Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry

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Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry

by:
jtracy
March 2, 2017

Seminole County Courthouse portrait of Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry. In this 2011 photo, Justice Perry is pictured on the upper level with his family. Pictured from left to right are children, Kamilah Perry, Willis Perry, his wife, Adrienne Perry, and son, Jaimon Perry.

Justice James E. C. Perry served as the first African-American judge appointed to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. Justice Perry served as Chief Judge of the Circuit Court beginning in July 2003.

In March 2009, Justice James E. C. Perry became the fourth African-American to serve as Florida Supreme Court Justice. Justice Perry retired from the Florida Supreme Court on December 30, 2016.

Justice Perry's wife, Adrienne Perry, a professor of education at Stetson University, served as the first black mayor of Longwood. Their children, Jaimon and Kamilah Perry, are attorneys with The Perry Law Group, and Willis Perry is a human resources manager.

In the year 2000, Justice Perry became the first black judge to serve in the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit. Listen as he describes his leadership as circuit judge and later chief judge in this excerpt from an oral history interview with Florida Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry on December 19, 2016 at the Orlando Public Library.

LISTEN Part VI (19:47)

Well, I understand that when I was first appointed that I was ostracized the first year. Of course, I didn't know it because I'm accustomed to being by myself anyway. And then two years later I was approached to ask to run for Chief Judge because there hadn't been a Chief Judge in Seminole County in 13 years. Because the majority of judges were in Brevard County they voted for their own and vice versa. So I asked them, "Why me?" You know, and then, judges here for 15, 20 years wanted to be Chief and I didn't. And they said, "You're the only one that we all trust." I said, "Okay." I said, "I need you to understand and we will support you, county and circuit, in the county. " And I said, "Now you understand I'm not going to be a titular head nor your lapdog." They said, "We understand that. We understand we might not agree with all your decisions, but we know your decisions won't be personal or political." I said, "Okay." I just want you to understand that." And they said, "Don't tell anybody." I said, "No, I don't operate like that. I'm going to tell the other side what I plan to do."

So I went to the incumbent to ask him what does an incumbent chief do? He said, "Oh, you don't have to worry about that. We already have the heir apparent." And I said, "Well, I wasn't really asking your permission, I was simply wanting to know what you do." And I said, "By the way I talked with heir apparent and heir apparent said he'll support me." "He said, "We'll see about that."

So he went and talked with heir apparent, heir apparent said he'll support me. And I told him I'd support him the next time. So the incumbent said, "Well, I'm going to run." I said, "Fine." I never would have put my hat in the ring had you said you wanted to run again. But since, you know, you changed your mind that's on you. So he proceeded to talk with the county court judges in my county promising them things to support him. And he did. So they called me in, the county court judges and said, "He promised this, this, what do you promise?" I said, "I don't promise you a damn thing except I'll be fair." I said, "I didn't promise Jeb Bush anything. I'm not promising you anything. You asked me to do this. My ego's not at stake here. If this is the way you want to do it it's not going to be done.

So the deputy court administrator went over to Brevard County and talked with the Chief. And he said, "I understand Jim talked with the county court judges." He said, "What did he promise them?" He said, "He didn't promise them a damn thing." He said, Good for him. I'm supporting Jim." So I got it unanimously. And, you know, I never had a problem. I got nothing but cooperation. The circuit, the county circuits, was split and I was able to bring them together by not showing favoritism. Just doing what's right. And I knew it wasn't based on personality or politics. I thought if we are the Eighteenth Circuit then we should be unified. So, I called a meeting of every judge in the circuit. Never been a meeting like that before and they all showed up. I made it mandatory. And we had a diversity training session and we took a picture. All the judges in the circuit at one place at one time. It's never been done before. And the next year after my term, they elected the judge from Brevard as the Chief. It's been switched every two years ever since.

So, that's cooperation.

I don't know. It could be leadership.

Well, I did read in the Florida Bar Journal, they said that you helped bridge Seminole and Brevard counties and foster camaraderie in the Eighteenth Circuit by having judges rotate duties and get to know each other.

Yeah, right, that's what I did. We instituted a program when the judges had a light schedule in this county and needed help in Brevard County and we scheduled days and vice versa. So, I mean the cultures are totally different in the county. I mean you wouldn't believe it. It's just like Orange and Seminole counties. The cultures are totally different. And a lot of times everybody thinks we're superior because you don't know how other people do things. But once you change them over and they say, "Oh, that makes sense. That makes sense then." There's more cooperation and more diversity so to speak.

Photo courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court James E. C. Perry Archives.

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