Senior Judge Lee Haworth 'honored' by William E. Gladstone award

Senior Judge Lee E. Haworth received the William E. Gladstone award during a Zoom presentation on December 11, 2020. The award is a prestigious one in the child welfare community, named after the circuit judge in South Florida who left an indelible mark on the way Florida Courts deliver justice in cases involving children. The annual Gladstone award goes to a judge who makes “the greatest contributions to the courts in serving dependency children and their families.”

Haworth presided on the Twelfth Circuit bench for 26 years; between 2007-2011, he served as the circuit’s chief judge. In September 2015, Haworth became a “senior judge;” although technically retired he continues to hear cases today.

During his tenure on the bench, Haworth presided over cases in all five divisions: Civil, Criminal, Family, Juvenile, and Guardianship/Probate. It seems that his time on the juvenile bench may have been the most important to his legacy.

Haworth was nominated for the Gladstone award because his judicial service — both before his retirement and after — contributed to better outcomes for children and families.

In this 2018 Twelfth Judicial Circuit Court file photo, Senior Judge Lee E. Haworth is seen addressing students during a school tour of the Silvertooth Judicial Center in Sarasota.

Prior to retirement Haworth led a task force charged with finding solutions to reform the local foster care system. He formed the Family Safety Alliance (FSA), an organization that provides community oversight and education, and advocates for transparency and improvements within the private companies that took over the state’s role of caring for abused, neglected and abandoned children, some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Haworth helped identify a funding source for an ombudsman to coordinate foster care policy; he encouraged the local child welfare agency to use ride-sharing providers, ending long bus rides for parents trying to keep appointments.

Haworth has presided over Early Childhood Court (ECC), a problem-solving court that targets the youngest children in dependency court (birth to approximately 3 years of age) and provides the parents with special services and nurturing skills. Haworth believed in ECC so much that he resolutely advocated for the Florida Legislature to classify it in statutes. In his senior judge status, Haworth continues to attend ECC conferences and share his knowledge with judges new to the juvenile court bench.

When it comes to receiving awards for his work with children and families, Haworth is no stranger:

  • 2000 — Recognized by the Florida Supreme Court and Governor Jeb Bush for outstanding child advocacy and dedication to abused and neglected children, and service to the Guardian ad Litem Program.
  • 2010 — Man of the Year, Sarasota Boys & Girls Club
  • 2011 — Leadership Award, for his commitment to empowering youths as leaders, Sarasota County Community Youth Development Group
  • 2014 — Community Advocate of the Year, Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program
  • 2015 — Citizen of the Year, Rotary Club of Sarasota
  • 2016 — Champion of Children recipient, The Florida Center for Early Childhood

During the October 2018 dedication ceremony of the Judge Lee E. Haworth Self Help Center and Law Library in Sarasota, then Chief Judge Charles Williams said Haworth “always looked out for our fellow citizens, young and old….”

It seems right that Haworth was nominated for the Gladstone award.

“Judge Gladstone remains a truly legendary figure. To receive an award in his name is humbling,” Haworth said at the award ceremony. “No one cared more and did more to advance the lives of foster and dependent children in Florida than he.”

Haworth thanked his many incredible mentors when it came to learning about dependency court, early childhood development, the damage suffered by adverse childhood experiences, and the benefits of a unified family court (One Family/One Judge) and other concepts of therapeutic justice.

He discussed the work of the judiciary and the shift in thinking when handling dependency cases.

“Judges across the state are striving to integrate the best evidence-based and proven cutting-edge social science into judicial practice. This has been a tectonic and revolutionary change” in how judges see and treat parents and children, Haworth said.

“While I am honored to accept this award, I’d like to dedicate it to those judicial branch employees and social scientists who have done so much to improve the lives of the abused and neglected children we see every day in court. Someone once said the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life — the children. Those of us in the judiciary have to do our part, but with respect for the constitutional principles and laws that constrain our discretion,” Haworth said.

“Anyone who works in this field knows the commitment case workers, Guardians ad Litem, Child Protective Investigators, DCF, attorneys, foster and adoptive parents contribute to the welfare of our dependent children,” Haworth said.

“We have different roles, and we don’t always agree on the outcome, but have no doubt: there are many unsung heroes, often unfairly maligned, laboring conscientiously toward the same goal. And the trajectory of many kids’ lives is improved by their work,” Haworth said.

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