Justice James E. C. Perry's Circuit Court Investiture, 2000

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Justice James E. C. Perry's Circuit Court Investiture, 2000

Justice James E. C. Perry's Circuit Court Investiture, 2000

by:
jtracy
February 9, 2017

Justice Perry, the first African-American appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit is pictured here at his Circuit Court Investiture in March of 2000.

Justice Perry served as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court beginning in July 2003.

In March 2009, Justice James E. C. Perry became the fourth African-American to serve as Florida Supreme Court Justice.

Listen as Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry describes his leadership and service on the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Justice Perry at the Orlando Public Library on December 19, 2016.

LISTEN Part VI (19:47)

Well, I understand that when I was first appointed that I was ostracized the first year. Of course, I didn't know it because I'm accustomed to being by myself anyway. And then two years later I was approached to ask to run for Chief Judge because there hadn't been a Chief Judge in Seminole County in 13 years. Because the majority of judges were in Brevard County they voted for their own and vice versa.

So I asked them, "Why me?" You know, judges here for 15, 20 years wanted to be Chief and I didn't. And they said, "You're the only one that we all trust." I said, "Okay."  "We will support you, county and circuit, in the county. " And I said, "Now you understand I'm not going to be a titular head nor your lapdog." They said, "We understand that. We understand we might not agree with all your decisions, but we know your decisions won't be personal or political." I said, "Okay." I just want you to understand that." And they said, "Don't tell anybody." I said, "No, I don't operate like that. I'm going to tell the other side what I plan to do."

So I went to the incumbent to ask him what does an incumbent chief do? He said, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that. We already have the heir apparent." And I said, "Well, I wasn't really asking your permission, I was simply wanting to know what you do." And I said, "By the way I talked with heir apparent and heir apparent said he'll support me." "He said, "We'll see about that."

So he went and talked with heir apparent, heir apparent said he'll support me. And I told him I'd support him the next time. So the incumbent said, "Well, I'm going to run." I said, "Fine." I never would have put my hat in the ring had you said you wanted to run again. But since, you know, you changed your mind that's on you. So he proceeded to talk with the county court judges in my county promising them things to support him. And he did. So they called me in, the county court judges and said, "He promised this, this, what do you promise?" I said, "I don't promise you a damn thing except I'll be fair." I said, "I didn't promise Jeb Bush anything. I'm not promising you anything. You asked me to do this. My ego's not at stake here. If this is the way you want to do it it's not going to be done.

So the deputy court administrator went over to Brevard County and talked with the Chief. And he said, "I understand Jim talked with the county court judges." He said, "What did he promise them?" He said, "He didn't promise them a damn thing." He said, Good for him. I'm supporting Jim." So I got it unanimously. And, you know, I never had a problem. I got nothing but cooperation. The circuit, the county circuits, was split and I was able to bring them together by not showing favoritism. Just doing what's right. And I knew it wasn't based on personality or politics. I thought if we are the 18th Circuit then we should be unified. So, I called a meeting of every judge in the circuit. Never been a meeting like that before and they all showed up. I made it mandatory. And we had a diversity training session and we took a picture. All the judges in the circuit at one place at one time. It's never been done before. And the next year after my term, they elected the judge from Brevard as the Chief. It's been switched every two years ever since.

So, that's cooperation.

I don't know. It could be leadership.

Well, I did read in the Florida Bar Journal, they said that you helped bridge Seminole and Brevard counties and foster camaraderie in the 18th Circuit by having judges rotate duties and get to know each other.

Yeah, right, that's what I did. We instituted a program when the judges had a light schedule in this county and needed help in Brevard County and we scheduled days and vice versa. So, I mean the cultures are totally different in the county. I mean you wouldn't believe it. It's just like Orange and Seminole counties. The cultures are totally different. And a lot of times everybody thinks we're superior because you don't know how other people do things. But once you change them over and they say, "Oh, that makes sense. That makes sense then." There's more cooperation and more diversity so to speak.

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