Jon Mills — politician, media pundit and professor extraordinaire — was networking at a law school reception in honor of a visiting Florida Supreme Court Justice when I tapped him on the shoulder.
“You’ve been busy,” I said, citing just a few of his recent activities ranging from multiple media appearances to lectures at national conferences.
He threw his hands in the air and laughed. “I’m supposed to be on sabbatical!” he said, and shook his head at the futility of staying away from the law school and legal world that has been his passion for more than 40 years.
Mills (JD 72) is one of UF Law’s best known and most influential graduates, and he likes to be involved. He has earned widespread respect in his many diverse roles as an elected official, lawyer, professor, author, businessman and oft-quoted media expert on constitutional law issues. He received the University of Florida Distinguished Alumnus Award in recognition of all that hard work during the college’s May 2012 graduation ceremony.
“The education I received from Florida gave me the opportunity to be a lawyer, to be a teacher, to be a writer,” Mills said. “It’s impossible for me to give back enough to repay what that has meant to my life in terms of allowing me to have joy in the things that I do and to see that I’ve made an impact.”
Mills served 10 years in the Florida Legislature and was Speaker of the House 1986- 1988. His major policy initiatives included water quality and environmental bills, child abuse prevention, high tech development, and constitutional privacy protections. While Speaker, he initiated and led the effort to build the Center for the Performing Arts and locate all UF arts facilities at the “Miracle on 34th Street.” He served on the historic Constitution Revision Commission and was named its most valuable member, chaired the drafting committee, and sponsored a substantial revision to the education provision of the
Mills is currently exploiting his hard-won knowledge of the Florida constitutional and political system. He serves as counsel for the Democratic Party before the state Supreme Court in a challenge to the Republican Legislature’s legislative redistricting map.
Mills has been a lawyer in high profile national cases such as protection of privacy for the Earnhardt family, the Versace family, and the family of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau; he has appeared in
courts nationwide and is of counsel to the prominent Miami law firm Boies Schiller & Flexner, LLP.
Mills served as dean of the college of law from 1999 through 2003, when he chose to step down to return to serving full-time as director of the college’s Center for Governmental Responsibility, which he founded in 1973. As dean, he focused on raising the funds needed to help the law school address a critical need for new and expanded facilities and on hiring excellent faculty. He helped bring in more than $25 million in private support and initiated the effort to completely transform the college’s physical space. The work was continued by his successor, current law school Dean Robert Jerry, and concluded this year.
He continues to serve the university as a law professor and director of the center he founded 30 years ago. Under his direction, CGR has promoted the rule of law through conferences held around the globe, supported numerous research and education initiatives, and nurtured students who have gone on to be Cabinet members, federal judges, and legal services lawyers. He has conducted research and taught in Brazil, Poland, and universities worldwide. He has written numerous articles and books, the most recent of which, Privacy: The Lost Right, was published by Oxford University Press.
As an expert and a commentator, Mills has appeared on CNN, CBS, Fox, National Public Radio, and the BBC. He has been quoted in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times among many other publications.
As a Florida businessman, he was part of the development team to build the Hilton UF Conference Center in Gainesville and the La Concha Hotel in Key West. He is founding chairman of a startup company, Cybershield, an Internet security and identity company that was selected to be in the Florida Innovation HUB at UF.
In his spare time, such as it is, Mills is a pilot, scuba diver, and big fan of his daughters’ sports activities. He and his wife of 20-plus years, Beth, have two daughters, Marguerite and Elizabeth.