The First 100 Years | 1868 - 1968

The Constitution of 1868 required the state to be divided into seven judicial circuits and in Article XVI, Section 3, the counties constituting each circuit were set forth. The Second Judicial Circuit was made up of Gadsden, Liberty, Calhoun, Franklin, Leon, Wakulla and Jefferson counties. The Second Judicial Circuit remained the same seven counties as established under the Constitution of 1868, until 1911, when Calhoun County was removed from the Second Circuit and was placed with Jackson County in the newly formed Fourteenth Circuit.

Our Judges

Our first Second Judicial Circuit Judge was William Archer Cocke of Monticello, 1868-1869. He was followed by Pleasant Woodson White of Quincy, 1869-1878; David Shelby Walker of Tallahassee, 1878-1891; John W. Malone of Quincy, 1891-1915; and E. C. Love of Quincy, 1915-1945. Both Judge Walker and Judge Malone died in Office. In 1927, the Legislature provided for an additional circuit judge and John B. Johnson of Tallahassee, 1927-1940, was selected. In 1940, Leon County Judge W. May Walker was chosen to take the place of Judge Johnson, who had died in office. In 1945, Judge Love retired and Hugh M. Taylor of Quincy, 1945-1976, was selected. Judge Ben C. Willis, 1957-1984, a resident of Tallahassee, who was originally from Quincy, was selected in 1957 to be our third circuit judge. Judge Willis served as our first Chief Judge. In 1957, the legislature created the position of Leon County Juvenile Judge, Rufus O. Jefferson of Tallahassee, was appointed and he served until 1972, when the juvenile court was incorporated into the circuit court. In 1960, Guyte P. McCord Jr. of Tallahassee, was chosen to be the fourth judge and he served as a circuit judge until 1974, when he was appointed to the First District Court of Appeal, where he served from 1974-1983.

The Constitution of 1868 provided that Circuit Judges' terms were 8 years. The Constitution of 1885 provided " . . . Circuit Judges who shall be appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, and whom shall hold their office for six years." Justices of the Supreme Court, County Judges, Justices of the Peace, and Constables were all elected. The office of circuit judge remained an appointed position until 1957, when the Constitution was amended to provide for the newly created District Courts of Appeal and the election of all judges at every level.

Terms of Court

Circuit Judges were required to attend to the pending judicial affairs of each county on a regular basis. To ensure that was done, due to the difficult distances between the various counties and the reluctance of some judges to travel, the Constitutions provided that each circuit court would be required to hold court in each county of the circuit at least twice a year, for the Spring and Fall terms. These "Terms of Court" provisions were set forth in all the Florida Constitutions up until the Constitution of 1968, although, as of 2005, they still appear in Chapter 26 of the Florida Statutes. They largely now relate to the term of service of the Grand Jury for each county and have very little to do with judicial scheduling in the individual counties. The Terms of Court for the Second Judicial Circuit provided that the judge would start court for the Spring term in March and in September for the Fall term. The order of appearance in each of the six counties (seven up until 1911) has changed over the years. Calhoun County was part of the Second Judicial Circuit up until 1911. The reason Calhoun County was part of the Second Circuit is that as the circuit judge traveled on the Apalachicola River from the landing at Chattahoochee down to Bristol, Blountstown was just across the river from Bristol. After the stop at Bristol and Blountstown, the judge would head on down river and do his judicial labors in Apalachicola before returning home. The order in which the terms of court for the various counties would start has changed over the years, but in 1892, when the steamboats were running, the statutes provided for the circuit court to start the Spring term in the following order: Liberty, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Wakulla, Jefferson and Leon Counties. The same rotation was used during the Fall term.

Judicial Salaries

The Constitution of 1868 in Article XVI. Section 4, provided circuit judges' salaries ". . . shall be $3,500.00. . ." The Constitution of 1885 originally provided in Article V, Section 9, for a salary of $2,500.00, but by an Amendment passed in the General Election of 1902, circuit judges' salaries were constitutionally raised to $2,750.00. In 1914 the Constitution was amended to provide that all justices and judges' salaries may be set by the Legislature. A circuit judge's salary in 1927 was $7,500.00 annually. In 2006, the annual salary for a circuit judge is $139,450.00.

Court Reporters and Judicial Assistants

The function of the Official Court Reporter in 1927, according to Section 4873 of the Florida Statutes, was to ". . . report the testimony and proceedings, with objections made, the rulings of the court, the exceptions taken, and oral or written charges of the court in the trial. . . ." The first reference I can find to the creation of the modern judicial assistant position is in Chapter 6464 of the 1913 Acts of the Legislature which provided for "AN ACT to provide for the Clerical aid for the Judges of the Circuit Courts. "The whereas clauses provided that " . . . the employment of clerical aid would not only relieve them of a large part of their burden, but would enable them to accomplish much more work in the same length of time." The circuit judges were allowed $100.00 per month to pay clerical aids. However, in that initial Act, the circuit judge had to take his travel expenses from the $100.00. Imagine, that if today our Judicial Assistants' salaries were reduced by our travel expenses! I don't think we would be traveling very far.

Prior to 1973, as a practical matter, not reflected in the statutes, the Official Court Reporters also doubled as secretaries for the judges. In 1973, with the revision of Article V, the position of Official Court Reporter/unofficial judicial secretary came to an end and each circuit judge was provided a Judicial Assistant.

This History was prepared by Judge George S. Reynolds III, in memory of Judge Ben C. Willis (1957-1984). Judge Willis spent a great deal of time educating young lawyers and judges on the history of our circuit. Hopefully, this article will reflect well on his efforts.