By Deborah Cupples (JD 05)
The theme was “License to Chill.” The band played Jimmy Buffet and guests downed margaritas, cheeseburgers in paradise and key lime pie. It was as if Key West had come to Gainesville, and instead of a robe, 8th Circuit Judge Chuck Chance (JD 64) donned a straw hat for the occasion.
After 31 years on the bench, Chance was celebrating his January 2005 retirement. The room was packed and the stories flowed, including some from the judge.
“It was the late ’60s, and I was driving home from a meeting one night,” Chance smiled. “All of a sudden this bottle crashed through my window.”
Why? Because Chance was campaigning for a black city commission candidate. Despite threats, Chance continued to campaign, and that candidate became Gainesville’s first black city commissioner.
Opposition didn’t frighten Chance. In 1965, he joined the Public Defender’s office when the program was still new … and far from accepted.
“Back then, it was hard for law enforcement to grasp that everyone charged with a crime would get a lawyer,” Chance explained. “If they had a lot of evidence against someone, they’d tell him he didn’t need a lawyer, unless it was a capital case. There I was, posing challenges on my clients’ behalf. Let me just say that some people were pretty resistant to change.”
A double Gator, Chance majored in business administration and studied political science. Before taking the bench, he had a tight schedule of civic activities, including helping groups such as Florida Defenders of the Environment.
“I’m a boater and a fisherman,” Chance said. “So the environment has always been of great concern to me.”
He also chaired Alachua County’s Democratic Party and worked on several federal campaigns, but his political activity ceased once he took the bench.
“Judges can’t express political opinions and must limit their associations. It can be isolating,” said Chance. “That’s the hard part about being on the bench.”
As a judge, Chance found other ways to contribute, such as spearheading one of the nation’s first Guardian Ad Litem programs and first juvenile court programs.
He also broke ground on court system computerization, chaired the ABA’s section on specialty courts, the Florida County Court Judges Conference and the Florida Circuit Judges Conference. In addition, he co-wrote a criminal procedure book with the late UF Law Professor Gerald Bennett for the ABA.
“Chuck is the only person I know who can think in circles,” said 8th Circuit Chief Judge Stan Morris (JD 71). “Most people sit around getting frustrated, but he sees possibilities where others don’t. He can look at a situation and say, ‘Hey, we can do this better.’”
Spending years as an adjunct professor of UF’s trial practice class, Chance exposed hundreds of students to his unique thinking and emerged as a favorite professor. In Fall 2004, after a mock trial at the courthouse, students Ben Brown (3L) and Jennifer Mauro (3L) asked Chance to marry them in his courtroom, with other students witnessing from the jury box.
“After only 12 weeks, it seemed like we’d known him our whole lives,” Ben said. “The man just effused warmth, so it was only natural that he should bind us in matrimony.” He also believes, just as he did in the ’70s, that getting through the court system is too time consuming and expensive for the average person.
“Call me Pollyanna, but I still have hope that one day the court system will provide results more quickly and with lower costs to people,” Chance said. “I plan to devote some of my time to helping things along.”
But he also is considering political activities and plans to travel with his wife, Ramona (JD 82, LLM 83), who practices law in Gainesville. Most of all, he plans to enjoy his “license to chill.”