision; sometimes you have two very not-so-good parents, and that's also very hard. I have found in this six weeks that I have needed and I frequently will need the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job. And I've also find that I don't have either. But at any rate, as I approach the challenges of this new position, all I can tell you is that I am committed to uphold the honor and integrity of this position, to treat the lawyers and litigants that come before me with dignity, and to decide every case that comes before me as objectively and fairly as I can. There are times that I might be tempted to be a little bit overwhelmed at all that faces me and all that I need to learn were it not for the fact that I know that many of you have who have supported me in other ways have also prayed for me. And you probably realize as much as I do that I need your prayers now more than ever. But as you pray for me, I also ask that you would pray for this entire court that we will make decisions that have a positive impact on individuals, which in turn I hope will have a positive impact on our society, and in turn will help usleave a better world for our children and our grandchildren. Again, thank you for your support, for your love, for your encouragement, especially for being here today to share this special time with me.

Thank you.


CHIEF JUDGE CURRY: I can't resist this, Judy. You know who Bruce Starling worked for
before he worked for you?


CHIEF JUDGE CURRY: He worked for Dan Andrews. If he can keep Dan out of trouble,
I don't think you're going to be a big challenge for him.

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Transcript provided by Coker Court Reporting.

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