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Hatchett presented Historical Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award

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Joseph Hatchett

Joseph Hatchett

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice and retired 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph W. Hatchett has received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Florida Supreme Court Historical Society.

Hatchett received the award at the society’s virtual Supreme Evening 2021 event on January 28. It was presented by former Bar Executive Director John F. Harkness, Jr., who chatted with Hatchett about his career.

The event also included video clips from a May 2, 1990, ceremonial Supreme Court session and oral history program honoring Hatchett.

Former Gov. Reuben Askew, who appointed Hatchett to the Supreme Court in 1975, said, at that 1990 event, “He served this court well. He’s gone on and served in the federal judiciary with distinction…

“We want to tell you, it’s people such as you, Judge, that make the process work…. The compassion, the wisdom, the law that has to be considered…you have it and retain it.”

“Joe Hatchett is a person who lives and has lived by the ethical precepts which have historically guided the conduct of truly great judges and lawyers of our past and present,” said former ABA President Chesterfield Smith. “Joe Hatchett to me exemplifies what is best in an American judge, one who is sometimes lonely, but one who never shirks standing alone.”

In a specially recorded message for this year’s event, former Justice Rosemary Barkett, who also served with Hatchett on the 11th Circuit, recounted Hatchett’s career. That included graduating from Florida A&M University, a stint as a second lieutenant in the Army, law school at Howard University at a time when Thurgood Marshall went there to practice for his oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court, and then private practice in Daytona Beach.

“In Daytona Beach, he quickly became known to all of the city and county commissioners and the judges. Why? Again, in his words, ‘I was bringing the kinds of suits they had not seen before and I was before the School Board every week and before the county commission every week and up before the federal judges regularly,’” Barkett said.

Hatchett, she said, became an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District, and then in 1971 a Middle District magistrate. After Askew appointed him to the Supreme Court, he became the first Black since reconstruction to successfully run a statewide campaign in 1976 when voters retained him in office. In 1979, then President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the circuit bench, where he served 20 years, becoming chief judge of the 11th Circuit from 1996-99. He retired from the bench in 1999 and became a senior partner at what is now Akerman LLP. He recently retired from Akerman.

“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 is immeasurable.”

Harkness asked Hatchett about attributes needed to become a leader in the legal profession.

“Honesty and truth are the hallmarks of good lawyers and good judges,” Hatchett replied.

They also talked about changes in the legal system, and Hatchett singled out two that occurred while he was on the Supreme Court.

One was allowing cameras in the courtroom, something started in Florida and which is now in nearly every state court system.

“Before that time, people lost track of what happened in one-third of their government,” Hatchett said. “That is, they didn’t know what went on inside a courtroom. And the Florida Supreme Court led the way in making that prominent throughout the country, when all the people said that would not work. Now every state about has adopted it.”

He said the contrast was stark in the 2000 Bush v. Gore litigation, when people would watch the arguments and proceedings in the Florida courts, but couldn’t once the appeals reached the federal courts.

The second change, Hatchett said, was overhauling the court-supervised and Bar-run grievance system for lawyers, including regulations on lawyer advertising.

“We set a great standard that’s been followed by the country for advertising lawyers and our process is fair and open to those who are accused of wrongdoing as well as those who are harmed by wrongdoers,” Hatchett said. “I’m very proud that I was with the court when we set up that new disciplinary policy.”

The society award says Hatchett is being honored, “In recognition of his highly distinguished career as a lawyer, his many years of extraordinary contributions to Florida’s Legal System as a highly respected member of the Judiciary and his lifelong devotion to the improvement of the lives of others.”

Former lifetime award winners include Harkness, Askew, Barkett, former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, former ABA and Florida State University President Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, former ABA President Wm. Reece Smith, Jr., W. Dexter Douglass, former Bar President Robert M. Ervin, former Bar President Mark Hulsey, and former Bar President H. Russell Troutman.

The Hatchett lifetime achievement award presentation may be viewed here.

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