DONNA RHODES: Welcome to Fast5, the official audio series of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court. I'm your host, Donna Rhodes.
Fast5 gives us a chance to get to know the 12th Circuit judges when they're not in a courtroom. Each episode we pose five questions that focus on our community, what court may look like in the future, and the meaning of access to justice. We follow that up with a lightning round of rapid-fire questions.
This episode we're chatting with Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh. Judge McHugh, who joined the 12th Circuit Bench in April 2017, resides over Civil Division C in Sarasota County, and Turn Your Life Around Court, also known by the acronym TYLA. TYLA is a problem-solving court in Sarasota whose mission is to help people arrested for prostitution-related charges escape the sex-trade industry by providing resources to address past trauma, substance abuse treatment, and other services in lieu of jail or prison.
Hi, Judge McHugh. Welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.
JUDGE MCHUGH: Thank you for having me, I'm excited to be here.
DONNA RHODES: All right. So the burning question of the day is what did you have for lunch?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Oh, that's a fancier than normal today. I usually eat leftovers at my desk, but today I did have lunch with a friend and had an omelet.
DONNA RHODES: Nice. Leftovers at the desk is a great thing, and my favorite lunch for many years now. All right, really, the Fast5 questions, we'll get serious. What do you like most about living here in DeSoto, Manatee, or Sarasota?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Well, I love this question. I feel like I could probably work for Visit Sarasota and sell this area. I have such a passion for it. You know, I grew up in the Midwest and I've lived in a couple of big cities before settling in Sarasota, so I have a real appreciation for what makes this area special. And it's not just a beach town, although we have these pristine beautiful beaches, there's just so much more. Our community, including Manatee and DeSoto, is so rich in quality. I learned a lot through my Leadership Sarasota Program about the arts community here, and I partake in the arts community quite a bit, but just the Ringling Museum and the Asolo and the Opera House and the ballet and the South Florida Museum and Mote Aquarium. I mean, there's just a very high quality of things to do in this area. And then there are equestrian activities and the agriculture in DeSoto, and -- I could go on and on and on.
But I do feel really fortunate to be raising a family in not just a place that has beautiful weather and beautiful water and beaches, but a place that really has so much to enrich our lives every day.
DONNA RHODES: Yeah, not just -- the arts are very important, too, they -- sometimes they don't seem as important, and -- you know, we all need to speak to our creative side, too, so.
JUDGE MCHUGH: Right. Another thing that makes this area so special is that it's a really philanthropic area. And I've worked with a lot of nonprofits over the years that have just been amazing powerhouses, stewards of that money and taking care of the vulnerable population in our area. And that's I think meaningful to grow up in a community that cares about its people, too.
DONNA RHODES: Right. Absolutely. So what about recreation, what do you like to do when you're outside and get to play?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Well, we love going to Benderson and riding bikes, or using remote-control boats on the water. We also love getting out on our kayaks and paddling through the mangroves. And every once in a while we'll do a boat rental and do some fishing, or fishing under the Ringling Bridge is fun, too. So we do a lot that's kid-centered right now, but this, again, is just a great area to get outside.
DONNA RHODES: Are you a hook baiter, or do you pass that off to somebody else? Because it's gross.
JUDGE MCHUGH: I do wear gloves, but -- I do -- but I do hook them.
DONNA RHODES: Gloves, I never thought about wearing gloves. Maybe I should start fishing with my husband again.
JUDGE MCHUGH: I don't like to touch the shrimp with my bare hands, but I will do it with gloves.
DONNA RHODES: All right, all right, good to know. If you were not a judge, what would you be doing?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Oh, gosh, I love this question, too. I just recently read a book called The Midnight Library, where the protagonist in the book gets to choose different versions of her life, and so sometimes I play this game, you know, with myself. There's a number of different things, but I would have loved to have been maybe an English professor, or a therapist, or a writer, something like that.
DONNA RHODES: All right. So the civil court process has seen some drastic changes due to the pandemic, and your diligence in embracing the changes to ensure access to justice is noteworthy. In addition to Zoom, what new technology do you think will transform the court?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Oh, in addition to Zoom, hmm. I think that just the digital -- the acceptance of digital documents. And I know right now there's new laws and new rules being passed for notarizing things, and, you know, just the acceptance that you don't have to be physically present with someone in order to make something official. So I think, you know, that's probably the other area, although Zoom has been enormous.
DONNA RHODES: So in the civil division, mediation is a great tool to help move cases along or resolve cases. What about Zoom and mediation, how does that come into play?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Well, I have heard nothing but positive things about Zoom mediations, both from the mediators and from the litigators and the parties. It seems like there is an advantage to being able to -- not have to travel, but also to have the separate meetings with each side and being able to consult with their clients. And I think that everyone was forced into the situation but is being pleasantly surprised at how effective it is.
ONNA RHODES: Right. Okay. And that kind of goes along with our final question: What does access to justice mean to you?
JUDGE MCHUGH: I think there are two sides of it. First, the person making the decision about this very important thing in your life must have all of the facts. And so part of access to justice is making sure that the judge or the jury has everything before them that they need to make a fair and just decision. And then second is that the person who that decision impacts their life in such a great way understands why the decision was made, even if you don't agree with it. So I think that it's very important that people have their time in court, but also that the decision maker is reviewing everything and explaining their decision.
DONNA RHODES: Okay. That's all for the Fast5 big questions, let's move on to the fun thing, the lightning round. Gators or Seminoles?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Seminoles. I went to Florida State Law School.
DONNA RHODES: Woo-hoo, yeah. Morton's or Elite Smoothies?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Well, again, I really eat at my desk most days, but if I really had to pick I probably would get something tasty from Morton's.
DONNA RHODES: They are a delicious place to eat. Are you an early bird or a night owl?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Early bird.
DONNA RHODES: Okay. Coffee or tea?
JUDGE MCHUGH: I drink both, but I can't live without coffee.
DONNA RHODES: Goes along with maybe some of that early-bird stuff?
JUDGE MCHUGH: Yeah.
DONNA RHODES: And then lastly, what is one thing on your bucket list?
JUDGE MCHUGH: I have always wanted to do one of the bike-riding trips through Europe. There's just something that appeals to me about that. I read a lot of historical fiction and I love visiting older European cities, and I think it would be really neat to just kind of travel between those cities on a bike track.
DONNA RHODES: Awesome. Taking the Alps by bike, I would have to push up.
JUDGE MCHUGH: Maybe me too.
DONNA RHODES: All right, Judge McHugh, thank you, that's all the questions we have for Fast5. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you around the courthouse.
JUDGE MCHUGH: Thanks for doing this.