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Davis

22 months later, Davis wins Senate confirmation

By Marilyn Young, Editor

It's easy to focus on the delay it took for 4th Circuit Judge Brian Davis to be confirmed as a federal judge.

Over those 22 months, he had to be nominated twice by President Barack Obama.

He had to explain to a senator from Iowa remarks he made nearly 20 years ago.

He had to run for re-election for his seat in Nassau County when his nomination got held up.

But Davis' former boss, Harry Shorstein, didn't want to talk about the wrong he saw in the process.

He wanted to talk about the right he saw in the Senate's 68-26 vote Friday to confirm Davis as a judge in the Middle District of Florida.

"He is the perfect symbol of ethics, professionalism, integrity and honesty," said Shorstein, who was state attorney from 1991-2008. "He's everything you want. He really is."

Those characteristics are why he coaxed Davis out of private practice in 1991 to serve as his chief assistant state attorney when Shorstein was appointed to fill the term of State Attorney Ed Austin, who resigned to run for mayor.

Davis had served six years as an assistant state attorney under Austin before leaving to work at the firm now known as Terrell Hogan.

When Davis accepted Shorstein's offer, he was the first African-American to serve as a chief assistant state attorney in Florida.

Three years later, Gov. Lawton Chiles named Davis as a Circuit Court judge, where he has served since. That long tenure of public service drew praise from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, when he and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio introduced him to the Senate in 2012.

"Because of the call of public service," Nelson said, Davis walked away from the chance to "make some money" the same year he had been named a partner at the law firm and returned to the prosecutor's office.

The Democratic senator praised Davis for graduating from Princeton University, which Nelson said, "was no little task coming out of the schools of Florida back in the 1960s."

At that time, Nelson and Rubio both supported Davis as a replacement for Judge Richard Lazzara.

Then came concerns from Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

In June 2012, Grassley said Davis' remarks about former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders and others suggested a bias in favor of African-Americans. Rubio sided with Grassley, a fellow Republican.

Sixteen months later, Grassley said Davis apologized for his statements. "I believe that several of the statements I made in the past were inappropriate and improper," Davis said in his letter, according to a news release from Grassley's office.

On Oct. 31, Grassley announced he would no longer oppose Davis' nomination.

The day before the confirmation vote last week, Nelson was back in front of his colleagues praising Davis and his "impeccable record."

"He is in a huge bipartisan way embraced by the lawyers who have practiced in front of him and yet it's taken 658 days," Nelson said.

He thanked his colleagues, in advance, "for giving this good man, this excellent jurist, the opportunity to serve in a greater capacity to serve his country."

Shorstein talked about the importance of Davis' appointment in the African-American community.

"If they see an African-American judge with tremendous credibility, it sets a good example," Shorstein said.

Davis couldn't be reached for comment, but Shorstein said the judge was "elated" when he talked to him Saturday.

"Brian was very, very thankful after the long delay," Shorstein said.

Davis is expected to join District Judges Timothy Corrigan and Marsha Morales Howard in Jacksonville.

His confirmation leaves Gov. Rick Scott with two Circuit judges to replace in the 4th Circuit. Judge Jean Johnson passed away this month.

myoung@baileypub.com

@editormarilyn

(904) 356-2466

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