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Bill filed to name Tallahassee federal courthouse after Judge Hatchett

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Joseph Hatchett

Joseph Hatchett

A North Florida congressman has filed legislation to name a federal courthouse in Tallahassee in honor of former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett.

Congressman Al Lawson, a Democrat from Tallahassee, filed HR 4771 on July 28. The measure would designate a federal courthouse facility at 111 Adams Street, a block from the Capitol, the “Joseph Woodrow Hatchett United States Courthouse and Federal Building.”

“Judge Hatchett was a social justice pioneer and public servant who devoted his career to advocating for civil rights,” Rep. Lawson said. “Dedicating this courthouse to Judge Hatchett would honor his influence and dedication to the enrichment of Florida, and communities of color across our nation. His legacy, especially as the state’s ‘Voice of Justice,’ is long-lasting, and this legislation is a fitting way to memorialize his contributions. I am certain Judge Hatchett’s achievements will continue to inspire the people of Florida for generations to come.”

A retired 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals chief judge and the first Black since Reconstruction to serve on Florida’s highest court, Judge Hatchett died April 30 at the age of 88.

Cheryl Clark, Judge Hatchett’s daughter and a small business owner in Tallahassee, said she was notified recently by Lawson’s office that the legislation was being prepared.

“I’m thrilled, it’s so exciting,” she said. “God is good.”

The online tracking service “GovTrack” shows the bill has 25 co-sponsors, 16 Republicans and nine Democrats who comprise the Florida’s congressional delegation.

Clark said her father, who was known for his gentle, unpretentious manner, would be pleased.

“He would be honored that it was named after him, but he would probably give most of the credit to those who were in the trenches making it happen,” she said. “He was such a humble man.”

The trustees and members of the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society were “delighted to learn that Judge Hatchett will be honored and memorialized in such a befitting way,” said Executive Director Mark A. Miller. “To those that knew him, his most enduring legacy was his unwavering commitment to equal rights and justice for all Florida’s citizens.”

On January 28, the group presented Judge Hatchett with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

During the ceremony, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Rosemary Barkett traced Judge Hatchett’s early career, from Florida A&M University undergraduate and a brief stint in the Army, to law school at Howard University, and private practice in Daytona Beach, where he made a name for himself, among other things, challenging segregation and defending civil rights protesters.

“His external gentleness and calmness are wrapped around a steel core of dedication to equality and justice,” Barkett said. “His contribution to both of those ideals in Florida and in this country throughout his life are immeasurable.”

Judge Hatchett served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District, and a Middle District magistrate before former Gov. Reuben Askew appointed him to the Florida Supreme Court in 1975.

Former President Jimmy Carter appointed Judge Hatchett to the federal bench in 1979, where he served for 20 years before becoming chief judge of the 11th Circuit in 1996. Judge Hatchett retired from the bench in 1999 and became a senior partner at what is now Ackerman LLP. He retired from the firm not long before his death.

Clark’s two sons, who were inspired by their grandfather to pursue the law, say they are thrilled that his name could one day grace a federal courthouse.

“Obviously, I’m very, very pleased,” said Roscoe A. Green III, a partner and head of the construction practice group with Cotney Attorneys & Consultants. “Even the thought of it is very touching and humbling, to see all of his hard work pay off.”

Green said his grandfather, despite his responsibilities, rarely missed a family event, and taught him to always treat others with respect.

“He really stood for professionalism, hard work, treating people with dignity,” Green said. “He told me when he rendered his decisions, he always thought about the people of Pahokee, how they would impact the smallest person.”

Rashad Green said his grandfather endured countless slights at a time when Blacks were discouraged from pursuing the law, but never revealed a trace of bitterness.

“As I got older, I asked a lot,” Rashad Green said. “I never, ever, once got the feeling that he was upset, or angry or mad at what happened.”

The founder of Rashad Green Law, Green says he specializes in civil rights and criminal law and practices mostly in the state courts, but is transitioning into the federal court system. The prospect of trying a case in a courthouse named after his grandfather is “surreal,” Green said.

“The thought of that makes me want to cry,” he said. “It’s just unbelievable that it is even a possibility.”




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