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Mickle named chief judge of the Northern District of Florida

by Ian Fisher
Law Student Writer/ 3L

Stephan Mickle

Judge Stephan Mickle was honored on June 19, at the president's house for being named chief judge of the Northern District of Florida. (UF Law/ Joshua Lukman)

Not only was the Hon. Stephan P. Mickle (JD 70) named chief judge of the Northern District of Florida, but he might also possess supernatural powers.

According to UF Levin College of Law Dean Robert Jerry, a response Mickle gave during a past interview should raise some questions about Mickle’s ability to foresee the future.

“He said, ‘Once the ball was in my court, I knew I had a responsibility to hit it,’ ” Jerry quoted. “Note that in 1962, he was saying the ball was in ‘my court.’ In 1962, he was already thinking of ‘my court,’ so that suggests whether we should wonder whether the judge has some powers to predict the future.”

Jerry spoke during a reception held in Gainesville on June 19 in the UF President’s house to honor Mickle for being named chief judge of the Northern District of Florida. Mickle replaced the Hon. Robert L. Hinkle as chief judge.

Mickle is the first African-American chief judge of the Northern District of Florida. As one of the first seven African-American students to integrate UF in 1962, Mickle is accustomed to accomplishing “firsts.” He was the first African-American to receive an undergraduate degree from UF (1965), to establish a law practice in Gainesville (1972), to become a county judge in Alachua County (1979), to become a circuit judge in the Eighth Judicial Circuit (1984), to become a judge in the Northern District of Florida (1998), and to receive a UF distinguished alumnus award (1999).

Although he has accomplished much, it has not been without challenges. Racial tensions were high when Mickle attended UF. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was enacted and a race riot occurred at St. Augustine Beach. “When we look at Judge Mickle’s career, it is amazing that he was able to do so much in such a turbulent time,” said Margaret Stack, president of the Eighth Judicial Circuit Bar Association.

Mickle has also been active with UF Law in his career. He has served 38 continuous years as an adjunct professor, judged countless moot court competitions and worked on other projects for the school.

A fellow judge joked that maybe Mickle should not be looking forward to this next step in his career.

“The role of the chief judge in many respects is not a particularly pleasant one,” said Senior Judge William Terrell Hodges of the Middle District of Florida. “What it means is that when there are unpleasant tasks to be performed, your other judges will ask you, ‘What do you intend to do about this, and when do you expect to get it done?’ ”

Mickle listened as family, friends, and others who attended the ceremony spoke before him.

“After listening to those remarks, it made me think about the story of the fellow who went on to the great beyond and they were having his funeral services and the preacher went on about how great he was and the things he’d done and accomplished and on-and-on,” Mickle said. “The widow was sitting with their little boy in the front row, and she looked at the little boy and said, ‘Honey, go up there and look in that casket and see if that’s really your dad.’ ”

On a more serious note, Mickle thanked God, his family, former law clerks and fellow judges for helping him get this far in his career. Mickle finished with two promises before adjourning the gathered crowd.

“I pledge to continue the tradition of excellence began early on by our chief judges and finally by Judge Hinkle,” Mickle said. “I will bring honor and respect to this office. I will work hard and pray hard, because I think I’m going to need it.”

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