“The Changing of the Guard” is defined as a ceremony in which the soldier(s) or other official(s) guarding a major government building or state residence are replaced by a new shift.
On Jan. 2, the 4th Judicial Circuit welcomed Mark H. Mahon as its new chief judge and marked a new era in our circuit. He replaced Don Moran, who retired.
If you have been practicing less than 20 years, you may not have experienced a ceremony where the “changing” of the chief judge took place.
As synonymous with the definition, our most recent chief judge retiree guarded our courthouse for many years, a duty that our newly elected chief judge has embraced as he looks forward to ways to improve efficiency and service.
Now that the torch has been passed, I had the very distinct honor of sitting down and speaking with our new chief judge.
Although I have known him for many years, there were some things I did not know and was glad to have learned, while there were other things that just could not make it into this article.
We discussed myriad things, and I enjoyed getting to know the chief judge even better.
Although not the kind of person that wants to be fussed over, he was gracious and eagerly answered all of my questions without hesitation.
Tell us about your family background.
My father’s grandfather came to the United States from Barbados in the late 1800s. He became educated as a preacher and settled in Jacksonville and in about 1903 founded the Main Street Baptist Church at the corner of 8th and Main Street.
My father’s father graduated from the University of Florida and Stetson Law School and practiced law in Jacksonville until he passed away in 1968. He was in partnership with my uncle, Harry; my cousin, Joe Farley; and, of course, my father, Lacy Mahon Jr.
My father practiced law in Jacksonville from his graduation from the University of Florida in 1949 until shortly before he passed away in 2013. Lacy Mahon Jr. was the county solicitor for Duval County from 1957 to 1960 and he served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1953 to 1957.
My mother’s grandmother moved to Jacksonville from North Carolina in about 1902 and lived in the Springfield area her entire life. She married a Jacksonville mounted horseback policeman from Brandon, Florida.
My mother’s mother was a Duval County teacher. My mother taught second grade briefly after she married my father until she became a stay-at-home mom for myself and older brother and sister.
What schools did you attend and why?
I attended Jacksonville Country Day School, formerly known as Southside Day School, from first through ninth grade. My parents were on the board which founded that school and served from the time it began at Swain Methodist Church in San Marco until it moved to its present location at Deerwood.
I graduated from Jacksonville Episcopal High School, now Episcopal School of Jacksonville, in 1975 and attended Florida State University, both undergraduate and law school and graduated in 1981.
The only reason I chose Florida State is because my sister was already enrolled in school and my father promised that he would make my sister let me use her car whenever I needed. I had no other loyalty to Florida State at the time.
Why did you want to be a lawyer?
Having grown up watching my father, my grandfather, my uncle and my cousin practice law, I could not imagine any other career which I felt could be as interesting and rewarding.
If you didn’t become a lawyer, what would you have done as a career?
The idea of not practicing law never really occurred to me. However, at the time, I had decided that if I didn’t succeed in law school, I would join a branch of the service and try to fly airplanes or jets.
The most significant case you handled as a lawyer and why.
I would have to say that the most significant case I handled as a lawyer was one which I worked on with Russell Healey, who was my law partner.
At the time, I don’t know if I understood the importance of representing someone who is facing the death penalty, but age and experience have made me appreciate how great a responsibility that was.
Let me be quick to say, however, that Russell did much more of the work and certainly deserves more of the credit for what we felt to be a reasonably good result.
Name the people who influenced you and why.
My father, of course, who taught me a great deal about practicing law and life; John Delaney, who was my friend and political ally for much of my career; and Russell Healey, who was my former law partner and closest adviser.
Finally, of course, my mother who tried to teach me manners.
Describe your time as a legislator.
I enjoyed my time in the Florida Legislature from 2000 to 2007 immensely. I still have close friends that I made through that process.
The best part of the job was trying to influence our state in a positive way and the worst, of course, is the inability of one person to do enough.
When did you decide you wanted to be a judge?
While in the Legislature, I served on judicial committees, including the Appropriation Committee. I was exposed to the administrative side of the court system and came to know many judges who advocated for the courts. It was through this exposure and the encouragement of many of my friends that I decided to seek appointment on the circuit bench here in Jacksonville.
What can the 4th Circuit look forward to with you as chief judge?
I hope to continue the tradition of excellence in the judiciary and the great relationship between the local Bar and the judges. I hope to improve communication between the bench and Bar and look for ways to improve our efficiency and service.
Tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.
I have an older home and I try to fix everything myself before I call a professional. I have also tried to do some of the renovation work myself. You name it, I have tried it.
What are your passions outside of law?
Golf and my children.
Besides guarding our courthouse, the chief judge has the responsibility to ensure our courts in the 4th Judicial Circuit are accessible, fair, effective, and responsive to the citizens of Clay, Duval and Nassau counties, as well as everyone who appears in them. After speaking with Chief Judge Mahon, I have no doubt he will continue the tradition of excellence within the 4th Judicial Circuit.