By Aline Baker
The Honorable C. Clyde Atkins (JD 36), an influential judge and a champion of civil rights, and John Moore McCarty (JD 41), a former state senator, judge, Florida Bar president and member of the influential 1968 Constitution Revision Commission, have been posthumously inducted into the University of Florida Levin College of Law Heritage of Leadership Recognition Society.
C. CLYDE ATKINS
Atkins was known as a defender for those who were less fortunate as well as a passionate supporter of the legal justice system. His achievements in this arena included advocating for the rights of the homeless, upholding the rights of Cuban and Haitian refugees to lodge petitions in U.S. courts and working for the desegregation of public schools. Atkins’ academic career began at UF, where he earned a degree in law in 1936.
In 1941 he joined law school classmate Bill Lantaff (JD 36) at Casey & Walton in Miami, where he worked for the next 25 years and became a name partner. Practicing as an active trial lawyer in the areas of corporate, real estate, railroad and insurance gave him the foundation for his exceptional 33-year career as a federal judge.
Atkins was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as the judge of the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, and served as the chief judge of the district from 1977 to 1982. President Jimmy Carter recognized his willingness to serve others by appointing him to the National Commission for the Review of Antitrust Laws and Procedures from 1978 to 1979. Atkins presided over thousands of cases and was known by many for his astute judgment, fairness, impartiality and commitment to the law.
“If he’s convinced it’s guaranteed by the Constitution, he is fearless,” the late Chesterfield Smith (JD 48) once said of Atkins’ commitment to law. “He doesn’t care if it’s unpopular. He’ll stand alone.”
Some of Atkins’ most publicized cases included presiding over the desegregation of Dade County schools beginning in 1969 and continuing jurisdiction for more than 25 years; a ruling allowing Allen Ginsberg, a poet who was denied his freedom of expression when the chief of police turned off his microphone, to give another reading free of charge; the action brought by the Justice Department seeking to prevent Florida Power & Light from building the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Dade County; and a wildcat machinist strike at National Airlines, in which he refused to reinstate striking machinists after they disobeyed his injunction to return to work to allow the airline to resume operations. Atkins also presided over serious drug cases that earned his district court a national reputation as one of the finest in the 1970s.
In the 1990s Atkins ruled against both the Bush and Clinton administrations’ policies to repatriate Cuban and Haitian refugees housed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In 1992 he ruled on arguably his most influential case involving the homeless in Miami. He ordered the creation of “safe zones” for the area’s homeless to congregate without the threat of police arrest. Much of the nation’s subsequent attitude to rehabilitate the homeless through training and the creation of shelters was influenced by this decision.
Over his illustrious career Atkins received numerous public service awards, including being named as a Knight of St. Gregory by Pope Paul VI, having the University of Miami’s Moot Court named in his behalf and being honored with the National Conference for Community and Justice Distinguished Community Service Award. Atkins died in 1999.
JOHN MOORE McCARTY
McCarty graduated from law school in 1941 and immediately went into private practice with Liddon & Fee in his home town of Fort Pierce, focusing on general civil practice. His civil practice duties were cut short when he was called to active combat duty in the Army during World War II, where he served in the Pacific theater of operations. He earned the Bronze Star while commanding the 292nd Joint Assault Company of the 77th Infantry Division and took part in the amphibious landings on Guam, the Philippines and Okinawa, as well as the original occupation of Japan.
Upon returning from the war in 1945, he established his own law practice and began to put his maturity and leadership skills to work to pave the way for a truly exceptional career.
In 1948 and 1952 he served as campaign manager and chief of staff to his brother, Florida Gov. Dan McCarty, which enabled him in 1953 to play a key role as part of a small group that lobbied for and implemented the legislation to establish the College of Medicine at UF. In 1957 McCarty was appointed judge of the 9th Judicial District and served as a circuit judge until his resignation in 1959, when he mounted an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1960. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 1962 and reelected in 1966. McCarty also was a member of the influential 1968 Constitution Revision Commission that made the last major changes to Florida’s Constitution and established the state’s modern-day judicial system.
McCarty served on the first Supreme Court Nominating Commission along with past Heritage of Leadership inductees Dixie Beggs (2003) and John Wigginton (2006). He also served on the American Bar Association House of Delegates, the Florida Bar Board of Governors and as a director of the American Judicature Society. He was elected and served as president of the Florida Bar in 1971 to 1972.
McCarty served as chair of the UF College of Law’s first capital campaign in the early ’80s, which led to the construction of Bruton-Geer Hall at the law school. He also was a founding member of the UF Foundation and Law Center Association, receiving the Trustees’ Award in 1981, and served as a member of the UF President’s Council and Gator Boosters. He has been named to both the Florida Blue Key Hall of Fame and to UF’s Hall of Fame, and was designated a Distinguished Alumni in 1973.
In addition to his legal career, McCarty maintained business interests in citrus groves and cattle ranching in Fort Pierce. His community involvement included serving on the Board of Directors for Florida Power and Light Company, the Port St. Lucie Bank, the Fort Pierce Memorial Hospital and as a state director of the Orange Bowl. In addition, he was a senior warden and Sunday school superintendent at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, president of Rotary, and an active member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce, all in Fort Pierce. McCarty died in 1995.