(Don’t let the title fool you)
Judge Belvin Perry, Jr. is the chief judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit. As such, he is Judge Stan Strickland’s superior. Judge Jose Rodriguez’s, too. You remember him. He’s the presiding judge in the Zenaida Gonzalez defamation lawsuit case against Casey. As the Casey Anthony case moves closer to trial, you will most likely be hearing more about him. In March of 2006, I wrote and published an article about one of my experiences while working for an ad agency in Orlando. The following is a reprint of that post with a few minor changes. I still haven’t met Judge Perry, but I hope this gives you an insight into my years in this town, how I have grown as a person, and why I maintain a keen awareness and interest in the saga of Caylee Marie Anthony.
In 1989 I was working for Stonebrook Advertising in Orlando. We created ads for the Belk Lindsey department store chain. The Stone in Stonebrook represented half of the agency. The other half was for Doug Middlebrook, who ran the Tampa agency. My boss was Glenn Stone. One afternoon, he called me into his office. “Dave, come on in here and sit down. This here is Judge Byrd. He’s running for re-election and he needs some artwork done.”
I recognized the gentleman and graciously said hello and shook his hand. I knew right away that he and Mr. Stone were old friends. It was quite obvious they both were from the same good ol’ boy mold. Mr. Stone explained that Judge Byrd needed campaign designs including ads for newspapers, bumper stickers and bulk mailer pieces. Mr. Stone decided that I would do the work for Judge Byrd. Hailing from New Jersey, I had a few inherently stereotypical issues with southern judges and politicians. Nothing major; it was just a slight amount of apprehension.
We sat there and discussed what kind of strategy would help in his bid to retain his seat. We went over design ideas. Judge Byrd was running against someone I had never heard of until a few weeks before when Belvin Perry announced his candidacy to unseat Judge Byrd in the Osceola County Circuit Judge race. I don’t recall that party affiliation had anything to do with it, but I was immediately rooting for Belvin. I can’t say for sure why, but I just didn’t particularly care all that much for Judge Byrd. Although it was nothing personal, it probably had more to do with the southern thing and an air of that persnickety white male privilege that was never as evident in the New York/Philadelphia corridor, from whence I came.
After going over the plan of attack and some talk of his opponent, Judge Byrd was ready to leave, confident in the knowledge that we would deliver exactly what he needed. As he walked out of Mr. Stone’s office, he proudly exclaimed something that I found quite shocking and highly offensive…
“I’m gonna kick that little black boy’s ass.”
Mr. Stone was all excited. I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I said nothing in return. As a matter of fact, I didn’t respond at all. How could a sitting judge display blatant racism like that? All of a sudden, I had a real problem. Personally, I wanted to do everything I could to help Judge Byrd lose the election, but professionally, I had to do everything in my repertoire of artistic talents to get him re-elected or face losing my job. I was very confused. It was a lose/win, win/lose proposition. I didn’t want him to win, but I had to do my professional best to design winning ads, bumper stickers and flyers. Why me, dear Lord, why me?
I called an attorney friend of mine and told him I really needed to talk about something. We met after work and I explained my moral and professional dilemma.
“My personality is split in half on this, Bill. I don’t want to do it, but I don’t want to lose my job. Since I’m obligated to do it, I’ve got to give it my all as a professional. I have to help get the guy re-elected.”
He was familiar with the judge and pretty much felt the same way. “Boy, Dave, I’ve been an attorney a long time now and that’s a new one on me. That’s a real mess and I don’t envy you at all. If you want my professional advice, you have to do it unless you have another job lined up somewhere and I’m sure you don’t.” He was right, I didn’t.
I went to work on a strategy I thought would benefit Judge Byrd. I set up a slate of ads that would run at certain times throughout the campaign. They had to be laid out in different sizes, too, since all newspapers are not alike. I worked on demographics so I could recommend where I felt mailing the flyers would benefit him the most. And the bumper stickers. Oh, yes, those things. They looked nice, but I cringed when I got behind a car that bore one, and I saw quite a few. I wanted to say, “Hey! That’s my design. Oh, never mind.”
Judge Byrd lost his bid for re-election. It was a bittersweet victory for me, wondering if there was somewhere I went wrong. I’m glad he did and I knew in the end it did not hurt me professionally. There was no blame. Judge Byrd took his loss well. All politicians know one day they will lose an election. Bill asked me how I felt. I told him, very relieved. I wondered if there was something subconscious that held me back from really giving it my all? Oh well, it was over and I was glad.
Judge Belvin Perry has been on the bench since 1989. He has been the Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit since 2001 and is well respected in the area. Judge Byrd? I saw him years after that. He remembered me and we had a very nice chat. He went back into private practice. My friend Bill is now a workmen’s compensation judge for the state of Florida, appointed by then governor, Jeb Bush. I always told him what a fine, fine judge he’d make one day and he did. He’s always been a very humble guy.
I like to think that I was partly responsible for Belvin Perry’s win, but then again, I probably wasn’t. In the end, it was the will of the people that unseated Judge Byrd. One thing is certain, Judge Perry never looked back and fortunately, I was never asked to do anything like that again.