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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Oct. 21, 2013 5 years ago

County's first African American judge retires after 25 years

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Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge Hubert L. Grimes will put down his gavel for the last time in January, retiring after 25 years of service.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

As a judge in Volusia County, Hubert L. Grimes has presided over 100,000 cases. But come January, he’ll lay his gavel down for the final time.

The first African American judge in the county’s history, Grimes was first elected to the bench in 1988. He currently serves as a Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge, hearing family court cases at the Volusia County Courthouse, in DeLand.

But the road to judgeship, for an African American man in the south, wasn’t easy.

“It hadn’t been done before, and there were some people who tried to dissuade me from running. They thought it was futile,” Grimes said. “But with faith in God, encouragement from family and friends, along with the support of the voting public, I accomplished my dream.”

And plus, he was used to overcoming challenges, always proving himself.

“That’s pretty much been the story of my life,” he said. “I knew that I would always be observed or under the microscope, so to speak — just because. … I’ve always been mindful of that my entire life. I recognized that if, I did well, the opportunity for others to follow me would also do well.”

But although he believes that racism and prejudice are still “obvious in our society,” he doesn’t feel he was ever discriminated against because of his race. At least, not that he was aware of.

About five years after Grimes’ election, a lawyer approached him to apologize for telling people during his candidacy that electing Grimes to the bench would have been a “horrible mistake for Volusia.”

“But it turns out it’s been one of the best things that ever could’ve happened,” he then told Grimes.

Grimes knew that the lawyer’s initial negativity was due to his race, but he was happy for the chance to open his eyes. “I appreciated his honesty,” he said.

After serving 11 years in county court, Grimes was appointed to the circuit bench in 1999. But all the while, he’s focused on children: juvenile delinquency cases, juvenile dependency, dependency drug court and, eventually, family court.

“Working with young people has been a constant passion of mine,” he said. “I have tried to guide them and inspire them to avoid the pitfalls of trouble and to fulfill their dreams.”

He credits figures in his own life that “always gave the extra interest in encouraging or holding me accountable” with leading him to working with children. And he looks back at his little victories — helping a dozen babies born to mothers drug-free in his last 18 months of family drug court — as profound victories.

“These kids would not suffer the pain of withdrawals that we’d seen from some of their siblings,” he said. “I was aware of what I was walking into, but it was something I felt like I could make a real difference in.”

A former legal practice owner, Grimes works as an adjunct law professor, for FAMU College of Law, in Orlando, and he even authored a book, “How to Keep Your Child from Going to Jail,” in 2010.

One of his proudest moments, though, came when a Marine Corps officer entered his courtroom in full dress blues. The officer was once a juvenile on the wrong end of Grimes’ bench, and he was visiting to thank Grimes for how he helped steer his life.

“He told me, ‘You gave me some powerful words, words that shook my world,’ ” Grimes remembered.

Grimes then asked the officer to tell his story to the juveniles and their families in the courtroom that day, for inspiration.

“There was not a dry eye in that courtroom,” he said.

Grimes’ colleagues also praise his focus on kids and family.

“He positively influenced so many lives in our community, and his kindness and quiet competence will be missed,” Chief Circuit Judge Terence R. Perkins said. “He is best known for his keen intellect, compassion and sense of humor. He was a trailblazer.”

But now it’s time to move on.

“I have done what I came here to do,” Grimes said. “There are other battles to fight, other assignments to pursue and other dreams to fulfill while I am young enough to do so.”

Maybe he’ll become more active in his church, Cavalry Christian Center, he says. Or maybe he’ll reopen his old law firm — “that’s always a possibility.”

However he decides to fill his retirement, Grimes will, like he always has, let one line guide him, be his “driving force”: “Service is the price we pay for the space we occupy.”

A 23-year Ormond Beach resident, Grimes earned his undergraduate degree from Kentucky State University and his law degree from the University of Georgia.

Big shoes to fill

Following Judge Hubert Grimes’ resignation, Gov. Rick Scott has announced a vacancy in the Seventh Judicial Circuit Court. The nomination commission is now accepting applications.

Members of The Florida Bar for the past five years, all applicants must be a registered voter and a resident of the territorial jurisdiction of the court. To apply, visit flgov.com.

Application requirements are listed online, and interviews are tentatively scheduled to take place in December.

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