Transcripts from Season 1

Circuit Judge Charles Williams, December 2021

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 Judge Charles Williams. Judge Williams joined the 12th Circuit bench in January of 1998. He presides over Probate and Guardianship in Sarasota County, as well as Drug Court, Mental Health Court, and Veteran's Court in Sarasota County. He received his bachelor's degree from Howard University and his JD from the University of Florida. He was admitted to The Florida Bar in October of 1983. Hi, Judge Williams. Welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Thanks for having me.

DONNA RHODES: What did you listen to on your commute to work this morning, a podcast, music?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: You know, I have Sirius Satellite Radio, and I have it tuned in to ESPN. It's Monday. It's post-Sunday-football Monday, so I listen to sports.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. All right. That's not the Fast5 question though – that’s just the fun one –


DONNA RHODES: -- to loosen you up.


DONNA RHODES: So the real Fast5, what to you like most about living in our tri-county area, or if you came from another town or state, what drew you here?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: You know, I grew up in St. Pete which is a lot like Sarasota. It's a little bit bigger in terms of the city, but you know, I'm pretty much a native Floridian. I mean I grew up in St. Pete. I was born in North Carolina, in rural North Carolina, but I came down here when I was like five years old, so the same things that I loved about St. Pete, the weather, the beaches, the people, I like living in a tourist town because you get a chance to meet a variety of different people, so those are the things I like about this area.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. We have some really great spots for recreation. What do you like to do when you get outside to play?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: I'm a golfer.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE WILLIAMS: So you know, there's an abundance of great golf courses so -- golfing sort of combines walking and recreation. Some people don't consider it a real sport. I do. So that's probably my number one recreation right now. You know, maybe I'm spoiled, but you know, I'm not a real beach person. I don't go to the beach that much. Usually I just take relatives and visitors to the beach. I don't spend enough time there. I'm going to try to start doing more of that.

DONNA RHODES: I do love the beaches, but you know, with traffic, they're so far away, and by the time you get home, you just kind of --


DONNA RHODES: -- want to sit there --


DONNA RHODES: -- yeah. So if you were not a judge, what would you be doing?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: I'd be a filmmaker.


JUDGE WILLIAMS: Many people know, many people -- most people don't know, but I'm an amateur filmmaker, and so with former Judge Durand Adams, who's now retired, we've made probably eight or nine documentary films that we're very proud of, so in an ideal world I'd be a filmmaker.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Maybe a little something for when you're not on the bench anymore?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Yeah, it's something to think about.


JUDGE WILLIAMS: It's something to think about.

DONNA RHODES: All right. I think -- you know, we have the film festival here, so is this a film town?



JUDGE WILLIAMS: It is. In fact, I'm working a film festival this week, there's the Sarasota Film Festival in April, and then there's a Native American Film Festival that I'm working on in early May. So that's one of my hobbies --


JUDGE WILLIAMS: -- is working with people in film festivals, so I like doing that.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Why can't judges comment on pending or in pending cases?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Well, we have this mantra, you have to avoid all appearances of impropriety. I mean we wear these black robes because, well, supposedly we were in mourning for Queen Anne hundreds of years ago in England where our justice system came from, but I think it also implies that we're neutral, we have to stay above the fray, and so it's very important for us to at least hopefully give the appearance to the public that we are above the fray, so we have to stay out of it, we can't comment on it, we want to be neutral and impartial, and anytime you comment on a case or mention a case -- if one person that's involved in the case thinks that maybe you're a little bit biased, it really sort of undermines the integrity of the judiciary.

DONNA RHODES: So that kind of sounds like you're a judge 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Theoretically technically we are, although I always say when I leave the courthouse I don't make anymore decisions, so I'll let my wife make decisions about what we're going to watch except sports and, you know, what we're going to have for dinner and things like that so -- you know, people think it's easy making decisions all day, but it's tough, and so at the end of the day, you get tired of it.

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

JUDGE WILLIAMS: I think, in literal term, that no one should be denied justice or access to the courts because of their personal condition, whether it's poverty, whether it's being physically handicapped, whether it's because the courts are backlogged. You should be able to -- be able to seek redress in the courts any time that you need it and any time you're entitled to it.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. That’s it for the Fast5 questions.


DONNA RHODES: We’re going to move on to the lightning round.


DONNA RHODES: And Gators or Seminoles?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: It’s a bad year to be either, but technically I’m a Gator so -–

DONNA RHODES: Okay, yeah. Actually, I think the Gators are starting to catch up now. We were really heavy on the Seminoles in the beginning --

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Well, on the misery index I think we're tied.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. What is your favorite movie snack?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Popcorn, no butter, no salt.

DONNA RHODES: All right. What is your favorite musical instrument and why?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: I like the guitar, lead guitar, electric lead guitar. I do not play it, but if I could play an instrument, if I was like granted a wish and what would it be, it would be just one of these guitar-god type electric --


JUDGE WILLIAMS: -- blues guitarists.

DONNA RHODES: They do look like they're having a good time --


DONNA RHODES: -- out there.


DONNA RHODES: Yep. Just rocking out.


DONNA RHODES: I love when they kind of drop their head back and they close their eyes --


DONNA RHODES: -- and they’re feeling the music.

JUDGE WILLIAMS: Right. I do play a mean air guitar.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Dogs or cats?



JUDGE WILLIAMS: I have to say I don’t like cats.

DONNA RHODES: You don’t like cats?


DONNA RHODES: They can be very aloof at times, yeah. I’m allergic, so I have –


DONNA RHODES: I don't want to like them but --

JUDGE WILLIAMS: I know. I don't hate cats, as I told my kids, “hate” is too strong a word, but I don't like cats.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah. Yeah. Lastly, what is one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE WILLIAMS: As a filmmaker I want to go to the Oscars. I want to just, you know, soak in that experience, see all the people on the red carpet, so I've thought about it for a long time. It was playing a round of golf at Augusta, but now it's going to the Oscars.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. You have survived. You have survived all the Fast5 questions, so thank you very much --


DONNA RHODES: -- for sitting down with us. We'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE WILLIAMS: All right. Great. Thanks.

Cicuit Judge Teri Dees, November 2021

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 Circuit Judge Teri Dees, who joined the 12th Circuit bench in September of 2015. She earned her bachelor's degree and JD from the University of Florida, and she was admitted to The Florida Bar in October of 1996.

Judge Dees presides over Circuit Family Division 4 and Early Childhood Court, also known as "ECC", in Manatee County. ECC addresses child welfare cases involving children under the age of three, following the National Safe Babies Court Team approach and the Miami Child Well-Being model to heal trauma and repair the child's relationship with parents or caregivers.

Hi, Judge Dees. Welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.

JUDGE DEES: Good morning, Donna.

DONNA RHODES: Does your current car have a name, and what is it?

JUDGE DEES: “Herbie.”

DONNA RHODES: “Herbie.” Excellent. “Herbie Hancock?”

JUDGE DEES: No, “Herbie.” --


JUDGE DEES: -- from the Disney movie. “Herbie.” What's the name of that movie where the bug was all crazy, the little Volkswagon Bug?

DONNA RHODES: “Herbie the Love Bug?”

JUDGE DEES: “The Love Bug.”

DONNA RHODES: Oh. Okay. I was going to say Disney. I don't have kids.


DONNA RHODES: I probably don't recognize it.

JUDGE DEES: “The Love Bug.”

DONNA RHODES: All right.



JUDGE DEES: ’Cuz it talks to me and yells at me all the time when I --


JUDGE DEES: -- tell it --


JUDGE DEES: -- to settle down.

DONNA RHODES: They -- they do that.


DONNA RHODES: Like “Feed me with oil” or “Fix my tires.” That's not the real Fast5 question, so let's get to it. What do you like most about living here in Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto County, or if you came from another place, what drew you here?

JUDGE DEES: So I was born and raised here. I'm actually looking out over the Manatee River at the beautiful city of Palmetto which is my hometown, born in Palmetto, went to school in Bradenton, and then only moved away from Manatee County to go to college --


JUDGE DEES: -- so I lived in Gainesville.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Very good.

JUDGE DEES: Swore on a stack of bibles I'd never come back. I was on a path to move to Atlanta. I scooted up to Georgia, took the Georgia Bar, and was in the process of joining the FBI --


JUDGE DEES: -- the Atlanta field office, when they went on a hiring freeze --


JUDGE DEES: -- and back I came, and here I am, and I'm truly happy.

DONNA RHODES: That's what --

JUDGE DEES: I can't imagine being anywhere else.

DONNA RHODES: Good luck for us. Sorry for the FBI. We have some really great spots for recreation. What do you like to do when you get outside to play?

JUDGE DEES: Let's see. When the humidity is not a hundred percent, I like to shoot sporting clays, so that's one of my favorite “winter” -- using the term loosely -- activities, but otherwise we're on the boat. We go everywhere on the boat, anywhere from Tampa to Boca Grande. We scoot all over.

DONNA RHODES: So shooting sporting clays, that's skeet shooting; right?


DONNA RHODES: So you and Judge Carroll have something in common. How crazy is that?

JUDGE DEES: Who knew?

DONNA RHODES: Skeet shooting --

JUDGE DEES: We have more than that.

DONNA RHODES: -- twice in a row.

JUDGE DEES: We've got more than that in common.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. All right.

JUDGE DEES: So either the boat or the woods. Those are really my two happy places.

DONNA RHODES: That sounds good. Okay. So you mentioned that you had found yourself on -- in Atlanta looking at the FBI. What made you pursue a legal career?

JUDGE DEES: My father is an attorney, and I was raised around a lot of attorneys. When I was in elementary and middle school, I worked at my dad's office every day after school as a runner, so I was always at the courthouse, the old courthouse --


JUDGE DEES: -- when people were accessible, and I got to know judges, I got to know clerks, I got to know bailiffs, I got to know judicial assistants, a lot of the lawyers. I was everywhere.


JUDGE DEES: Not old enough to drive, but I was cruising around town basically running paperwork.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. If I'm not mistaken, that was back in like the day where people could actually walk into the judge's office --


DONNA RHODES: -- and -- okay.

JUDGE DEES: Yeah. So I got to know all the JA's when I was very, very young, and really, I enjoyed it. I -- I always enjoyed the thought of being a lawyer, but in honesty, I always wanted to be a judge, so it was either a judge or the FBI, and when the FBI kind of slowed down on the hiring freeze, I came back home, went into practice with Jon Weiffenbach, and never looked back.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE DEES: Funny story. They came back from the hiring freeze about five years later when I was completely settled, I was a partner in the firm, I owned my own house and -- it all worked out for the best.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah. Why is it important for courts to preserve the rule of law?

JUDGE DEES: Without laws we're chaos. I mean I think that it's extremely important that everyone understands that we all operate under the same set of stable and expected rules. That way people have a clear understanding that the law is applied equally and evenly and even people that seem maybe untouchable have the same level of accountability, so everyone knows that they walk in with the same rules and the same even playing field, we don't just get to make exceptions because that's how we feel that day.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Fair enough. Lastly, what does access to justice mean to you?

JUDGE DEES: Just the ability to know there's a neutral third party that is willing to listen, understanding that's their job to listen, that anybody, regardless of their path or -- or where they are in society, has the same access to the courts and the same access to a judge and he or she can advocate for himself or his position, advocate for their interests, and have someone listen and issue a -- a fair ruling.

DONNA RHODES: Right. Okay. That's all the hard Fast5 questions we have.

JUDGE DEES: I like to roll through those quickly.

DONNA RHODES: We're moving on to the lightning round, and this is not going to be a guess either if everybody was listening to the introduction, Gators or Seminoles?

JUDGE DEES: Well, that's a no-brainer.

DONNA RHODES: Or are you going to surprise me?

JUDGE DEES: There'll be no surprises there.


JUDGE DEES: I'm a double Gator.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE DEES: Gator through and through.

DONNA RHODES: What is your favorite time of day?

JUDGE DEES: I'd say the late afternoon, evening. I enjoy sunset. I enjoy being able to get out on the water and just unwind and relax.

DONNA RHODES: Are you a traveler or a homebody?

JUDGE DEES: Traveler.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Any special places you've been to or want to go to?

JUDGE DEES: I just like to go.


JUDGE DEES: So we do quite a bit. We do a lake up in North Georgia that we really enjoy in the summertime. I love places like Chicago and -- and New York City. I like the Caribbean. I like cruising. I like the mountains. I like skiing. I'm pretty much up for anything.

DONNA RHODES: I get it, so vacation.

JUDGE DEES: Vacations are where --


JUDGE DEES: -- it's at. Yes. I do, I love to travel. I haven't been overseas in quite a while, but hopefully that'll change when things settle down.

DONNA RHODES: Fingers crossed. Popcorn or M&M's?

JUDGE DEES: Peanut M&M's.

DONNA RHODES: Nice. Okay. And what is the best piece of advice someone has given you?

JUDGE DEES: It depends on the day. One of my favorites came from my high school Humanities' teacher, and she would always say, "Different isn't wrong. Different is just different." And that has always stuck with me, and that's always something that I think of. Another recent favorite came out of one of the conferences when we still were meeting in person and somebody said, "No. "It's a complete sentence.

DONNA RHODES: It is. It's very final too.

JUDGE DEES: So -- so depending on the day. I'm -- I always feel the need to explain myself and explain why I couldn't possibly do something to -- you know, whether it's a volunteer opportunity and I'm like wow, "No" -- "No" is a complete sentence. You are allowed to just say no. But I don't really apply that in work, so it just depends on the circumstance. I still explain myself at work.

DONNA RHODES: I think, you know, we don't want to let people down.

JUDGE DEES: No. I always feel like explanations are helpful, but that one sat with me. I'm like that is interesting. If your kid says, "Hey, can we go to the mall," and da-da-da-da-da, "No."

DONNA RHODES: Tough Momma. All right. That is it. We have reached the end of the Fast5. Thank you so much for joining us, and we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE DEES: Very good, Donna. Thank you.

Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, October 2021

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 chatting with Circuit Judge Hunter Carroll, who joined the 12th Circuit bench in November 2015. Judge Carroll presides over Circuit Civil Division H, Circuit Family Division H, and Probate and Guardianship Division H in south county, or what a map would call Venice. He was also appointed for a second three-year term to the Florida Court's Technology Commission, which is charged with advising the Chief Justice and Supreme Court on matters relating to the use of technology in the judicial branch. Hi, Judge Carroll, welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, thank you for having me, Donna. And certainly it's a pleasure to be here, and coming from south county. And in addition to Venice, we have North Port, Osprey, Englewood, and everything in between.

DONNA RHODES: Wow, that's kind of a big area. This is a pressing question: This year is the 55th anniversary of Star Trek, so in keeping with that theme, which is the superior series, Star Trek or Star Wars?

JUDGE CARROLL: Now, that is an unfair question. I'm not sure I'm capable of accurately and intelligently deciding. I love both series as well.

DONNA RHODES: They each have positive things to them, don't they.

JUDGE CARROLL: Right. And I think if I were to have to sit as a judge in that case, I probably would recuse myself.

DONNA RHODES: All right, okay, fair enough. That's not the real Fast5 question, so --

JUDGE CARROLL: But live long and prosper.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So here's the good stuff. What do you like most about living here in DeSoto and Manatee and Sarasota? Or, if you came from another town or state, what drew you to this area?

JUDGE CARROLL: Actually I was born here in Sarasota, and I've lived here almost my entire life. And other than for college and a few years after college, I've spent my entire time living in either Manatee or Sarasota. It is just a wonderful place. It's beautiful, it's a great place to raise children. And where in the world can you on the same day be at a gorgeous beach and then go east 30 minutes and then be out in just some magnificent nature preserves that we have in our circuit.


JUDGE CARROLL: This spot is just a very -- I'd say a well hidden secret, but given the number of people we have in our area it's not very hidden. But it just is a wonderful, wonderful place to be, and I'm so fortunate to be here.

DONNA RHODES: Speaking of that, we have some really great spots for recreation, what do you like to do when you get outside to play?

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, I have a young son, and we've actually been spending most of our time out playing baseball. So we spend a lot of time out at the baseball parks. But when I do have time, certainly anything golf. You know, haven't played tennis in a while, but always have enjoyed that. I enjoy skeet shooting down at Knight Trail Park. And just pretty much enjoying the wonderful area that we have.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Skeet shooting, that's not -- that's not a play-time thing that we've had yet, so that's something different. If you were not a judge, what would you be doing?

JUDGE CARROLL: As a kid, in addition to being -- wanting to be an attorney, I thought how about being a Florida marine patrol officer. I think growing up -- I think as a kid growing up with the idea of just being out on the water in a boat every day has a very wonderful allure. And so growing up, if the judge thing didn't work out and the attorney thing didn't work out, the other thought I had was to become a marine patrol officer, so.

DONNA RHODES: All right, well, your plan B sounds just as respectable. And maybe a little more fun because of the boat. What does judicial independence mean, and why is it important?

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, I mean, it certainly has a technical definition. It's part of our separation of powers where the third branch of government is not controlled by -- our decisions are not dictated by either the legislative branch or the executive branch. But in reality, judicial independence is the lynchpin that actually holds democracy together. If you look at a lot of countries, I mean, you can look at constitutions of -- like the former Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, all of these countries have rights that you would recognize in our Bill of Rights, but what they didn't have is an independent judiciary. So the fact is that if you have the judiciary that is controlled by the other branches of government, you don't have that independent branch, and you don't have the ability of a judge saying no to someone that might be very powerful. And so that's just one of the unique functions that we have based in our Constitution, is this independence and the separation of our powers between the three branches of government.

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

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, that's allowing people to come in and being able to resolve their disputes in a very neutral, fair way. You know, as a society we don't allow people to solve problems on their own through physical violence, or might equals right. Instead we've agreed to have a system of rules that are applied uniformly to everybody, and so because we have that we need to allow people to come into the system. And so that access to justice is so important, and it's a critical piece of the judicial system, is to allow people to come in and be able to resolve disputes in a very fair, impartial manner.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. All right, that's it, those are the hard questions. Now we're going to move on to the lightning round. I forgot this part in your bio, but you have two bachelor's degrees from the University of Florida, and your JD also comes from University of Florida's College of Law. So I'm guessing that your answer to this "Gators or Seminoles" is pretty obvious now.

JUDGE CARROLL: I spent seven glorious years at the University of Florida, very fortunate. My older brother was there for eight, my younger brother was there for six, my mom was there for I think five, my granddad was there for five or six years himself. And so --


JUDGE CARROLL: -- I would say UF. But certainly we're very fortunate -- and as much as I like to kid about the Seminoles, we have just an amazing public school system here in our state, and that goes for all state university systems. So while I'll -- just, go Gators.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. So what it just sounds to me like, your entire family is the Gator nation.

JUDGE CARROLL: We are a good chunk of it, yes.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, okay. A good book or a good film?

JUDGE CARROLL: See, you told me that the hard questions are behind us.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, no, okay.

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, I think between -- I would go with a good film.


JUDGE CARROLL: I really enjoy reading very much, but I'm also a fan of movies, and just -- I think if I had to choose I would go with a film.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Sweet or savory?

JUDGE CARROLL: Savory all day long, every day.

DONNA RHODES: I hear you. Coffee or tea?

JUDGE CARROLL: Option C, none of the above.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, okay. Are you for water?

JUDGE CARROLL: I pretty much just drink water these days.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Maybe I need to switch that up.

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, I gave up soda about six years ago, and decided if I was going to give up caffeine through soda then I just might as well give it up totally, so now I just pretty much drink water.

DONNA RHODES: You know, it makes our skin just glow and be so youthful, so. Lastly, what is one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE CARROLL: I'd love to go to Australia, have a nice lengthy trip.

DONNA RHODES: Yeah, Australia would be fun. New Zealand, too. I think -- I just think, you know, Lord of the Rings, and seeing all that scenery, I -- it just must be breathtaking.

JUDGE CARROLL: Judge Dunnigan upon her retirement a few years ago did a lengthy trip to Australia and came back, and the stories and just the scenery she regaled us with was just so breathtaking, and so I'd just love to -- a chance to go and experience it myself.

DONNA RHODES: Everybody talks about the trip, but nobody talks about -- what is it, like a two-day plane ride there? Nobody talks about that, how do you get through that. Anyway.

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, how about "Beam me up, Scotty."

DONNA RHODES: Yes, I'm all for that. Let's teleport everywhere. You know what? I'm out of questions. Thank you, Judge Carroll, so much, for hanging and talking with us, and we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE CARROLL: Well, thank you very much, Donna. And let me just give a plug. The south county courthouse will be opening in February of 2022. So if you're ever down this way, feel free to come and look at the new courthouse. We're, like I said, opening in February of 2022.

Sarasota County Judge David Denkin, September 2021

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 joined by Sarasota County Judge David Denkin. Judge Denkin joined the 12th Circuit Bench in January 2003. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of South Florida, and his JD from Stetson University. Judge Denkin presides over Sarasota County's south county division in Venice, and presides over two of Sarasota County's problem-solving courts -- Community Care Court and DUI Court. Community Care Court seeks to engage people who are chronically homeless and provide them with services and opportunities to improve their lifestyle. DUI Court seeks to reduce the number of repeat DUI offenders. Both courts use judicial accountability, multidisciplinary teams, and case management to address the root causes of people who become involved in the criminal justice system -- diseases of addiction, mental illness, and cooccurring disorders. Hi, Judge Denkin, welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.


DONNA RHODES: How do you like your eggs?

JUDGE DENKIN: How do I like my ads?

DONNA RHODES: Your eggs.


DONNA RHODES: Sunny side up, over easy?

JUDGE DENKIN: Oh, oh, oh, eggs. Omelette style.

DONNA RHODES: Omelette style, all right, that's good. So maybe some veggies thrown in there, maybe some meat?

JUDGE DENKIN: Oh, all meat, all meat.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right.

DONNA RHODES: That's not the real Fast5 question, so let's --

JUDGE DENKIN: Yeah, I know.

DONNA RHODES: What do you like most about living here in DeSoto, Manatee, Sarasota? Or if you came from somewhere else, what drew you to this area?

JUDGE DENKIN: Well, let's see. I came here in '81 because I was hired as a prosecutor. And when I came here I went to Main Street. There was a bagel place on Main Street at the time, next to Main Street Bar, and I figured let me find out what downtown Sarasota is, to figure out where to live. So I went in the restaurant and they said, Well, ask the postman, he should be in any second. So he shows up and I said, Can you tell me what downtown Sarasota is? So he takes me out, and he says, This is Main Street. I said, Okay. This is the north end of downtown Sarasota. I said, Oh, okay. He says, And one street south, that's called Ringling Boulevard, after Ringling brothers. I said, Oh, interesting. He said, Well, that's the south end. I said, Oh. He says, And there's the courthouse, and if you go all the way to the end of the street you'll run right into Brewmasters. Which was a restaurant at the Station. You remember that?

DONNA RHODES: Yes, I remember that place.

JUDGE DENKIN: He said that was the east end. And he said the west end, and he pointed to what was called 5Points, back then it was the Southeast Bank. I thought what a tiny town, having grown up in Miami, I'm going to love living here. So that was my first experience in being here.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So we have some really great spots for recreation. What do you like to do when you get outside and play?

JUDGE DENKIN: Biking, swimming, running. Running is past tense, because I'm too old.

DONNA RHODES: It sounds kind of like a decathlon or a triathlon.

JUDGE DENKIN: Yeah, and I used to do triathlons with Judge Bonner.


JUDGE DENKIN: And Judge Riva. Play tennis with Judge Roberts, but now that he's chief judge I have to let him win. And I have a kayak, so.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right. How would your 10-year-old self react to what you're doing now?

JUDGE DENKIN: Oh, he would probably say, Seriously, you're a judge? Do they know?

DONNA RHODES: What is the rule of law and why is it important for courts to preserve it?

JUDGE DENKIN: Well, it's important because it helps prevent the arbitrary and let's call it capricious exercise of power. It gives parties the opportunity to expect certain things to happen should they abide by their end of the bargain or their end of the law.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. So it's a blueprint basically.

JUDGE DENKIN: It's a guide -- yeah, it's like the brochure you get.

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

JUDGE DENKIN: Hmm. Let's see, access to justice would be the right, the ability, and the opportunity for any person to avail themselves of the judicial system so that they can advocate for themselves and their interests.

DONNA RHODES: Those are the big Fast5 questions, so you're done, you're done with the hard stuff.

JUDGE DENKIN: Yay, wait -- (applause sound effect)

DONNA RHODES: Coming up to the lightning round, okay.

JUDGE DENKIN: Thank you, thank you, thank you, okay, thank you. Sit down, sit down everybody. I'm sorry.

DONNA RHODES: It's getting crazy in here.


DONNA RHODES: So my first question is Gators or Seminoles.


DONNA RHODES: All right, very good. So you're not caught up in that rivalry at all.

JUDGE DENKIN: Not at all.

DONNA RHODES: What is your favorite movie snack?


DONNA RHODES: Sno Caps, nice choice. Are you a summer Olympics fan or a winter Olympics fan?


DONNA RHODES: Okay. Dogs or cats?


DONNA RHODES: Okay. Lastly, what is one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE DENKIN: A bigger bucket.

DONNA RHODES: A bigger bucket. Excellent. You know what, you have survived the Fast5. Thank you. Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me. And we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE DENKIN: Thank you, Donna. Bye.

Circuit Judge Fred Mercurio, August 2021

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 Circuit Judge Fred Mercurio. Judge Mercurio, who joined the circuit bench in January 2013, presides over circuit criminal felony division 3 in Manatee County. He received a Bachelor's from FSU in 1981, earned his JD in 1983 from Stetson University College of Law. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1984, and since 1994 is a Florida Bar certified criminal trial lawyer. Hi, Judge Mercurio, welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.

JUDGE MERCURIO: No problem, thank you.

DONNA RHODES: So do you prefer your ice cream in a bowl or a cone?

JUDGE MERCURIO: Kind of depends. I like both, so it depends on if I'm with grandchildren or not. With grandchildren it's cones, at home by myself it's a bowl.

DONNA RHODES: Nice, very nice. All right, that's not the real Fast5 stuff, so let's get to it.

JUDGE MERCURIO: That's okay.

DONNA RHODES: What do you like most about living here in DeSoto, Manatee, Sarasota Counties, or if you came from somewhere else what drew you here?

JUDGE MERCURIO: Well, I moved down here when I was in high school from Brooklyn, New York with my family. My dad had recently retired from the New York Police Department, and my brother was going to start school at -- what was then Manatee Junior College. So we all moved down one summer and never went back in terms of living there. And part of the reason was we had family here out on Siesta Key. My grandparents had a winter home here, and my aunt and uncle had started living here and were on Siesta within a mile of my grandparents. So we first came down and moved to Siesta.

DONNA RHODES: All right. You know MTV has a show about Siesta Key; right?

JUDGE MERCURIO: I have heard that, and I've actually whizzed through a couple of the commercials and things when I watched MTV.

DONNA RHODES: To see if you could find anything familiar?


DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right. So we have some really great spots for recreation, what do you like to do when you get outside to play?

JUDGE MERCURIO: We're big-time outdoors people. I'm a big boater and fisherman and hunter, so -- we're fortunate enough to live on the water, so I have my boat there, I have three kayaks there, a jet ski, an in-shore boat, so a lot of my time is spent on the water fishing. I also hunt around Florida and northern states. But I also like to walk. I had hip replacement surgery last December, so I do a lot of walking, go out to Robinson Preserve and some of the parks up 75th Street, the DeSoto Memorial Park and whatnot.

DONNA RHODES: I love the fiddler crabs out there, that's my favorite part. Yeah, to be quiet and then when they come back, I love it. If you weren't a judge what would you be doing?

JUDGE MERCURIO: That question makes me think, because I have a family history in the law enforcement field; my father was a police officer, my brothers are in law enforcement. But I would picture myself somewhere in the business world. My undergraduate degree is in finance from FSU, I have an uncle that used to be a chief financial officer for several Fortune 500 companies, and so I believe I would find myself in the finance world, possibly stock broker type financial adviser or working in a company.

DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right. Why is it important that judges have an ethical code of conduct that applies on and off the bench?

JUDGE MERCURIO: I think it's important for the general public to know that we have an ethical code of conduct that we are required to live by on and off the bench because it should give them some sense that judges are living according to a set of rules that apply to all judges, and that they can appear in front of a judge with some level of confidence that that judge is living up to the rules, following a set of rules that are enforced by the Judicial Qualifications Commission and ultimately by the Florida Supreme Court. I think it should generally alert anyone that appears before a judge that, hey, this person is there, he's required to follow rules, if he doesn't he's subject to some sanctions and he or she would not be on the bench hearing my case, which I want to be heard and given a fair shot.

DONNA RHODES: Fair enough. What does access to justice mean to you?

JUDGE MERCURIO: Having served as a lawyer for 24 years before becoming a judge, and now being a judge in my ninth year, I think access to justice means that regardless of your race, creed, religion, regardless of your economic standing, you have the right to have a case heard in court, and that ideally none of those things are going to matter and you'll be there standing on equal footing with your opponent. Someone who has served on the criminal bench and deals with a large variety of members of the population, I also think that access to justice -- not only for defendants in criminal cases, but victims, witnesses, participants -- is giving them the courtesy and respect they deserve, and most importantly giving them an opportunity to be heard. Because I think most people who come to court, whether you rule against them or not, they want to be able to walk out of the courtroom knowing that they had an opportunity to be heard and a judge listen to them.

DONNA RHODES: All right. You made it through the Fast5 big questions, so now we're on the lightning round. I kind of have an idea how you're going to answer this first one. And I will say that the Seminoles are definitely ahead at this point. So Gators or Seminoles?


DONNA RHODES: All right. Are you an early bird or a night owl?


DONNA RHODES: Okay. Coffee or tea?

JUDGE MERCURIO: I don't really drink either. I drink ice tea.

DONNA RHODES: All right, all right. What type of music do you like?

JUDGE MERCURIO: I really enjoy pretty much all kinds of music, and if you see my CDs in the truck you'll hear five or six different kinds. There's really not any particular kind of music that I don't appreciate.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. And lastly, what is one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE MERCURIO: My parents took our family to a Mediterranean cruise when they had their 50th wedding anniversary, and we spent three days in Italy at the end of the cruise. And I'm of Italian descent, and I still have relatives in Italy. So my bucket list is make a return trip in Italy, spend some time in the smaller towns, and visit and try to connect to some of that very distant family that's still there.

DONNA RHODES: That sounds awesome. My colleague Linda Pluta would probably want to join you very much. All right, Judge Mercurio, thank you so much for sitting with us and talking with us on Fast5, and we'll see you around the courthouse.


Circuit Judge Charles E. Roberts, July 2021

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 chatting with Chief Judge Elect Charles Roberts, who assumes the chief administrative officer role on July 1st. Judge Roberts joined the 12th Circuit bench in January 2003, and he's assigned to the newly created problem solving courts, division P, and oversees all criminal administrative matters in the problem solving courts.

Problem solving courts use multidisciplinary teams and case management to address the root causes of people becoming involved in the criminal justice system -- diseases of addiction, mental illness, and co-occurring disorders. Judges and court leaders have witnessed reduced recidivism and increased confidence in satisfaction with the court process in programs that combine treatment and rehabilitation with judicial supervision and accountability. As an added bonus, he's also a mean cake decorator.

Hi, Judge Roberts, welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.


DONNA RHODES: So what was your least favorite food as a child, and do you still hate it? Or do you love it now.

JUDGE ROBERTS: I have never liked cilantro.


JUDGE ROBERTS: It is something that if I even smell it in the zip code that I'm in I know it's there. And I'm not real big on spicy foods, but other than that I'll eat anything, especially anything that has chocolate in it.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Yay chocolate. That's not really the Fast5 question, so let's get down to the real stuff. What do you like most about living here in DeSoto, Manatee, or Sarasota? Or if you're not from here, what drew you here?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Well, I'm originally from Washington D.C., which is obviously a big city. I came to Florida because I got a job down here. And my first experience in Florida was coming down over a spring break when I was in law school. I went down to the Keys with a cousin, fell in love with Florida, and that was one of the areas that I had on my list of places to look for a job. And Sarasota is just wonderful, the whole area here, Manatee, Sarasota, DeSoto Counties. I kind of like the small-town feel, even though people who live in Sarasota probably don't consider it a small town, but compared to places like Washington D.C. I still think it has a small-town feel. I like the proximity to the water, I like the climate, I'm kind of an outdoors person. The restaurants, the arts, it has everything that I like and think is an ideal place to live.

DONNA RHODES: All right. So you mentioned that you like to be outside. What do you like to play with when you're outside?

JUDGE ROBERTS: I really enjoy running. About 10, 12 years ago I started taking up running as a hobby or as a past-time, and started running -- I'll say it's competitive, other people who watched me probably won't say competitively. I started doing some shorter races, then I started doing the longer races, got into marathons, half marathons, every kind of distance. And so I've kept that up. Not the marathons, my longest right now would be a half marathon. But I enjoy running, I run through or four times a week. I really enjoy tennis. I used to play quite a bit, now I play about once a week. I enjoy walking, enjoy hiking. Those are the kind of things I like to do outside.

DONNA RHODES: All right, all right. What made you pursue a legal career? JUDGE ROBERTS: After I graduated from college I was kind of leaning towards going into government work, whether it was going to be the foreign service, which my father was in, or even CIA.


JUDGE ROBERTS: I was kind of exploring that. Then I started thinking about banking, and I took a job in banking right after college, and they offered some courses in banking law. So I took a course just kind of on a whim because it was offered, and I really was intrigued by the law.


JUDGE ROBERTS: And right after taking that course I said I want to go to law school. So I immediately applied to law school, and then that is what led to where I am now.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, that's awesome. So you kind of fell into it.

JUDGE ROBERTS: I did fall into it, yes.

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

JUDGE ROBERTS: To me it means that if anyone, and I mean anyone, genuinely feels the need to have the courts address their claims, they can do that without difficulty and can expect the matter to be addressed without any kind of significant delay. And that means anyone who thinks that the courts need to be involved in what they're seeking.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. And then, kind of goes along with the next question, why is it important to have an independent judiciary?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Well, an independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of our whole system. It is so important, it kind of sets us apart from many other countries and systems. I think we need that, I know we need that, so the public -- everyone can be assured that all controversies are addressed without the interference of politics or other interests, and that all matters are decided based solely on the law and nothing else. So when people come into the courthouse they should be comfortable and satisfied that they're going to get a fair shake, that the judge will consider their case without any other -- anything else involved other than the law and the facts.


JUDGE ROBERTS: And as long as we continue to do that we'll be in good shape.

DONNA RHODES: Right. All right. That's it for the big Fast5 questions. Woo-hoo, let's move on to the lightning round. This has been an interesting question to ask: Gators or Seminoles?


DONNA RHODES: Okay, all right. I still think the Seminoles are winning in this regard, but all right.

JUDGE ROBERTS: That's one of those ones where I'm kind of torn. I did not go to either of those schools.

DONNA RHODES: You're a Duke man, aren't you?

JUDGE ROBERTS: My son went to UF, and I became kind of a fan following UF. My daughter -- one of my daughters went to FSU but then transferred to USF.


JUDGE ROBERTS: But was not really involved and didn't really follow the sports too much. And my son really got into the sports at UF, and so that would be the reason in my case. DONNA RHODES: Okay, okay. Other than that, go Duke; right?

JUDGE ROBERTS: That's right.

DONNA RHODES: What three words best describe you?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Let's see. Probably number one would probably be family man. I think another way to describe me would be good listener. I hope I'm a good listener.

DONNA RHODES: Helpful for being on the bench.

JUDGE ROBERTS: Right. And kind of goes hand in hand with that, I think being open minded. I'd like to think that's what I am. And so those would be the three.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. Good book or good film?

JUDGE ROBERTS: I'd like to go with good book.

DONNA RHODES: All right, all right. Classical art or modern?

JUDGE ROBERTS: I'll go with classical art.

DONNA RHODES: All right. And lastly, what's one item on your bucket list?

JUDGE ROBERTS: You know, I talk with my wife a lot about all the things we want to do, but I think probably the top of the bucket list right now would be going on an African safari.



DONNA RHODES: Do you have a certain animal you'd like to see out in the wild?

JUDGE ROBERTS: Just all -- anything wild.


JUDGE ROBERTS: Lions, tigers, giraffes, zebra. Just I've seen a lot of footage of YouTube videos of people on safaris, and it just seems fascinating. And I'm an avid photographer, I do like to take pictures, I've got all the lenses, and I think that would be a phenomenal experience.

DONNA RHODES: Oh, definitely. All right, well, that's it for the lightning round. You've survived Fast5. Thank you for sitting down and talking with us, and we'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE ROBERTS: All right. Enjoyed it, thank you.

Circuit Judge Thomas Krug, June 2021

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 sitting down with Judge Thomas Krug who joined the 12th Circuit bench in January 2011. Judge Krug presides over Circuit Criminal Division 5 in Sarasota County. He received his J.D. in 2000 from Stetson University College of Law, and his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Notre Dame.

Hi, Judge Krug. Welcome to Fast5, and thanks for joining us.

JUDGE KRUG: Thanks, Donna. Great to be here.

DONNA RHODES: So you're a dad, what's your favorite useless fact?

JUDGE KRUG: Favorite useless fact. Hmm. I -- let's see.

DONNA RHODES: (Giggling.) It's a dad thing. Do you have a dad joke?

JUDGE KRUG: I'm sure my children -- I have three children. I have twin boys that are 18 and a 15-year-old daughter, so I'm sure they have lots of jokes about me.


JUDGE KRUG: Probably the clothes I wear.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE KRUG: I think they're often telling me to untuck my shirt --


JUDGE KRUG: -- and pull my socks down. But being a dad, of course, is the best. Best thing that ever happened to me, and kind of makes my life have meaning.

DONNA RHODES: All right. That's not really the Fast5 question, so we'll move on to the real stuff.


DONNA RHODES: What do you like most about living here in DeSoto-Manatee-Sarasota? Or if you came from another place, what drew you here?

JUDGE KRUG: I love living here and I did come from another place, Donna. I came from California, Silicon Valley, about 60 miles south of San Francisco. And I loved where I grew up. I grew up in a small town. I had the Pacific Ocean right next to me; Lake Tahoe, the mountains; the City of San Francisco close by, as I mentioned 60 miles away. So I can surf in the morning, go snow skiing in the afternoon on a summer day. And it was really a great place to live.

And it's really why I love Sarasota so much. What I mean is I love being in the outdoors.

I grew up backpacking, being outside, at the beach, and I feel like I can do that here in Florida. So what I love most about Sarasota is the trails, the places to run, the beach, the ocean -- or the gulf, just being outside with my family and biking and doing all those things. And I feel like I spend a lot of my time when I'm not on the bench, I spend a lot of it being outside at the parks or at these other places.

DONNA RHODES: All right. Okay, so that kind of takes care of the second question too, so there's a lot of playing outside with you and your family then.

How would your 10-year-old self react to what you do now?

JUDGE KRUG: Probably be surprised. I grew up a jock in California. Sports really was my life. I played whatever sport there was, and I just was good at it and really enjoyed it. Loved all of the skills that were needed. In addition to being good at whatever that sport was and being able to hit a ball, throw a ball, catch a ball, I really enjoyed the leadership qualities as well, that I seemed to kind of become on all my teams in the sports I played.

But that 10-year-old kid probably thought he was going to be playing in the NFL or in some professional sport; that was certainly my dream and a goal I had. But being on the bench and being a judge, I think that kid would be very surprised.

But my dad probably wouldn't be surprised. My dad always, my whole life, emphasized academics over sports. My dad, the smartest guy I know, came to the States from overseas and went to Wharton School of Business at Penn, one of the top business schools. And so for him, and ingrained in me and my three brothers, school always came first though, even though I wanted sports to come first.

So I think I would be surprised that I'm not playing ball somewhere, but I think my dad would tell you that he's not surprised because of, you know, my achievements in school and academics as well.

DONNA RHODES: That's very interesting. Yeah, it's the thing about staying in school and --

JUDGE KRUG: I tell that to everybody. Every chance I have to speak or talk to anybody, I always talk about the importance: Listen to mom and dad.

Tell them, you know, thank you and you love them, every day. And just try to really work hard in the classroom, just as hard as you do outside the classroom.

DONNA RHODES: Why is it important for courts to preserve the rule of law?

JUDGE KRUG: Kind of the backbone of my life, doing this. I think without the rule of law we would have chaos and it would just be, you know, anarchy. It would be crazy out there.

It keeps, I think, us safe. It keeps us mindful of others. It helps us focus on coexisting. And I think the law is what really dictates that and reminds us that we have -- that we all share this place and we have to be responsible for ourselves and others. Yeah, I think it's kind of the glue that makes us all coexist.

DONNA RHODES: That's a nice way of looking at it. What does access to justice mean to you?

JUDGE KRUG: Access to justice, and to me being a judge, I think it could have many meanings outside of the legal concept, but justice as it relates to the court system I think is having the opportunity to be heard. And that we can talk about for a while, what does that mean?

It means having the ability to be -- have a lawyer represent you. If you don't speak the language, having an interpreter there for you. If you can't get to the courthouse, having someone give you a ride, or using Zoom, or other ways to connect to the courthouse.

But also to be heard, and to me that's the big -- the big word. It means that not only are you at the courthouse with an interpreter and having the opportunity to speak, but having someone listen. And that means hearing what you say, considering it, and being thoughtful in what you say.

So I'd say it's the opportunity to be heard, and equally important, the opportunity to have a decision made. We need judges or juries, or people with that responsibility, to efficiently give you an answer to whatever you're asking to be heard. I think if there's a delay in any of that, to be able to be heard and to be listened to, or getting an answer, I think it -- you're not getting your access to justice.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. That's all for the big Fast5 questions -- JUDGE KRUG: That's it? Okay.

DONNA RHODES: -- that's it. It's time to move to the lightning round. Gators or Seminoles?

JUDGE KRUG: I'm not from Florida originally --


JUDGE KRUG: -- I grew up in the Pac-12 and I followed Stanford University and Cal Berkeley, but of course I've lived here now for a long time and I certainly know this rivalry. I think I'd have to say Florida State, and here's why. Let me explain that.


JUDGE KRUG: So I went to the University of Notre Dame, I went there on a football scholarship, and I had a bunch of interactions with Florida State and I have a great respect for them. It was in football.

And I'll never forget -- I'll share two stories. One, my sophomore year we're playing Florida too small and they wanted to sell more tickets so we went to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando.


JUDGE KRUG: I think I'm probably a 19-year-old kid on the sideline, and I remember we were lined up on our respective sidelines, us and Florida State. We did the national anthem. And right afterwards, here comes this Seminole Indian -- or dressed up with all the war paint on his body, on this beautiful, majestic, white-grayish horse. You're nodding, are you familiar with this?


JUDGE KRUG: And I'm thinking this is the coolest thing. I've seen mascots, you know, I've traveled the country playing different teams, but there was something about this Seminole on a horse and then galloping and then getting on the hind legs. And me and my buddies are going, This is cool. It was the first time I had seen it, and then he throws the spear into the center of the field and then the back of the spear lights up on fire. And I remember turning to one of my teammates and I just said, Wow, this -- this is cool.

And then my junior year, the following year, I was the starting quarterback against Florida State in the Orange Bowl, down in Miami. And it was a big game, it was a fun game. And I had a great game, in the sense that I threw three touchdowns, it was close, we were leading all the way up to the end. Unfortunately, we ended up losing, but because of that connection with Florida State and respect for them, I'll have to go with Florida State --

DONNA RHODES: Okay. All right.

JUDGE KRUG: -- the Seminoles.

DONNA RHODES: For those of you that are keeping track, the Seminoles are winning this rivalry in the 12th Circuit.


DONNA RHODES: All right. Cats or dogs?



JUDGE KRUG: For sure. I'm on my second Golden Retriever. Unfortunately, we lost one a couple of years ago. It destroyed us and the kids, but we got another one.

The first one was named Domer.


JUDGE KRUG: After -- at Notre Dame when you graduate you're called Golden Domers, because one of the buildings on campus. So we had a Golden Retriever --

DONNA RHODES: Oh, yeah. Okay.

JUDGE KRUG: -- we had a Golden Domer, we played with that. And this one, our dog - it's a he - his name is Roger, named after our favorite tennis player. We're a big tennis family.


JUDGE KRUG: In fact, all three kids play, and travel the world playing. My two boys are going to play tennis next year at Duke University. That's where they're going to go to college.

DONNA RHODES: So Ed Wilson will be happy to hear that.

JUDGE KRUG: Yes. And Judge Roberts.


JUDGE KRUG: In fact, they turned down my alma mater of Notre Dame -- DONNA RHODES: Really.

JUDGE KRUG: -- they were looking at Ivy League schools, and they chose Duke over them all.

DONNA RHODES: All right.

JUDGE KRUG: So dogs. Dogs.

DONNA RHODES: Okay. All right. Very good.

What type of music do you enjoy?

JUDGE KRUG: Country.

DONNA RHODES: Country? I would not have expected that.

JUDGE KRUG: And that's something that came later in life. I was kind of just a Top 40 or pop guy growing up. I'm going to give you two answers. I grew up and still passionately love the music from late '70s, '80s, mainly folk music.


JUDGE KRUG: Which probably people don't know about me. I love The Byrds; Peter, Paul and Mary. I love Paul Simon. Art and Garfunkel -- Art and -- Garfunkel & Simon, Art Garfunkel & Simon. And I love folk music. But now my passion and favorite music is kind of modern country.


JUDGE KRUG: Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift even when she was doing a lot of country. Right now, groups like Old Dominion. Love it. That's all I listen to now is country.

DONNA RHODES: All right. All right.

Last lightning round question: What's your favorite sandwich?

JUDGE KRUG: Favorite sandwich. It's going to be the Caribbean at the Corkscrew Deli in Sarasota, which is right up the South Trail, 41, next to Sweet Tomatoes. I go there as often as I can and I get that same sandwich. It's one of those, I don't even have to order it. I go in and they know what I'm getting. It's a great sandwich. It's roast beef --

DONNA RHODES: I was going to say, what's on it?

JUDGE KRUG: Here's what it is: It's on an onion roll, roast beef, it has like a thousand islands kind of dressing on it, with onions, cheese melted on top. And it's just a delicious sandwich.


JUDGE KRUG: Yeah, it's really good.

DONNA RHODES: Corkscrew at where?

JUDGE KRUG: It's the -- it's at the Corkscrew Deli and –

DONNA RHODES: Oh, Corkscrew.

JUDGE KRUG: -- and the sandwich is called The Caribbean.

DONNA RHODES: All right. All right. Nice. We'll have to try that out one day.

Well, that's it. You have successfully lived through the Fast5.

JUDGE KRUG: I made it.

DONNA RHODES: And thanks. Thanks for being here. We'll see you around the courthouse.

JUDGE KRUG: My pleasure, Donna. Thanks.

DeSoto County Judge Danielle Brewer, May 2021

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?


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.


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 --


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.


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.


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.


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 --


JUDGE BREWER: -- it is an answer.


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.


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 --


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.


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.


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.


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.

Circuit Judge Edward Nicholas, April 2021

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?



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.


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


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. Ithink 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.


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?


DONNA RHODES: All right.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


Circuit Judge Andrea McHugh, March 2021

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.

DONNA 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.

Circuit Judge Kimberly C. Bonner, February 2021

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.