When Governor Rick Scott called Judith Davidson on July 5 to appoint her as a Volusia County Court Judge, it was the next step in a career that started as a high school teacher.
BY MATT MENCARINI | STAFF WRITER
Before she became a Volusia County Court Judge on Aug. 1, Judith Davidson was a public defender. And before she was public defender she was a teacher.
“There’s a lot of people who come into county court who are not represented by an attorney,” Davidson said, drawing parallels between being a teacher and judge. “And so it’s just making sure that they understand. I’m not advising them, giving them legal advice. But I am making sure that they understand the terms.
“I was a Spanish teacher. So I’m used to teaching a different language. And I think law is a whole new language. … I’m very sensitive to make sure that they understand the legal language.”
Davidson had been a teacher at the high school she graduated from for three years when she sat down and discussed the idea of attending law school with her family. She said she knew she didn’t want to look back on her life and wish she had done more, as had some teachers whom she respects.
She earned her law degree from the University of Florida and eventually found her way to Ormond Beach, where she returned to teaching until her children were in middle school.
In 2002, she joined the Seventh Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office and was named the office’s Flagler County Division chief in 2010.
While working as a public defender, Davidson committed herself to making a difference where she could, and in 2009, she was honored with the Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award.
"She believes firmly in the responsibility of attorneys to provide work to people who cannot afford an attorney," Public Defender James Purdy said. “It takes a lot to provide what you do for a living as a free service. Some of the other attorneys would go up there to assist in her pro bono workshop.”
The workshop took place at Tomoka Christian Church and Craig Dyer, one of the attorneys who worked there with Davidson, said they often helped between six and 10 people per week. Sometimes the legal advice was as simple as pointing them in the right direction or writing a letter.
“My very first person who came in was a widow, who was suddenly widowed,” Davidson said. “And there was a bank account that was only in her husband’s name. And she didn’t know how to have access to that money, so we filed a petition to allow her access to that money and I thought, ‘I’ve made a positive change in somebody’s life.’”
In April, after she felt she had enough experience practicing law, Davidson applied to fill the vacancy that would be left when Judge Stasia Warren retired.
After her application was accepted, Davidson went through interviews with the local Judicial Nominating Commission. She said she was one of five candidates sent to the governor’s office to meet Gov. Rick Scott’s acting general council. Scott called Davidson on July 5 and gave her the good news.
“Just seeing the judges I was in front of, I really respected them,” Davidson said when talking about what made her pursue a judgeship. “They were respectful of everyone who came in front of them. I just admired them and had the desire to do that.”