Justice Shaw’s career comes to a close

first_imgJustice Shaw’s career comes to a close Mark D. Killian Managing Editor Educator. Soldier. Civil rights pioneer. Dedicated public servant. American hero.That’s how friends and colleagues described retiring Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr., at a November 8 ceremony marking the end of his 42-year legal career that began by defending civil rights protesters in the ’60s.Looking back over his 20 years on the court, Shaw, who faces mandatory retirement in January, said “without hesitation, I have enjoyed every day that I have been privileged to serve the people of Florida as a member of the Supreme Court.“It is an extremely demanding job and at times stressful,” Justice Shaw said. “Yet, I can’t think of a job more professionally satisfying or rewarding.”To talk about Justice Shaw’s career achievements is to talk about the history of race relations in Florida and the country, said Joseph Hatchett, former chief judge of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, who has been Shaw’s friend since their law school days at Howard University, which Hatchett described as the “training ground for the soldiers of the civil rights war.” Shaw enrolled at Howard shortly after his return from the Korean War, where he served as an artillery officer.“How unlikely it would have been 40 years ago if I thought of being in this courtroom today for a ceremony marking Justice Shaw’s more than 30 years of service in the Florida court system,” said Hatchett, the first African American on the Florida Supreme Court. “Such a thought would have been irrational. In fact, it would have been absurd.”Hatchett recalled how in 1960 they drove to Miami to take the bar exam and had to stay in a hotel for blacks. The manager of the whites-only hotel where the two-and-one-half-day test was administered refused to allow the men to even eat lunch with the whites taking the exam.“That’s the way the law was then, and that’s the way life was then,” said Hatchett, who along with Shaw were two of less than 30 black lawyers in the state when they were admitted to practice.After a brief teaching assignment at Florida A&M University, Shaw went into private practice in Jacksonville and entered the civil rights movement. Shaw’s and Hatchett’s careers often intersected in those days as they worked to integrate schools and represented blacks arrested for demonstrating against discrimination.Former Justice Major Harding recalled one such time in Jacksonville when Shaw tried to represent 50 or so jailed civil rights demonstrators, and the local clerk of court refused to accept Shaw’s filing. Harding said an impromptu call to a Supreme Court justice, who in turn called the clerk, helped to expedite the case.“I often wonder what that Supreme Court justice told the clerk,” said Harding, who, by chance, was sworn into the Bar the same day as Shaw and stood next to him in a photograph of the event on the steps of the Supreme Court, where they would both serve together some 30 years later.Harding said in 1966 Shaw also helped integrate the previously all-white Jacksonville Bar Association by agreeing to be the first black guest at one of the association’s meetings. Harding also noted after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 Gideon ruling, Ed Austin was appointed the first public defender in the Fourth Circuit, and Austin — against the advice of many — hired Shaw as an assistant public defender.Harding asked Shaw if it was true that during a meeting at the PD’s office a fellow assistant, during an office debate, said, “We’re free, white and 21.”“Is it true you responded, ‘You want to run that by me again?’” Harding asked.“It’s true,” Shaw said, laughing.Harding also said Shaw once ran for circuit judge against a white man who purchased a billboard ad featuring his picture under the caption, “Looks like a judge.”“You lost that race: Well, maybe you really won, since you then were available to climb to great heights in the years to come,” Harding said. “I often wonder what he thought when you became an appellate judge and ruled on his cases.”Gov. Bob Graham appointed Shaw to the First District Court of Appeal in 1979. He served there until January 1983 when Graham elevated Shaw to the Supreme Court. Justice Shaw served as chief justice from 1990 to 1992.“Through his advocacy, inspiration, and courageous leadership, we have moved from a time where the very right to study law could be denied because of somebody’s mere external appearance to a time today where the very appearance of this court symbolizes the devotion to the principle of equal justice under law,” said Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead.Bar President Tod Aronovitz said Shaw’s life has been one of achievement and leadership, noting that during a stint as an assistant state attorney Shaw also prosecuted 41 of 42 murder cases and 24 of 26 rape cases to conviction.“You have stood out as an attorney, as an advocate, and as an outstanding judge and justice,” Aronovitz said. “You learned early in life to stand up for yourself, your principles, and beliefs.”Hatchett said Shaw’s opinions are always thoroughly researched and beautifully expressed.“He writes simply and clearly,” Hatchett said. “When Justice Shaw writes an opinion you understand it completely, not just the words, but the intent as well. He can express a difficult idea or analysis in such a way that the reader is unaware how difficult it was before he reduced it to his own simple expression.”Former Bar President Terry Russell, who was Shaw’s merit retention campaign manager in 1990, said he graduated from an all-white high school in Jacksonville in 1962, not far from where Shaw was practicing as a young lawyer.“I did not realize I stood on one side of a cultural gulf and an abyss of separatism so deep that it would not allow me to imagine that on a day 40 years later one of the greatest honors of my life would be bestowed on me by a real American hero — a man I am honored to call my friend, who also just happens to be black,” Russell said, adding that now, years later, “When I walk to the water’s edge. . . and look across the gulf, I can see the other side.”Shaw said the public pays little attention to the Supreme Court, and the justices are defined not by the work they do daily, but by the few high profile cases that draw media attention.Shaw said the fact that most people don’t recognize the members of the court by sight can lead to some humorous situations, such as the time he was returning to the court from lunch and was asked to join a group of demonstrators in front of the court.“It turns out they were protesting an opinion I had written,” Shaw said. “So I politely declined the invitation. Not a single picket recognized me as a member of this court.”The reverse of that, Shaw said, was the 2000 presidential election “where Gore and Bush came to Florida to duke it out and satellite city grew up right outside my window.” He said the justices’ pictures were circulated around the world.“I received calls and letters from cousins I never heard of, old army buddies, high school sweethearts, total strangers and Shaws from near and far,” Shaw said. “Of course, they all wanted to talk about the case, which I couldn’t do. The net result was I made more enemies than friends.”“You took your bag of tools, you took your book of rules, and you used them to create stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks,” Hatchett said. December 1, 2002 Managing Editor Regular Newscenter_img Justice Shaw’s career comes to a closelast_img