Mike Sharrit has his stepfather to thank for helping lead him to a career in the law and his hairdresser for helping him find the woman he married.
Together, that career as a lawyer and his wife of 15 years helped lead Sharrit to a successful campaign for circuit judge.
He was elected in August by a 3-to-1 margin to fill the judgeship being vacated by the retiring Brad Stetson.
Since then, Sharrit has spent time observing judges in the three counties that comprise the 4th Circuit.
Sharrit said he’s learned a lot about the mechanics of being a judge.
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Long before that, though, he received a bit of advice from his stepfather about becoming a lawyer: Enjoy what you do but don’t do it for money. If you work hard and you enjoy it and you’re doing it for the right reasons, the money will come.
And for Sharrit, that has proved to be true.
“I’ve had a good run,” said Sharrit, 48. “I’ve been very blessed.”
Blessed with a career he’s enjoyed and a family he loves even more.
Law school or MBA?
After Sharrit got his undergraduate degree from the University of Florida, he knew he wanted to go on to graduate school. The choices were either law school or to pursue his master’s in business administration.
Family members and others encouraged him to pursue a law degree, he said, “Without me really knowing what I wanted to do with it at that time.”
He had a sense of what a lawyer was supposed to be through his stepfather — Jim Terrell of Terrell Hogan, a well-known civil and personal injury law firm.
Terrell had the ability to help a lot of people, Sharrit said. “To give a voice to people who had none.”
Though Terrell didn’t pressure Sharrit to become a lawyer, he was supportive once his stepson decided to attend Stetson University’s College of Law.
Sharrit clerked at the state attorney’s office in Tampa. His supervising attorney was fellow UF and Stetson graduate Pam Bondi, who was in her first year out of law school. She is now Florida’s attorney general.
“It was a little like the blind leading the blind,” he said.
Sharrit recalled Bondi’s passion and enthusiasm as a prosecutor, some of which she imparted on him.
He also clerked with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, at the time when Curtis Fallgatter was chief assistant. He worked under a series of up-and-coming lawyers, including Paul Perez (a former U.S. attorney) and Jim Klindt (now a federal magistrate judge).
“There were some very good lawyers and mentors there,” said Sharrit, who graduated from law school in 1991.
Sharrit joined his stepfather’s firm, where he’s spent his entire career.
During those years, he’s won verdicts or settlements for countless clients. There was the family of a man who died when he fell 100 feet to the ground through the glass floor of the cab of a crane. And the widow and children of a man who was killed in a crash after the tread of a Yokohama tired separated.
A blind date that changed his life
Sharrit and his wife, Lisa, shared the same hairdresser, who set them up on a blind date in 1996. He was a lawyer by then and she was a mortgage underwriter at Merrill Lynch.
HIs first impression of Lisa? “Very favorable.”
After dinner at First Street Grille, the two went back to his house where they played pingpong — but not for long.
“She abruptly came to her senses and thought, ‘I don’t even know this man,’” he said, with a laugh.
She left that night, but a second date soon followed. They were engaged about a year later, then were married in 1998.
Lisa Sharrit left her job when, as her husband puts it, “We got in the business of having kids.”
They have three children — Haley, Emmie and Ryan — all of whom Sharrit described as energetic, bright and witty. “They got it all from my wife,” he said.
The daughters are strong-willed, he said, while Ryan is “more compliant in wanting to be part of the solution.”
“We jokingly say he’s our reward for raising the two girls,” Sharrit said.
With Haley being a teenager, the couple is sailing into uncharted waters.
What’s the toughest part about being a father to a teenager daughter? “Realizing in her eyes just how little I know,” he laughed. “Hopefully, I will have acquired some knowledge by the time she graduates.”
Ready for the third quarter
Deciding to run for Stetson’s open seat was a methodical process for Sharrit.
He viewed himself as being at halftime in his adult life. The question to be answered was “What do I want to do when I run out of the tunnel into the third quarter?’”
He had sought political appointments for a seat on the bench, but didn’t make it.
Still, he said, “I felt like becoming a judge was the next logical step for me.”
Before deciding to run, he sought input from a variety of sources.
“If I was the only guy in the room who thought this was a good idea, then I didn’t want to do it,” he said.
Sharrit quickly garnered endorsements from practically anyone a judicial candidate would want. Sheriffs, former mayors, lawmakers and city and county officials supported him in the campaign against Anthony Paul Penoso.
Since the victory, he’s been cleaning out his office at Terrell Hogan and spending time observing judges in the circuit.
His assigned mentor, Circuit Judge Mallory Cooper, said Sharrit will likely start his career as a judge in Clay County.
Mentors help lawyers transition into their new role as a judge, with everything from reminding them they can’t talk about pending cases to showing them how to set up calendars.
Cooper said she thinks Sharrit will be a wonderful judge. “He has a great demeanor, he’s very excited and he wants to do good work,” said Cooper, who coordinates the circuit’s mentor program.
Sharrit is happy to go into the third quarter with a job he hopes to stay in until he’s ready for the fourth quarter of retirement.