DONNA RHODES: Welcome to Fast5, the official audio series of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. I'm your host, Donna Rhodes. This episode we're talking with Manatee County Judge Renee Inman, who began her judicial service in 2010 when she was appointed as a general magistrate to support the family division judges. She was elevated to the County Court Bench in 2017, and presides over County Civil and County Criminal Division 1. Judge Inman received a bachelor's degree from Indiana University and a juris doctor from the Western New England College School of Law. She was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2006.
Hi, Judge Inman. Welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.
JUDGE INMAN: Hi, thanks for having me. I'm glad to be here.
DONNA RHODES: All right. Let's just get right to it.
What do you like most about living here in our tri-county area? Or, if you came from another town or state, what drew you here?
JUDGE INMAN: Well, been living down here for almost 20 years now; I married a Florida native. And what I love most about living in this area is the people. Work with some fantastic people here in the 12th Circuit, all the lawyers, our neighbors, I mean, just some wonderful people. Living near the water, the Manatee River and we have the Gulf Coast that we live near, love that. And the activities in the area, so the music, or it be restaurants or running or various activities throughout the three counties. There's just a lot to do here.
DONNA RHODES: Someone -- a lot of people have commented that there's something for everyone in our area, no matter what your interests.
JUDGE INMAN: That is very true. That is very true, yep.
DONNA RHODES: So we have some really great spots for recreation. What do you like to do when you get outside to play?
JUDGE INMAN: Well, my youngest daughter and I love to garden, and over the past year or so we've really gotten more into it. So we have flowers and we have herbs and we have vegetables, and it's just a nice peaceful activity that we both like to do. Plus it gives us an opportunity to then cook with all of our own stuff that we grew. So we love to do that. When I want to get out and do some things, I'll either walk or I'll go running. So those are kind of like the top things that I like to do outside.
DONNA RHODES: Okay. I totally understand the growing your own stuff and then using them. I dabbled with potatoes this past summer. I grew a mess of them from just one potato. And mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, I enjoyed them very much.
JUDGE INMAN: You grew your own potatoes.
DONNA RHODES: Yes.
JUDGE INMAN: Interesting. I didn't know that you could grow potatoes in Florida.
DONNA RHODES: So easy, yes.
JUDGE INMAN: Interesting, usually hear that like an Idaho thing or Maine, but in Florida. And they tasted okay?
DONNA RHODES: Yeah, they were Yukon Gold, too, so buttery and delicious.
JUDGE INMAN: Interesting. I'll have to keep that in mind for next time.
DONNA RHODES: Start them in your pantry.
JUDGE INMAN: Oh. (Laughter) Yeah, you buy 10 pounds of them, and inevitably they're growing tubers on them, so yeah.
DONNA RHODES: Yep, yep. All right, back to the serious stuff. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
JUDGE INMAN: I would say one of the biggest misconceptions that we will see is that people or litigants will think, oh, well, I can just tell the judge to call so-and-so, and they'll be able to tell the judge what it is that they need to know. And we can't do that. Judges are bound by a lot of rules, and everything that a judge can consider -- with certain exceptions -- has to be in court in the presence of both parties, so that each party has an opportunity to address what the judge is considering. So that's one thing.
The other thing is, that is a big misconception, is that the judge knows everything about the case when they sit down in the chair.
DONNA RHODES: Right.
JUDGE INMAN: And we don't. We know what the allegations are, generally speaking, and we know what's in the court file, and that's really it. And so if I'm in a hearing with pro-se folks, meaning people that are representing themselves, and we're starting a hearing or a trial, I try to make sure they know -- blank slate, I only know what the allegations are, so you need to tell me what it is you think I need to know to address your case. And so I think those are two of the biggest misconceptions, that judges know everything about the case and that we can just call somebody when I get up to my office.
DONNA RHODES: All right.
JUDGE INMAN: Yeah, we can't do either of those. Can't do that.
DONNA RHODES: Now, you mentioned rules, and I think this next question might go to some of those rules, too. Why can't judges comment on pending or impending cases?
JUDGE INMAN: Well, as I said in my prior answer, judges are bound to follow a number -- not only the substantive law of the State of Florida and rules of procedure in Florida, but we have rules of ethics that we have to follow. And if we were to comment on cases we may see, or comment on a case that's pending before us, that may violate the rules of ethics in the sense that we may be making statements for or against a party, and that could be the basis of a motion to disqualify later.
And every case has to be heard on its merits, and so if you're making broad statements about your views on a certain subject or something like that, and then that subject comes before you as part of a case, well, you've already made suggestions on your personal feelings about something. And a judge's rulings need to be based on the law, not based on a judge's personal feelings on something. So that's one of the reasons why we have those rules in place.
DONNA RHODES: Yep, yep, understood. Lastly, what does access to justice mean to you?
JUDGE INMAN: What that means to me is that a litigant has access to the courthouse. So in other words, if they have an issue that they believe needs to be addressed by the Court, that they have access to the court system, whether they can afford the filing fee or not. If they can't afford it, then that's why we have affidavits of indigency, and they should be able to access the court system with the filing fees being waived.
It also means to me that once someone has had access to the system, they did then have notice and an opportunity to be heard. So not only are they aware of what's happening in their case, so is the other party, and both parties have an opportunity to come to the courthouse, come to the judge, explain their evidence, explain their arguments to the court, and let the court decide. And finally, I would also add that they have a neutral judge who is presiding over their case. Kind of harkening back to prior answers to some of your questions, everybody's entitled to have a judge that's not biased in one way or another in their case.
DONNA RHODES: Right.
JUDGE INMAN: So I think all of those are kind of part and parcel of that term "access to justice."
DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right. Those are the big Fast5 questions, going to move on to the lightning round. So you may not have any worth in this game here, but Gators or Seminoles?
JUDGE INMAN: Well, I did not go to school here, so I don't. But my husband attended -- well, he graduated from USF, so if I could say Bulls, I would, the USF Bulls. But he did attend a few semesters at FSU, so I'd have to say Seminoles.
DONNA RHODES: All right, all right.
JUDGE INMAN: Sorry, I don't know if you're a Gators fan.
DONNA RHODES: Interestingly enough, I went to Southeast High School, and they are Seminoles but yet Gator colors, so.
JUDGE INMAN: Interesting.
DONNA RHODES: Yeah, very weird time, in high school. What do you do to turn things around when you're having a bad day?
JUDGE INMAN: Well, my family knows this very well, too, and my JA knows this very well. I will just go and have -- I hate to use such a term, but it very much applies, I will just go and just have some quiet time.
DONNA RHODES: Okay.
JUDGE INMAN: For myself. So I'll shut my office door, or I'll go for a walk or something like that, and that just helps. It helps quite a bit to just have that time, where I don't have people around me or talking to me or whatever.
DONNA RHODES: Take a moment to breathe and just be, and be still.
JUDGE INMAN: Mm-hmm, and just kind of reflect.
DONNA RHODES: Mm-hmm. What's one item you can't leave home without?
JUDGE INMAN: My cellphone. I'm sure that's an answer that a lot of people have given, I'm guessing.
DONNA RHODES: Yeah. Have you turned around to go get it if you've forgotten it?
JUDGE INMAN: Yes.
DONNA RHODES: Yeah, okay. What's your go-to productivity trick?
JUDGE INMAN: I think I'm going to use the same answer I gave a couple seconds ago, quiet.
DONNA RHODES: All right.
JUDGE INMAN: If I need to focus or -- if it's not quiet, then I've got background noise, or I'll either have some kind of ambience on my computer or something, like playing wind or something, some kind of background noise.
DONNA RHODES: Similar to white noise or something?
JUDGE INMAN: Mm-hmm.
DONNA RHODES: Last question: What's the top destination on your must-visit list?
JUDGE INMAN: There's a lot, but I'd have to say Australia.
DONNA RHODES: Oh, yeah.
JUDGE INMAN: Yeah. We've had a few folks here that have been there and loved it.
DONNA RHODES: Well, that's it. You have survived Fast5. Thank you so much for hanging with us today. We'll see you around the courthouse.
JUDGE INMAN: Okay, great. Thank you for having me, I appreciate it.