by Art Levy
The goal of a judge should be to do both justice and law. If you are successful, they should be one and the same.
My family was working class. They were hardworking people. I worked in a lumber yard for a time in Athens, Georgia. That was interesting in that I learned as much from working class people as I did in school.
I had just barely turned 30, and I had become president of the Collier County Bar Association. There was a vacancy on the judiciary. You had to be a member of the Bar for five years before you could go into the judiciary, and I had not quite been a member for five years, so it was possible that when I applied for the judicial appointment from Gov. (Reubin) Askew, if I had gotten it that day, it might not have been valid. But we anticipated that by the time he got around to it, my five years would be in, and that’s pretty much exactly what happened, and I got the appointment from Gov. Askew to a county court position.
Florida has done a phenomenal job of trying to be a state of assimilation.
When I was chief judge, I served on a committee with the Florida Department of Transportation as to whether we could take the middle lanes of the interstate highways and convert them into high-speed rail lines. The answer is you can, but the question became do you want to pay for it? And that’s where it fell apart.
I would recommend a book if you’re ever curious about Florida history. It’s called Finding Florida by T.D. Allman. It’s one of the better books I’ve ever read on Florida history.
After gaining a certain amount of seniority as a judge, I was able to put up pictures in my courtroom, and one of the pictures I chose was of George Washington. I put it right behind the witness stand, so when a witness came in to be sworn in, they had to look right at George before they sat down.
I like spicy food. The only time it gets too hot for me is if you see tears coming out of my eyes.
Cheerful and polite, that’s what I am. I guess I might blame my mother, who just turned 99. But as far as I can remember, I always looked for the brighter side.
After retiring from the bench, I went to work for Gunster in Naples, doing mediation and arbitration work. I don’t know what my end is going to be, but it’s never going to be retirement.
This was during Bob Graham’s time as governor. The FDLE told me that there was a contract out on my life after a ruling I made on a drug case. The governor’s office called me and said they wanted me to know that they were working on this, and that if the case went south, they wanted me to know that the governor said he would go the Legislature and get whatever money it would take to find my killer. I remember just laughing and saying that I hoped the case didn’t go south.
The mediation rule — Rule 1.700 — was created to give us a methodology to help reduce the caseload, to help cases settle. Allegedly, only 3.5% of cases that are filed actually go to trial. That’s from some of the studies that have been done. If every case went to trial, the system would come to a halt. We’d just crash. Mediation and arbitration are more important now than they’ve ever been.
One of the things that I had a reputation for was I would read all of the material. I would take it home, read it on the weekends, at night, whatever. Being a judge is educational. You learn something every day of the week.
My wife is a retired schoolteacher whose name is Nancy, but her name now has become Nana. We have five beautiful granddaughters all in Naples and they take up a lot of our time.
As a judge, you’re not representing the plaintiff. You’re not representing the defendant. The decision I made was to say that my client was the Florida Constitution. Once you make that decision, the rest of it is pretty simple.
I’ve had a great career. I’ve had a great life. When you’ve survived two open heart surgeries, two thyroid cancer surgeries, and you’re still a happy camper — and you’re happy with your wife and your children and your grandchildren — then I don’t understand why you wouldn’t think of yourself as the happiest guy in the world.
You want to make the correct ruling. You want to be upheld on appeal. You don’t want to go flying off the handle and have the appellate court saying you had no idea what you were doing. During my career, there were only two cases that I can remember where I was firmly convinced that I was correct and the appellate court said I was not. Up until this day, I’m still convinced I was correct.