Fifty Years of Justice

Today we are pleased to announce the publication of Fifty Years of Justice: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida by James Michael Denham, professor of history at Florida Southern College and the director of the Lawton M. Chiles Center for Florida History.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida is recognized most often as the battleground for the Terri Schiavo “right to die” case, but it has been at the center of major decisions for more than fifty years. The famous and the infamous have stood before these judges, including young civil rights lawyer Thurgood Marshall, mobster Santo Trafficante, drug lord Carlos Lehder, baseball star Denny McLain, movie star Wesley Snipes, criminal defense attorney F. Lee Bailey, and Constance Baker Motley, the first African American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the guest post below, Richard S. Dellinger, a Member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Bar Association, offers an introduction to Denham’s work. 

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Introducing Fifty Years of Justice

a guest post by Richard S. Dellinger

Due to great population growth, on October 30, 1962, the Middle District of Florida was born after being carved out of part of the Northern District of Florida and part of the Southern District of Florida.

At the time the Middle District of Florida was formed, Central Florida schools were segregated by race; population was beginning to swell; development was beginning; airports were not used for significant travel; Disney, Universal and Sea World had not yet arrived; and the Space Race had just started.

Central Florida has seen much change over the past fifty years.  And, all throughout those fifty years, our courts have been a witness to the changes in Central Florida.

When the District was formed, three Judges were selected from the Southern District and three Judges were selected from the Northern District to sit in Courthouses across Central Florida.  Those judges heard and decided federal cases.  And those legal disputes provide an in depth perspective into the past fifty years in Central Florida.

This book, by Professor Michael Denham, traces the history of the Middle District of Florida.  As you read about the history of this Court, think about the people involved, think about the stories involved and think about how the stories of this Court make up the story of Central Florida’s history.  The history contained here was compiled from the public records and from interviews with judges, lawyers, and litigants, but not preserved for the general public—until now.

As you read these stories, you will see that the story of this Court is really a story of the people of Central Florida.  The creation of the Court is a direct result of population growth and expansion.  And the cases heard by this Court reflect the major political events of the times, whether that be segregation and integration, prison overcrowding, natural disasters such as the collapse of the Skyway Bridge, criminal drug trafficking and the war on drugs, terrorism, spying and the evolving technology disputes associated with intellectual property.

The cases heard by the Courts tell the story of Central Florida over the past fifty years. The true stories discussed in this edition tell the real story of Florida.  And in Florida, reality is much more interesting than fiction.

Richard S. Dellinger is a Member of the Board of Directors of the Federal Bar Association, and is the past Vice President for the 11th Circuit, Chair of the Vice Presidents, and former President of the Orlando Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. Mr. Dellinger is a partner with Lowndes, Drosdick, Doster, Kantor and Reed, P.A. in Orlando, Florida.

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