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Courthouse annex dedication marks tribute to retired Supreme Court Justice James E. C. Perry

Senior Editor News in Photos
Justice James E.C. Perry Courthouse Annex dedication

Former Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry cuts the ribbon, along with other dignitaries, during dedication of the new Seminole County Courthouse Annex bearing his name. Seminole County Commission Chair Jay Zembower said the annex is part of a $65 million Five Points Project that will bring the courts, the court clerk, state attorney, and public defender closer to the people they serve. Perry thanked the commissioners for the honor, and said he hopes the new facility will also remind Floridians that a “free and independent judiciary” is vital to their way of life.

The new, four-story, 104,000-square-foot James E. C. Perry Courthouse Annex bears his name, but the retired Supreme Court justice sees it as a symbol of something much bigger.

“This honor exceeds the wildest dreams and expectations of my ancestors,” Perry, 80, told family and friends gathered for the dedication. “Never could I have imagined that Seminole County would have put my name on such a magnificent edifice.”

Justice Perry

Justice James E. C. Perry: “How many of you believe in miracles? How many of you have seen a miracle? Just look at me.”

Becoming Florida’s 85th Supreme Court Justice, (2009-2016) wasn’t “on the agenda” when he was growing up in public housing in segregated New Bern, N.C., Perry said.

“How many of you believe in miracles? How many of you have seen a miracle? Just look at me.”

Seminole County Commission Chair Jay Zembower said the annex is part of a $65 million Five Points Project that will bring the courts, the court clerk, state attorney, and public defender closer to the people they serve. And that’s only fitting, said 18th Circuit Deputy Chief Judge John D. Galluzzo, one of Perry’s oldest friends.

Perry has long been a “champion for African Americans, and people from all walks of life,” Galluzo said.

Perry fought the Georgia Bar successfully when it refused to admit him because he was Black, Galluzzo recalled.

“He did not shy away from that challenge,” Galluzzo said. “And he won not only for himself, but countless thousands of others because he did not shy away from what is just and right.”

The first in his family to graduate from college when he earned a Business and Accounting degree from St. Augustine’s University in 1966, Perry went on to graduate from Columbia Law School, where he met Adrienne, his wife of more than 50 years. She and their three children, two of them attorneys, joined him at the ceremony.

Perry was a partner with Perry & Hicks, P.A., specializing in civil and business law, when Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him in 2000 as the first African American circuit judge in the 18th Judicial Circuit. In 2003, Perry’s colleagues chose him to be the first African American chief judge, supervising more than 49 judges in his two-year term.

Perry didn’t let the recognition go to  his head, Galluzzo said.

He recalled the advice Perry gave him when Galluzzo became a judge.

 He said John, never forget to be compassionate, patient, and understanding of the people who come before you . . . especially those brave enough to face you without a lawyer.”

The Board of Governors, in a letter commending the Seminole County Commission for honoring Perry, traces Perry’s distinguished career, and notes that his public service extends beyond the courtroom.

“Justice Perry is widely recognized for his work as a trial attorney and later as a distinguished jurist, receiving many awards, including the prestigious Williams-Johnson Outstanding Jurist of the Year Award for 2006 from the Brevard and Seminole County Bar associations.”

Signed by President Scott Westheimer, President-elect Roland Sanchez Medina, Jr., and President-elect Designate Rosalyn “Sia” Baker-Barnes, the letter points to Perry’s founding of the Jackie Robinson Sports Association, a baseball league that serves 650 at-risk boys and girls – the largest in the nation – and requires its volunteers to not only coach, but also mentor and tutor its athletes.

“Justice Perry brought invaluable knowledge, professionalism, and dedication to the roles of attorney, judge and justice, and Florida is truly fortunate to have benefitted from his service,” the letter states. “Congratulations to Justice Perry for this immense and well-deserved honor.”

Perry thanked the commissioners for the honor, and said he hopes the new facility will also remind Floridians that a “free and independent judiciary” is vital to their way of life.

“If we’re going to maintain our democracy, those pillars must stand.”

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