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?


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?


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.


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.


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.