DONNA RHODES: Welcome to Fast5, the official audio series of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court. I'm your host, Donna Rhodes. This episode we're chatting with DeSoto County Judge Danielle Brewer. Judge Brewer joined the 12th Circuit bench in November 2016. She presides over all DeSoto County criminal and civil cases. Because DeSoto County is a rural community with finite judicial resources, there being only one other judge, Judge Brewer serves as an acting Circuit Judge and presides over foreclosure cases and juvenile delinquency cases.

She also presides over case management court in DeSoto County. This problem-solving court serves people in the criminal justice system who are struggling with addiction, serious mental illness, and co-occurring disorders. Case management court's goal is to reduce recidivism and promote sobriety, recovery, stability, and accountability through inter-agency collaboration and criminal justice agencies.

Hi, Judge Brewer, thanks for joining us.

JUDGE BREWER: Thanks for having me.

DONNA RHODES: What's the weirdest food you've ever eaten?

JUDGE BREWER: So I actually spent a -- I actually worked in Hanoi, Vietnam, and I got to try out a bunch of different things there. And I will say that some of the things that I ate there, I may not know exactly what all of them were, but I tried them anyway.

DONNA RHODES: Is that the country that has the fermented egg?

JUDGE BREWER: I did not try that.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, but isn't --

JUDGE BREWER: It looks like an egg.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah, okay, okay.

JUDGE BREWER: I love Vietnamese food though. If I could get some pho right now in Arcadia, I totally would.

DONNA RHODES: That's not the real Fast5 question though, so let's get to it. What do you like most about living in our area?

JUDGE BREWER: So this is home to me. My family has been in Arcadia and -- for the past hundred years. We settled here in the 1800s. And our circuit has so much to offer, so it's really hard to leave; right?

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: That's why we never have. We'll go off and get our education, maybe work another place, but then after that we typically get right back to this area. And I love being able to be close to my family while also being able to -- in this area be able to do anything that you really want to do. We have rural areas, we have beautiful beaches, we have wonderful people. So I love being able to go ride around in the grove, or feed cows in the morning, and grill a hot dog out in the woods, and on the same day be able to go to a first-class restaurant on the beach. So that's the great part about living in this place.

And I think that we have -- even though we have some cities in our circuit that are definitely up and coming and are established beautiful large cities, we still really have a home-town atmosphere. And that's in all three counties of the circuit. Definitely in Arcadia because we're definitely still small town here, but even when you go to Bradenton and Sarasota, like I feel very welcomed there with a lot of people that my family have known for years and years. Because, like I said, if you get here why would you leave.

DONNA RHODES: So we touched on some of the really great things. What do you like to do outside when you get to play?

JUDGE BREWER: So lately -- it's spring gobbler season, so lately I've been doing a lot of turkey hunting in my free time.

DONNA RHODES: Nice.

JUDGE BREWER: And I have not even pulled the trigger on my shotgun yet. I tend to do a lot of looking, more so than the hunting part I guess. Because what is better than being out in the woods at 5 in the morning and kind of getting to see everything that you get to see, and the sun come up, and it's just kind of a very peaceful experience. I got to see a Florida panther --

DONNA RHODES: Oh, nice.

JUDGE BREWER: -- a week or so ago. And it ruined the turkey hunt but -- obviously the turkeys don't want to be around the panther; right? But you get to see it. And also you get to hear all the owls, and just the things that are happening out in nature. But with summer coming and -- I actually think it may have arrived already. My judicial assistant who is from Kentucky, she said, "It's spring," and I said, "Have you felt outside yet?" Because I think summer already here, spring happened two weeks ago. So with the summer coming, I probably will hit up Siesta Key or Longboat at some point in time. And also I definitely plan on getting some fishing in this summer. And my dad and I like to go out on the boat and put out a line and see what we can catch. But just like my turkey hunt, sometimes just a day on the water is better even if you don't take --

DONNA RHODES: Exactly, exactly. A bad day fishing is better than a good day at the office.

JUDGE BREWER: Sometimes, yes.

DONNA RHODES: How do you separate your work life from your home life?

JUDGE BREWER: So that was a lot easier to do prior to COVID. And I hate to bring COVID into it, because we've been living this for the past year and a little bit. But that was a lot easier to do pre-COVID. I made a pact to myself years ago that I was not going to bring any work to my house. And I did that because once you start packing up everything that you possibly could need then essentially you've packed up your entire desk, and then you just kind of have a mobile office back and forth. And so what I said is that the house home is for sleeping, eating, and spending time with your family and friends and enjoying them. And so I made that pact to myself, and I actually got to keep it up until March of last year. And, you know, it was one of those things where if I was in the office until midnight, 2 in the morning, it didn't really matter, like that's, well, when I got home I was home, I could do whatever I wanted to do. So March of last year kind of changed that. But when working from home kind of became almost a mandatory thing for a little while, I kind of set up an area in my house that said, okay, this is the office area, and I'm not going to take anything out of this area and bring it into another area so I don't essentially turn my entire home into the office.

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: Which could have happened for sure. So that's kind of how I separate it, in a physical way. Mentally, I think for all judges you have that issue of thinking about decisions that you're making or have made. Maybe once you get to the house or to -- you know, around family and friends and you kind have that thing, that constant like nagging. And so, when I have those times, which tend to happen -- you know, those are frequent events.

DONNA RHODES: It's a human thing.

JUDGE BREWER: It's a human thing, that's what's on your mind. What typically I do is I kind of go back and I'll do kind of a quick assessment of it in my head, okay, this is the law I based it on, and this is my sequential thinking on how I made that decision or how I'm going to make that decision. And if I can't get it completely out of my head, I have actually a notebook that's at my house that I will jot down a thought on. And typically when I put it on paper, then I'm able to say, okay, I've got it on paper, I'm not going to forget it, tomorrow morning I'm going to look at that again and just take a peek at it and make sure that everything is good there. And that actually has been a great thing for me. I've always done that, in terms of my mental -- like getting something out of my mind. Because typically if you kind of like put it out into the world on paper then it makes you stop thinking about it at least a little bit and kind of gives you a little bit of peace until you can actually do something about it.

And that's been a great tool for me. The notebook has gotten really full over this time -- over the time of actually being at home and working, because it's like, okay, it's midnight and I'm still thinking about this, let me jot it down in the notebook so I can actually do something else. But I typically come up with epiphanies in the shower or like in the middle of the night, and then I'll jot those things down, and then sometimes I wake up the next morning and say what was I thinking, like that's not even a worry, like why was I worried about it. But that's kind of typically how I separate the two.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So your remembrance notebook sounds like a dream journal.

JUDGE BREWER: Hey --

DONNA RHODES: Especially when you're saying, "What is that."

JUDGE BREWER: Hey, I've come up with some really -- there have been a few times where I've come up with great things, and then sometimes I look at it, hmm, you know, this is not where I wanted to go with this, but okay. But it works for me, and I think that's what you have to do, you have to find a happy medium on what works for you and what will allow you to enjoy -- you know, the judiciary has focused on making sure that judges are not having that constant worry. Because stress is -- stress in the legal community and stress for everyone -- attorneys, people that are involved in the court system -- that's something that we all have to endure and we all have to make sure that we have that balance; right? And so you want to be able to live in the moments that you have, and to be more focused in court you have to know that you've got that alternative; right?

And so the journal for me has been the best -- and it's not a journal, it's more of like just random, like make sure you do this tomorrow type thoughts. And those things are great, and whoever is listening, if you've never tried it, just try it out one time. It's crazy what will come up, and it kind of takes a lot of stress off, so.

I think back to it as well because -- my grandfather is Judge Parker, and I remember back when I was a kid, he'd come home from -- you know, we loved to be around when he was going through trials; right? Because when he'd get home from work, like we'd be there as kids, and what did you do, what was the trial about, who did -- you know, like what was the testimony. And we got so excited about it. Now I think back, I'm like, wow, we were horrible kids, he was trying to get away from work and we were just -- and we were just tell us all about it, word for word, I want to know everything. And so anyhow, but that's -- I don't like to do that now, so I feel for him now that I'm older and doing what he used to do.

DONNA RHODES: What does access to justice mean to you?

JUDGE BREWER: So I think -- yeah, I've listened to the other Fast5 interviews. And access to justice to me -- it's very similar to what the other judges, my colleagues, have said.

And that means that everybody has the opportunity to be heard. And it doesn't mean that that person may get what they want or their way, but no matter who the person is, what they do for a living, what they don't do for a living, where they're from, what they believe in, who their parents are, where they went to school, the list goes on, none of that matters. It means that that particular person has had someone listen to them, and someone consider everything that they want to give you at that point in time, and consider their issue, and then to have a decision made and have some finality from that decision. And I think that that's what access to justice means. Access to justice to me does not mean somebody just listening to you, but actually somebody giving you some finality to where life can go on. And I think that that's an important part of that. You know, I echo what my colleagues have said, in that a meaningful opportunity to be in the court and actually get to experience the system that our country was based on, and I'll add to what they say in that to actually have a way to move on to the next thing in life. I think there is a lot of litigation, whether it be criminal, civil, you name it, that when the case is actually done that actually provides a closure.

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: And I think that that is something great that we provide as an entire court system. And that's not just the judges, but the attorneys that are involved, and the case managers that are involved, judicial assistants, court administration, everybody. That's something that -- that's a service that we're providing to the public, that if there is a problem and it's a problem that needs -- whether or not it should be addressed in court or not, it's been filed in order to be addressed in court, that there is some sort of finality and somebody can give them an answer. Whether they like it or not --

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: -- it is an answer.

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: So I think that that's important for people. And that's what access to justice means to me.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So the last Fast5 question is: Judges have canons to follow, an ethical code of conduct, why is it important that judges abide by the code on and off the bench?

JUDGE BREWER: So judges represent a system that -- and they represent something that is way bigger than just a particular judge. And it's our system of justice that our forefathers found so incredibly important that they essentially made it a pillar of our country and how our country was going to run, and it's worked for a really long time. And I think that to have it continue working in the way that our forefathers wanted it to work is that the people that are kind of in charge of it, which are the judiciary, that they're the ones that are keeping the public's confidence and respect in the system. So there's a lot of times that I -- if somebody doesn't like me, that's okay, I get it. Not everybody is going to like everyone else. But I still want -- my goal is always respect for the particular system that I represent. So that's the reason why it's so important that the person that they're seeing on the bench -- that the public that we're representing, the public that we're serving, that the person that they see on the bench is the same exact person that they're going to see at Walmart. And that's the -- and I say Walmart because that's where you see everybody in Arcadia.

DONNA RHODES: No Target out there.

JUDGE BREWER: Yeah. So that person is the same fair, kind, and law-abiding person that they have on the bench, is the one that they're going to see driving down the road, the one that they're going to see at their kid's football games, the ones that they're going to see doing the things that humans do. It's easy to sometimes put -- and I don't really consider myself because I'm in such a small town and everybody kind of knows who I am -- but it's easy to kind of put judges that have anonymity kind of on this pedestal, like they're not really human. But I think that with all of us living in this -- in such a kind of a small town, Arcadia definitely a small town, but like the legal community in Sarasota and Bradenton being relatively small as well, it's important to know that those people are human, and that when they're doing their human things they're actually fair and kind and law abiding. So that's an important thing for me, to make sure that our system stays respected and stays the pillar that our forefathers intended it to be for centuries. So that's the most important part for me. There's some canons that are -- most of the canons in my opinion are not so out there that it's where you have to change your life, unless -- you know, you're not having to change your life in order to be a good person. You shouldn't be changing your life to be a good person.

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: But there are some canons that are not so intuitive, where you're like, okay, like I actually have to think about this, like going to certain events and things like that. But then where I always go to is I think about it and I'm like, well, if somebody saw me there would they think that I already had a preconceived notion of what I was going to do. And that typically makes my decision for me --

DONNA RHODES: Right.

JUDGE BREWER: -- and it's a really easy way to make the decision. That's just how it has to be. I don't want people even thinking that my decision is already made prior to me hearing everything that they have to say. And that goes right back to the access to justice issue, is that if we didn't have those canons then we would not have full access to justice, and that's -- they all kind of go hand in hand, in my opinion.

DONNA RHODES: All right. That was an excellent way to circle back. And we're done with the hard Fast5 questions. Moving on to the lightning round. The Gators or Seminoles? And Seminoles are winning so far in our little lightning round. What do you say?

JUDGE BREWER: So I'm going to give -- I am -- I did go to the University of Florida, so definitely the Gators.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE BREWER: I have season tickets, and I've heard that they're opening it up this year. We're going to have a fall football season, so go Gators.

DONNA RHODES: Nice.

JUDGE BREWER: And I'm excited to see them play, and hopefully the year end will result in a Gator win.

DONNA RHODES: What is your most used emoji?

JUDGE BREWER: So that one I have -- I kind of circle back through three. There's three that I use all the time. One is the laughing face, because, you know, sometimes things are funny, and, you know, you got to laugh. So I use that one a lot. The other one is -- I use the side smile one, the one that's just like, hmm, okay, you know. I use that one a lot. And in 2020 I have had a new emergent emoji, and that is the face palm. So I use the face palm a lot, but it's typically just things that, you know, just have come up and it's like, dang, face palm, so.

DONNA RHODES: Cake or pie?

JUDGE BREWER: Definitely pie.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Dogs or cats?

JUDGE BREWER: Definitely dogs.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE BREWER: I'm very allergic to cats. And I actually have three dogs, so they outnumber me.

DONNA RHODES: Last question for the lightning round: What is one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE BREWER: So I would love to be able to go to Nepal and hike to Everest base camp. But me being a lifelong resident of sea level, I feel like I -- I wouldn't say settling, but I would definitely settle -- instead of Nepal, I would definitely settle to hike the Appalachian Trail, in part because I think it's less likely to kill me.

DONNA RHODES: Yes.

JUDGE BREWER: But I definitely still want to go to Nepal. But maybe not -- maybe I'll get one of those carts or something like that, and, you know, hopefully they'll have a road or something like that.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah.

JUDGE BREWER: Just drive me up there.

DONNA RHODES: Maybe you can get one of those newfangled air taxis and they can just lift you up to the top.

JUDGE BREWER: Yes, and maybe I'll hire somebody for a lot of money to carry my oxygen.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, there you go.

JUDGE BREWER: (Laughter.)

DONNA RHODES: That is it, you survived Fast5. Thank you so much for being our guest, and we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE BREWER: All right, thank you. You guys have a great rest of your day.

Transcripts of past Fast5 episodes

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 the community, the court, and access to justice, followed by a lightning round of rapid-fire questions.

This episode we're chatting with Judge Edward Nicholas who joined the 12th Circuit bench in January 2003. He currently presides over Circuit Civil Division 3 in Manatee County.

And please correct me if I'm wrong, I believe you have presided over four of the five court divisions, so Circuit Criminal, Circuit Civil, Family, and Juvenile. Did you ever preside over probate and guardianship?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Not yet.

DONNA RHODES: Okay.

Following in the footsteps of his father and uncle, Judge Nicholas is also very active in the community through his work with the Bradenton Kiwanis Club, of which he's been a member since 1998 and served as the organization's president.

Hi, Judge Nicholas, thank you for joining us, and welcome to Fast5.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: It's my pleasure to be here.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So my first question is: When you see a puddle do you walk over it or around it?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I'm going to say over.

DONNA RHODES: All right, all right.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Yeah.

DONNA RHODES: I'm a walk-around type girl, but I appreciate those that can walk over.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I've got long legs, I'm going to say over.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. That's not the real Fast5 question. So our first Fast5 question is: What do you like most about living here in DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: There's a lot. I was born here, I was born in Manatee Memorial Hospital. And other than when I was away in college and law school, I've lived here my whole life. So this is my home, it always has been. I love this community. I love the people, I love the nature, the beaches, the diversity. It's just a wonderful place to live and raise a family, and I can't imagine living anywhere else.

DONNA RHODES: My favorite thing about living in Manatee County is it's a big town but yet there's a small-town feel. There's still not a place I can't go that I don't see someone I know.

So that's what I like best.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: You know, and it's that, and it's -- you know, you've got -- a spring training game, for instance, that small-town feel, you'll see a hundred people that you know -- you know, obviously pre-COVID -- crowded into a wonderful stadium. The legal community is still relatively small. You're right, it's grown certainly, definitely since I was young, but it's got a small-town feel. And, you know, they still call it the friendly city, and I think it's absolutely true.

DONNA RHODES: I agree. What's your favorite way to spend a day off?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: So my wife owns a gift shop on Anna Maria Island called a Room With a Hue. She's owned it for years and years and years, probably 15 almost 20 years. It's moved a few times. It's also a studio, she's an artist. And believe it or not, I like manning the shop. I spend either a Saturday or a Sunday out there. I like meeting the people. I'm proud of the work that she does. It gives her a day off, she's open seven days a week. So I've been doing that a lot lately. We do like to travel. My wife used to work for Continental Airlines, now United, and so we travel a good bit. I've got a 100-year-old house that has

DONNA RHODES: Wow.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: -- 100-year-old house problems. We love it, but I spend a good bit of time on the house. I don't know, doesn't seem like there is a whole lot of time off these days.

DONNA RHODES: I guess not, all right, very busy during the days off. What made you pursue a legal career?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: That's a good question. I think I was always attracted to the law. I felt like it suited my skill set. And I was always a pretty good writer. I was, you know, fairly quick on my feet. You know, my mother raised seven kids, by herself, to be strong-willed and independent and fair and objective. I didn't immediately pursue a degree in law. I was a high school teacher for three years after college, and loved it, but was -- have always been drawn to the law. Loved being an attorney, miss it sometimes, but feel like it was the right fit for me. Off topic, I'm enormously proud that my son, Steven, is about to graduate from Stetson Law School and is pursuing the same career in law.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I just got a letter from Stetson Law School president saying that as an alum would I like to present him with his diploma on graduation day.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, very cool.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Isn't that awesome? Yes.

DONNA RHODES: Wouldn't it be nice if some year in the future -- you know, we have Judge Smith Jr. following in the steps of Gilbert Smith Sr. on the bench, and wouldn't it be nice to have another Nicholas on the bench. That might be kind of fun.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: He's a great son and a great person and would make an amazing judge, but he's got a way to go I think.

DONNA RHODES: All right, all right. So this next one is a two-part question: How can judges improve public understanding of the courts, and what can you suggest that citizens do to learn more about the court system?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Well, as you mentioned in your intro, I'm a big, big advocate of community service. You know, we have a lot of blessings as judges and as attorneys, we have a lot of gifts, and I think the goal in life is to give them away, is to find a way to make the lives of those less fortunate, those who don't have the same gifts that we do, a little bit better. And we're uniquely suited as judges to do that. I think sometimes there's a hesitation to do that because of potential conflict of interest or because of the fear that those people or those issues may somehow come before us, but I hope that those barriers are breaking down. Because I've gotten so much joy and pleasure from serving on boards and from my involvement with Kiwanis, you get back so much more than you give. And I think judges could do a better job of just being involved in their communities, whether it's serving on boards, whether it's being active in their churches, whether it's being a part of a community service organization. Because it's in those small ways that we kind of improve the perception of the bench. It's they see us not only doing our jobs but also intimately involved in the community, and I think it just improves the overall understanding of the system, appreciation of the system, and respect for the system.

DONNA RHODES: Right, okay, good. And then what about: Is there anything you can suggest that citizens do to learn more about their third branch of government?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: You know, I think they need to be cognizant of the fact that we are the third equal branch, and oftentimes the least heard from. But I think each citizen has to decide on their own how aggressive they want to be in terms of learning about the system. You know, unfortunately they tend to only learn about the system when they need the system, when they either need a divorce or whether they've been in an accident or whether there's some kind of a dispute, civil dispute. And, you know, I think we could do a better job as a system in educating them and being out in the community, but I think citizens could be a little bit more proactive and become more familiar with the system at times other than when they specifically need it.

DONNA RHODES: When you're in crisis mode, that's never really a good time to learn about anything either.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: That's true, that's true.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah, okay, fair enough. Last big Fast5 question: What does access to justice mean to you?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: You know, I've been involved with the bench a long, long time, and I've seen the efforts that the system generally has made and that we in the 12th Circuit have made to make access to the courts for everyone not just a slogan but truly meaningful, truly possible. Whether it be physical access here in the courthouse, this beautiful new courthouse that doesn't have steps and has elevators and has the physical access, to being responsive to pro se litigants who either can't afford to have an attorney or choose not to. And in every division we have pro se litigants, and although there's not different rules that apply to them we're very responsive to the need to have pro se's within the system and the need to encourage that and to make sure that people feel like their voices can be heard, and they can have their day in court without necessarily having to hire an attorney. So I'm proud of what the 12th Circuit has done over the last 15 or 20 years to make sure that those that want an attorney can get it and have access to their attorneys, but those that either can't afford one or choose not to have one have the same access to the system and the same access to the courts that everyone else does.

DONNA RHODES: Right, okay. That's all for the big Fast5 questions.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: How did I do?

DONNA RHODES: Time for the lightning round. You did very well, thank you. All right, so my favorite one to ask is because of the law school rivalry here. If I'm not mistaken the Florida Bar even has a tally of law schools from where judges hail. So Gators or Seminoles?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Seminoles.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Definitely.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Good book or good film?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Both. I'm reading a really good book now called Bogart's Hat, written by a dear friend of mine.

DONNA RHODES: Oh.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: It's on Amazon. He's a professor at NYU, and it's his first novel, and it's really, really interesting, and a little autobiographical which is kind of cool. So good book. My wife and my son and I are good readers, big readers, and we circle books amongst us.

DONNA RHODES: All right. What's your favorite movie snack?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I guess popcorn. I'm a big salt guy.

DONNA RHODES: Mm-hmm.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I'm trying to cut back. My son has me looking at labels now because --

DONNA RHODES: Boo.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I know. Well, I got a little high blood pressure, I'm taking a little medication for it, so I'm trying it keep the salt intake down. But I do like my salt, so any salty snack is hard for me to put down.

DONNA RHODES: That's goes along with: Sweet or savory flavors?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Definitely savory, salty. I can eat an entire bag of chips or Doritos. Although, I just ate an entire sleeve of Thin Mints last night, so I'm not opposed to sweet either.

DONNA RHODES: I don't think you're allowed to put the sleeve away until you finish it.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

DONNA RHODES: No, no.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: And now you order them online, so I bought four boxes, and that seems excessive. My wife doesn't eat them, so I literally eat entire sleeves at a time. I'm eager for this -- these boxes to be over.

DONNA RHODES: I hear they freeze well, but --

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I keep mine in the freezer.

DONNA RHODES: -- something hasn't lasted long enough in my house to even test that theory.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: I keep them in the freezer.

DONNA RHODES: Yep. All right, last lightning round: At the sound of the alarm clock, do you hit the snooze button, or are you jumping from the bed and seizing the day?

JUDGE NICHOLAS: Weirdly, don't use an alarm. I never have. Up early. Usually jump out of bed. Oftentimes the cats are eager for me to get out of bed and eager to get fed. Yeah, no, I -- once I'm up I'm up. The older I get, the earlier I seem to be waking up.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah, yeah.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: But yeah, I -- things are good. I mean, even in COVID. It was a challenging, challenging year, watched a lot of Netflix. But, you know, I've got a lot to be thankful for, I've been blessed in many many ways, so I don't hesitate to jump out of bed and start the day.

DONNA RHODES: All right. That is the end of our Fast5 questions. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE NICHOLAS: It's been my pleasure, thank you.

DONNA RHODES: Thanks.

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.

DONNA RHODES: Welcome to the Fast5, the official audio series of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. Each episode we pose five questions to a judge, followed by a lightning round of either/or questions. 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. That being said, judges are always judges, even when they hang up their robes each night. The nature of their jobs mean they’re unable to share their thoughts and opinions on certain subjects. Just like Sunday dinner with Grandpa, some topics are off-limits. Talking about sports, literature, or pop culture doesn’t seem suitable for a judge, even though many of them have terrific senses of humor. We’ll keep it light, with questions about our community, what court may look like in the future, and access to justice. Let’s get to it.

Because this is the first episode of the series, there’s no better way to kick things off than to sit down with the 12th Circuit’s Chief Judge, Kimberly Bonner. Hi, Judge Bonner. Welcome to the Fast5, and thanks for being our first victim.

JUDGE BONNER: Thank you for inviting me.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, so let’s start off with the Fast5 questions. How many tattoos do you have.

JUDGE BONNER: I have zero tattoos.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, I’m sorry, those are questions for a different podcast. All right, so what -- the serious stuff -- what do you like most about living here in our area?

JUDGE BONNER: Well, I was born and raised here, so it’s been my choice to stay here. What I think is really great about this area, what I love, is that you have the best of all worlds regardless of what your interests are. You can be out in the country, you can go to the Myakka State Park -- and I live out in a rural area -- you can be at a beach, you can have fine dining, you can go to the opera, you can go to the ballet, you can go sailing, you can take a kayak through the mangroves, you can go trail-riding on the Carlton Reserve. So anything you want is right here, whether you’re an outdoor person or more of an arts fan or something like that, there is something for everybody, and you never have to sacrifice any of your interests or hobbies if you’re here.

DONNA RHODES: It truly is a great place to live. And that -- you mentioned a lot of great spots for recreation, so what do you like to do outside when you get to play?

JUDGE BONNER: Fortunately, because I -- I do live out in a rural area, my backyard is my outdoor activity, so most of my cardio-type exercise is just outside. I can look at my chickens and see the cows, and we have sandhill cranes, and this time of year the kingfishers are back, and so are the seasonal birds. So I just like being outdoors in my own space, out in the country. Obviously Siesta Key is I think the best beach in the world. And I think it’s been the best beach a few times. I don’t get to the beach as much as I used to, but that was always, growing up here, kind of my favorite spot, as we call in-town. If you’re going in-town, you go to the beach.

DONNA RHODES: It’s award-winning, too; right?

JUDGE BONNER: It is.

DONNA RHODES: Best beaches in the world?

JUDGE BONNER: I think by Dr. Beach, I think it is.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah. If you were not a judge, what would you be doing?

JUDGE BONNER: Probably a teacher or a librarian, because I like books, I like school, I like learning. And so that probably would be where I would have landed.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. With the Corona virus and the courts having to learn a whole different way of doing business, it’s ushered in some new technology, and that leads to the next question. So what new technology will transform the courts?

JUDGE BONNER: I think -- obviously Zoom has been hugely important in keeping courts open, and keeping access to courts available. So regardless of whether it’s called Zoom in five or ten years, there will be other platforms developed, I think any of those web-based platforms that allow people to be seen and heard in court remotely, with the functionality that you need to look at documents, look at pictures, be able to have a private conversation with somebody who is on your side of the case but not physically with you, I think that’s where you’ll see the technology take the courts. And I think it’s really going to end up being long-term with great benefit for us to have that. I think it will allow more people to be able to actually have their day in court. And it saves time for a lot of people, and it saves money for a lot of people. If you don’t have to take a day off of work to come to a one-hour court hearing, that’s a huge advantage, and I think overall encourages people to actually avail themself more to come to their court date and not just give up on it.

DONNA RHODES: Right, okay. And lastly, the last Fast5 question: What does access to justice mean to you.

JUDGE BONNER: For me it means that the person has not just the opportunity to be present and to be heard, but that they have a meaningful opportunity to be present and to be heard. So even if you are pre-COVID in a completely open environment, if somebody comes to court and gets cut off in their ability to tell their side of things, then have they really been given access to court, because they were there physically but not heard. So to me it’s not just the showing up and being there and having your name checked on the docket, it’s actually having a full and fair opportunity to have your -- your side of things considered.

DONNA RHODES: That is all for the in-depth questions, so let’s have some fun and go for a lightning round. So there seems to be a big huge law-school rivalry in this state. So Gators or Seminoles?

JUDGE BONNER: Don’t care.

DONNA RHODES: Really.

JUDGE BONNER: Don’t care.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, so go USF.

JUDGE BONNER: No. Go Hatters. I’m a Stetson girl. And they actually have a football team now, too, although they’re not in the same conference.

DONNA RHODES: What are they?

JUDGE BONNER: They’re the Hatters.

DONNA RHODES: Like the Mad Hatters?

JUDGE BONNER: Like a Stetson cowboy hat.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right.

JUDGE BONNER: The University was founded by John B. Stetson, so. Yeah, I have no stake in that rivalry whatsoever, zero interest, and so I -- I am friends with people from all colleges, but I really don’t -- don’t really, you know, take a side there.

DONNA RHODES: Let’s see, you’re a Circuit Judge so you’re a little in Manatee, but you’re mostly in Sarasota, so let’s go: Morton’s or Elite Smoothies.

JUDGE BONNER: Probably Elite Smoothies. I like them both, but I go in there more.

DONNA RHODES: Quick and easy lunch.

JUDGE BONNER: Yeah.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Are you an early bird or night owl?

JUDGE BONNER: Left to my own devices, I’m a night owl. I’m an early bird out of necessity, because of the job. But I would prefer to stay up late than get up early.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, so the next one: Coffee or tea?

JUDGE BONNER: Both, but mostly coffee.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Lastly, what’s one thing on your bucket list?

JUDGE BONNER: I’ve always wanted to see the pyramids in Egypt, and I really do hope to be able to do that at some point. I love history, and I like to travel a lot, so I’d love to go to Egypt. I’d love to go to Israel, too, but the pyramids have always been kind of at the top of my list.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Judge Bonner, thank you very much for being our first guest on the Fast5, and we’ll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE BONNER: Thank you, I’ll be here.