The area's top judge got the state's top legal award.
Chief Judge Thomas McGrady of the 6th Judicial Circuit was named Florida Jurist of the Year by the American Board of Trial Advocates.
He will get the award July 23 at the Hammock Beach Resort in Flagler County.
McGrady began his career as a lawyer after receiving his juris doctorate from the University of Florida in 1974. He was appointed to the 6th Circuit bench in 1999 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush. He was appointed to a circuit judgeship in 2001, and he was elected to six-year terms in 2004 and 2010. His jurisdiction covers nearly 1.5 million residents across Pinellas and Pasco counties.
In May 2009, McGrady received a Judicial Appreciation Award from the St. Petersburg Bar Association. The award he is receiving this month comes from a local chapter of the trial advocates consisting of trial and litigation lawyers representing plaintiffs and defendants.
“You would have to search far and wide to find someone who said that [McGrady] didn’t treat them with great respect and give great thought to his decisions and run an orderly courtroom," Florida chapter president Christopher Knopik said. "And even then, you might not find one.”
McGrady was nominated based on his ability to meet certain specified qualifications including a commitment to preserving and improving the jury trial system, applying laws evenhandedly and maintaining a strong working relationship with the trial bar.
Once nominated, the local ABOTA chapter recommended him to the statewide organization, where he was chosen out of a pool of candidates.
Knopik also recognized McGrady’s ability to maintain his humility. He recalled something McGrady said that stuck in his mind.
“He said playing basketball prepared him to be a judge because when he was on the basketball team, he was only on the bench,” Knopik said.
McGrady said he became a judge because it is the highest form of citizenship there is as a lawyer. In his capacity, he has stood up against many issues.
“We are doing more with less,” McGrady said of recent budget cuts. “We’ve gone six years without raises for any of our staff, and we had to lay off 17 employees three years ago.”
McGrady and other judges also took a 2 percent pay cut.
“I’ve been pretty outspoken about funding for the courts,” he said.
Budgets aren’t the only crisis facing judges.
Recent attention regarding the highly publicized Casey Anthony trial makes it difficult to find good jurors. The Orlando mother was tried and acquitted this month in the death of her 3-year-old daughter. News of the not-guilty verdict prompted negative responses from the public and even drew some threats to jurors.
“Jurors are being criticized for doing their job,” McGrady said. “They are the only ones that heard all of the evidence and only the evidence. The jury made their decision based on the law.”
McGrady added that a does not necessarily mean a person is innocent; it just means the state didn’t have enough evidence to convict. In this case, McGrady said it showed the system works.
McGrady not only spends a lot of time demanding respect and justice from his courtroom; he also maintains an active role in mentoring other legal professionals.
“We did a seminar for lawyers for free on civility and professionalism,” Knopik said. “He came over (to Tampa) from 4 until 6 in the evening even though he’s got a million people tugging at him. You can’t get a lot of people to do that.”
When he isn’t working, McGrady is a husband, father, grandfather and golfer. His current term ends in 2016. After that, the judge says he likely will retire and plans to spend a lot of time in Wyoming, where his son and three grandchildren reside. Following in Dad’s footsteps, McGrady’s son is also a lawyer.