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“He opened up an opportunity.  Florida’s first black Supreme Court judge Joseph Hatchett dies at 88


When a young Joseph W. Hatchett took the Florida bar exam in 1960, he could not stay in the Miami hotel where the test was given because of Jim Crow regulations.

In 15 years, Hatchett would become the first African-American to sit on the Florida Supreme Court.

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Hatchett died in Tallahassee on Friday, April 30, Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said in a message on Saturday morning. Hatchett was 88 years old and the 65th Florida justice since statehood was granted in 1845.

Hatchett was appointed to Florida’s highest court by Governor Reubin Askew in 1975. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where, the Supreme Court notes from Florida, “he became the first African American to sit on a federal circuit that covered the Deep South at the time.

Twenty years later, after retiring in 1999, Hatchett faced another challenge when he joined the NAACP to become a senior advocate in the fight to preserve preference programs nationwide. State for Minorities and Women in Florida.

“It’s about continuing to ensure that all Floridians have an equal chance at success, and that’s positive action,” Hatchett told the Miami Herald at the time.

Open doors to opportunities

This indignity that predated the Miami hotel during its bar exam has continued. Hatchett was determined that other promising young black law students might one day not only have lunch in the same dining room as their white counterparts – something he was warned not to do when he took the test. – but that they could also one day go up. as he had done.

“I remember when I became a young lawyer he put me aside and told me, basically, what other people thought of my dreams was none of my business,” said attorney HT Smith, founding director of the Trial Advocacy Program in Florida. International University College of Law.

“His whole philosophy was that as a group of black lawyers in Florida in the 1960s and 1970s, we had a responsibility to open the coffers of opportunity for ourselves and for the people behind us,” Smith said.

“For example, when Judge Hatchett was called to the Florida bar, he couldn’t stay at the hotel where the exam was being held. So her whole thing was by the time I got there I could stay at the hotel where the bar exam was given in Jacksonville, ”Smith said. “His whole thing was, ‘Let’s look at where the opportunity chests are and do our job by intentionally opening those opportunity chests and removing the door from the hinges.’

Following Hatchett’s mentorship, Smith became Miami’s first African-American Deputy Public Defender and the first African-American Deputy County District Attorney. When Smith entered private practice, he was the head of the first black-owned law firm practicing in downtown Miami.

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“I was largely the first black public defender because Judge Hatchett, ”Smith said. “It wasn’t Judge Hatchett at the time, it was Joe Hatchett’s lawyer who explained how we focus on opportunities. In the public defender’s officer there are a lot of jobs there – there may be 40, 50, 100 jobs now. And, with that in mind, when I left and went to the county attorney’s office as the first black attorney there, every time I left, I took Judge Hatchett’s advice and I myself. be sure not to leave until there is more than one.

Born in Florida, legal career

Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Joseph W. Hatchett was the first African American to sit on Florida’s highest court when he was appointed by Governor Reubin Askew in 1975.

Born in Clearwater, Florida on September 17, 1932, Hatchett graduated from Florida A&M University in 1954. He served as a second lieutenant in the United States Army and entered Howard University School of Law in 1956. He obtained his law degree and his bar. admitted in 1959.

Hatchett first practiced in private practice in Daytona Beach, where he practiced criminal, civil, administrative and civil rights law in state and federal courts.

In 1966, Hatchett was appointed Deputy United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida, and in 1967 he was appointed First Deputy United States Attorney. In 1971 he was appointed United States Magistrate for the Middle District of Florida.

In his obituary, the Florida Supreme Court noted that in 1976, when Hatchett defended his seat on the state’s highest court, he became the first African-American to win a contested statewide election. of Florida in the twentieth century. “It was the last contested Florida Supreme Court election before constitutional reforms moved state appellate judges to a system of election on unchallenged merit.”

“Cross call”

“Justice Hatchett was such a fair man who had what we call a ‘cross call,'” Smith said. “That’s why he was able to be the first black to win a race in the United States. People who came into contact with Joe Hatchett – black and white, young and old, in the northern part of Florida and the southern part of Florida – were not only in awe of his brilliant mind, but were also in awe. that he had a flat head and an open heart and the same hand.

When he retired from the bench in 1999 and returned to private practice in Tallahassee, an editorial in the Miami Herald stated: “Judge Hatchett’s 20-year exemplary career on the federal bench is a commendable achievement made to it. ‘all the more remarkable for its humble beginnings. Her mother worked as a maid, her father as a fruit picker. Justice Hatchett’s rise to this eminent position during a time of rapid social change reminds us of what talented people can accomplish if given a fair chance.

Others have followed Hatchett to Florida’s highest court, such as Justices Leander Shaw Jr. and Peggy Ann Quince. Smith doesn’t want today’s black lawyers to forget this.

“He opened up this opportunity. Here is Judge Shaw after him and after Shaw, Peggy Quince. His legacy was that he himself, and through his mentorship of black lawyers who succeeded him, was to open the coffers of opportunity in all areas of legal activity: from public practice to private, federal practice, state. So all of us, most of us who are now lawyers, are of the Hatchett lineage, ”Smith said.

“By the way, a lot of black lawyers don’t know that,” Smith added. “You know how people try to find out where their family is from and stuff like that?” Well, a lot of black lawyers have to do the same when they hear of Judge Hatchett’s death. Many of them will be shocked to find out, yes, you are smart. Yes, you have worked hard. But part of the reason you’ve been successful and where you are today goes back to Joe Hatchett. “

Survivors and Services

Hatchett’s survivors include his children Cheryl Clark and Brenda Hatchett; eight grandchildren and nine great grandchildren. He was predeceased by his wife Betty Hatchett.

Services are on hold. Details will be posted on the Florida Supreme Court website when they are available at www.floridasupremecourt.org.



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