Even After 42 Years, Justice Wells Continues to Learn About the Law
Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles T. Wells still remembers the words of the commencement speaker when he graduated from law school at the University of Florida in 1964. The speaker was Chesterfield Smith, a prominent UF Law alumnus who was then president of The Florida Bar.
“I remember that his theme was ‘I love being a lawyer,’” he said. “And he described the ingredients of someone growing to love being a lawyer, that it’s not something that comes naturally.”
Justice Wells, who will address Fall 2006 graduates at the Levin College of Law’s commencement Dec. 22, said that even 42 years after he graduated from law school, the thing that he has come to recognize with each passing year “is just how much there is to continue to learn about the law and the practice of law.” Justice Wells had practiced law for 30 years when he assumed his duties as Justice of the Florida Supreme Court on June 16, 1994, after being appointed by Governor Lawton Chiles. He served the Court as Chief Justice from June 2000 through June 2002.
A proud “Double-Gator,” Justice Wells received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida in 1961 and his juris doctor degree from UF Law in 1964. He is a veteran, having served in the United States Army. He was honored by being awarded recognition as a Distinguished Alumnus of UF in 2001.
Justice Wells is perhaps most noted for presiding over election cases brought to the Court as part of the dispute over Florida’s electoral votes in the 2000 U.S. presidential election, which were broadcast live to a world-wide audience.
“The election process doesn’t work very well when the election’s a tie,” Wells said with a laugh. Justice Wells, who has lectured throughout the United States on the Florida Court’s processing and administration of the election cases, wrote a dissent on the court’s second case in the 2000 election, a position which was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court as to the limitations of the role of courts in election controversies. History tells us, he said, that virtual ties in elections and the controversies that follow are inevitable.
“There have been reforms that have been made and changes of machines and still there are controversies and still courts are thrust into a position of making election decisions,” he said. “But I think that the courts have to again recognize the limitations on the role that they can play in deciding who are going to be the political leaders. Because ultimately that has to be a decision by the people in the community and not by the judges in the community.”