Judges hang up robes, thank colleagues

Frederick Smith and Stan Morris step down after more than a combined 50 years on the bench.

Published: Monday, February 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 9:56 p.m.

Two area judges, whose terms on the bench together total more than 50 years, said goodbye last week to careers on the circuit bench.

Before a crowd of more than 100 people who gave each a standing ovation Friday, circuit judges Frederick Smith and Stan Morris stepped down from their judgeships and into retirement.

Smith, 67, served as chief judge for the six-county 8th Judicial Circuit from 2005 through mid-2009 and was the public face on area issues involving the court such as overcrowding at the Alachua County Jail and the impact of budget cuts on the circuit court. His rulings over the years impacted everyday life in the circuit such as a 1996 decision where he struck down Alachua County's 1994 referendum that banned laws protecting gay people from discrimination.

Morris, 62, probably was best known to the local public as one of the judges who routinely heard criminal cases. But nationally Morris was the judge who sentenced convicted serial killer Danny Rolling to death for the 1990 slayings of five Gainesville college students. And, in the statewide legal community, he was known for his work on commissions such as the Governor's Commission on Administration of Lethal Injection and the Trial Court Budget Commission.

But at the reception at the Alachua County Criminal Justice Center, the audience saw a side of the two men most in the public haven't seen. The audience - a mixture of judges, lawyers, court clerks and personnel, law enforcement, and business people - got to see the men themselves, not the judges. It was a rare glimpse not often offered of judicial public figures who strive to remain quiet about their personal lives or opinions to prevent such information from affecting the impartiality they are supposed to maintain on the bench.

Speakers, including Circuit Judge Toby Monaco and former State Attorney Rod Smith, joked and opened up about the two retiring judges. They talked about Smith's love for skiing and his penchant for privacy and teased Morris about his sense of humor, his laugh, and how he could lose his patience in the courtroom.

Smith, known on his orders by his full name but to those speaking at the reception as Rick, tried to step down from a podium without opening a gift he was given. Chief Judge Martha Ann Lott told him he had to open it. He unwrapped the package to reveal a Kindle that others said he could use to catch up on his reading during retirement.

Area attorney Larry Turner told the audience that Morris kept a plaque on his desk, given to him by his wife, that faced toward him so others couldn't see what it said. It reminded him of one thing with these words: "stay calm."

Morris also received a Kindle and, like Smith, a plaque commemorating his years of judicial service.

Both men gave speeches, each thanking those they had worked with for years such as their judicial assistants for their professionalism. At moments, each seemed too overcome by emotion to continue talking.

"You have created and sustained a reputation throughout the state that I have been able to share in," Smith said. "Thank you all. I'll miss you all very much."

Morris said, "Our job, our mission in this branch is to preserve and perpetuate the people's belief in law. I know you have. I hope I have."

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