Conference of County Court Judges of Florida Award Winners

Last Wednesday night, the Conference of County Court Judges of Florida convened for the 2019 awards presentation, where four very worthy nominees were recognized. The Conference presented three awards: the Harvey Ford Award, the Amy Karan Award, and the Non-Judicial Award. The Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence was also personally presented by Chief Justice Charles Canady, on behalf of the Florida Supreme Court.

The Harvey Ford Award, named after the late Broward County Court Judge, recognizes a county court judge who has provided extraordinary service to the community, to the legal profession, and to the conference itself. The 2019 Award was presented to Santa Rosa County Judge Robert Hilliard. Judge Hilliard was selected based in part on his exceptional service to the Conference, having served as Treasurer and President, as well as Technology Chair, among other roles and positions. Judge Hilliard was also recognized based on his service on behalf of the Conference, including his years of work as the Conference’s sole representative on the Trial Court Budget Commission, and his role as the only county court judge to be appointed to Florida’s Commission on Access to Civil Justice, where he served as the founding Chair of its Technology Committee. Stated simply, Judge Hilliard has been a widely respected and much-admired leader of the Conference for many years, and the announcement of his selection for the Award was well received by those in attendance, who gave him a well-deserved standing ovation.

The Amy Karan Award honors the legacy of late Miami-Dade County Judge Amy Karan and her special contributions to the judiciary and the legal system, and recognizes a judge who is a scholar of the law and its faithful application in the administration of justice, and is known as a visionary that works to improve the legal system. The 2019 Amy Karan Award was presented to Monroe County Judge Ruth Becker. Judge Becker was a pioneer in the development of one of Florida’s first drug courts in the early 1990s, and she has continued to preside over the Monroe County Drug Court since its inception. Her hard work, dedication, and imagination in creating this program truly helped to pave the way for the development of other drug courts, as well as the many other problem-solving courts now serving the justice system. Judge Becker has also been a dedicated servant of the Conference, having served as its Twentieth Circuit Representative for several decades. Notably, Judge Becker managed to faithfully provide her services even in times of personal trial and hardship. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, she faced the challenges of maintaining a functioning court while surrounded by devastation and hardship and somehow managed to successfully coordinate matters such as inmate transportation and staffing issues while living in what was fairly described as a war zone. Perhaps most impressively, Judge Becker did so despite losing her own home and having to take up personal residence in a boat, earning the admiration and respect of the people of Monroe County.

The Conference also presented its Non-Judicial Award, recognizing a non-judicial individual who has gone above and beyond her or his call of duty and is extraordinarily supportive of the conference of county court judges. The 2019 Non-Judicial Award was presented to Dan Rettig, staff attorney with the Office of the State Court Administrator. Dan has assisted with the educational programming of the Florida Judicial College for the past decade, helping county judges as they embark on their new career. He has also worked long hours to help organize the Conference’s annual summer meeting, helping to coordinate and troubleshoot the various functions that inevitably face any organization hosting such an event. Mr. Rettig is a beloved figure at any Conference event he attends, having won the respect of so many he has personally helped in some large or small way over his many years of service to the Conference.

In addition to these Conference awards, Chief Justice Canady presented the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence, which is awarded annually to honor state trial court judges who exemplify judicial excellence, including strength of character, integrity, fairness, open-mindedness, knowledge of the law, sound judgment, professional ethics, intellectual courage, compassion, and decisiveness. This award is also intended to pay tribute to a judge whose achievements exceed the normal expectations of the office. This year the award was personally presented by the Chief Justice to Sarasota County Judge David Denkin. Judge Denkin, who served as the 2018-2019 Conference President, was recognized for his tireless efforts throughout the course of his judicial career, as a leader, teacher and as a mentor. Judge Denkin has not only been an extremely active participant in Conference leadership, but he is also perhaps best known for is his tireless pursuit and dedication to advancing Florida judicial education. He began his leadership role as a faculty member of the Conference and his role in judicial education is considerable: he has served as the Associate Dean and the Dean of the Florida DUI Adjudication Lab Program and as the Associate Dean of the Florida Judicial College. Since 2015 he has served as the Dean of the Florida Judicial College, and he has taught at the Florida Judicial College, The DUI Adjudication Lab, the College of Advanced Judicial Studies and the National Judicial College. The amount of time and hard work Judge Denkin has devoted, above and beyond his regular work assignment is remarkable, and all in attendance agreed that he was a most-deserving recipient of this prestigious award.