Judge Richard Graham retires, after 40 years in court

By: 
Oct. 16, 2012

For the past 10 of his 40-plus years in law, Ormond Beach resident Richard Graham has served as a Volusia County Judge. He’ll retire Oct. 20.

BY MIKE CAVALIERE | ASSOCIATE EDITOR

Before the sun even rises, Richard Graham would leave his sneakers by the front door and head out to the beach for a barefoot jog. For a while, he’d repeat this ritual with a friend, but not usually. For Graham, “an introvert,” morning runs were a time to think, a quiet few miles during which he prepared himself for another day in the courtroom.

“Most of the good ideas I ever came up with, I got when I was jogging alone,” Graham said, adding that he graduated from law school, after time in the Army, in 1967. That’s when the running started.

For 40 years, this was his routine.

But routines change. When Graham discovered yoga, he stuck with it for over a decade. About a year ago, he started walking instead of running the beach. And on Oct. 20, he’ll step down from his position as a Volusia County Seventh Judicial Circuit Judge, a role he’s held for the past decade.

At 70 years old, he’s now looking forward to yet another new line of work — or, as he calls it, another “mid-life crisis.”

After practicing law as an attorney for close to 20 years, Graham ran for and was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, as the first republican ever appointed from Volusia.

Four years later, he returned to the private sector. He’s represented the School Board. He’s been involved in real estate. And after his upcoming retirement, mandatory based on age, he plans to go into mediation.

“I don’t want to go back to practicing law,” he added, although he’s always liked the unpredictability of the courtroom. “I just did it long enough.”

As a child, Graham would go with his father, also a lawyer (and former partner at DeLand’s Landis Graham French, founded in 1902), to court to watch him work. He admits he was “probably programmed a little bit” to become an attorney himself, but when he was young, everybody wanted to be either a doctor or a lawyer, and he knew he had no interest in medicine.

“I felt like I knew that this was what I wanted to do,” Graham said. “And I wasn’t a pit bull, but I worked a lot of trials.”

As a judge, Graham started where everyone starts, in the family division — which often deals with abused or neglected children, and he calls “emotionally difficult.” He’ll end in civil work — which is more intellectual.

He’s heard hundreds of foreclosure cases. He’s voided an $80 million business merger. But his favorite trails were always the adoption cases. Those, he says, are where you can really see your impact.

“I probably got more satisfaction from adoption cases than being a judge,” he said.

After 40 years in law, however, Graham’s prized possession isn’t the titles he’s held or his accomplishments. It’s a cheap piece of paper he keeps in his wallet, called the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass.

“The best thing I own right now is my camping card,” Graham smiled. “And boy, have I used that thing! ...  I’ve crossed the country camping, by myself, probably 10 times.”

Usually, though, he goes with his sons, who now live on the West Coast, with his wife of 45 years, Bunnie, who, in her 60s, earned a PhD in psychology, or his dog, Nigel, who he can’t talk about without smiling.

Reach a certain age and you can get a camping card for just $10, Graham added, and it’s good for a free stay at every national park.

“I’m a little bit tight,” he said with a shrug and a chuckle, “so I like a deal.”

Judge Thomas Portuallo will fill Graham’s Group 23 seat. Judge Terrence R. Perkins will take over Graham’s civil cases.