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.