John Guy’s career hasn’t been an accident.
But it hasn’t exactly gone according to plan, either.
He didn’t go to the University of Florida to study law. That happened after psychology didn’t pan out.
He didn’t become an attorney to be a prosecutor. He wanted to be involved with sports, maybe as an agent.
And he didn’t become a prosecutor to become a judge.
Yet, here he is, starting his judicial career Tuesday taking over Family Law Division C after 22 years in the State Attorney’s Office.
It was a place he loved. Exciting and fun. But more so, he said, it was meaningful to the families of victims, those he helped bring justice.
“These people hug you and they will hold on to you,” Guy said.
Over the years he still gets cards, calls and emails from families he’s helped.
“It has such a profound impact on their life,” he said. “It keeps you going … what you do has meaning.”
He had no inclination to do anything else until he again put his name in the running and received a call from the governor, who said his public service was needed on the bench.
“You go nowhere by accident,” Guy starts, citing a famous benediction by former U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson.
It’s one of Guy’s favorites, a phrase that “probably fits me best.”
No, it hasn’t been an accident. It’s a plan, Guy said. It’s just one he jokingly said he’s still trying to figure out.
A change in course
Guy has spent most of his life in one place.
He grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, but moved south when his parents divorced. He moved with his mother, a freelance writer, and a couple of his older siblings who were still in school.
With his father on the West Coast, it was his three older brothers who served as everyday role models. Especially Tim, who was diagnosed with dyslexia at an early age. The elementary school principal said he should be sent to a special school.
Instead, Tim read everything over and over until it stuck. He graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society and from college with honors.
“He overcame,” said Guy, who remembers all the late nights Tim stayed awake studying.
Guy went on to the University of Florida where he wasn’t even interested in law.
Sports psychology would be his career. He made pretty good grades and applied to three prestigious psychology graduate schools in the country, including UF’s.
He struck out on all three. “Fortunate” rejections he now calls them.
At about the same time, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He had taken up her passion of writing, penning stories for the school newspaper.
He was prepared to come home to write part-time for The Florida Times-Union before he got an offer to stay and write for The Gainesville Sun.
Waiting tables by day and writing sports by night, traveling to small Central Florida counties covering high school football. He loved it.
But after a year or so, he realized the lifestyle wasn’t conducive to starting a family.
So he went to law school. He could still be involved in sports. He could be an agent, a contract guy, someone behind the scenes.
“Completely the opposite of what I am doing now,” he said, with a laugh.
In his last year of law school, Guy was asked to audition for the mock trial team. OK, he thought, why not.
He made it and during that semester’s trial, “somebody made the mistake of letting me out of Round 1.”
He didn’t win, but made it pretty far. He had a new interest.
That interest led him to applying for a summer internship at the 4th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. It’s a conversation he recalls with a smile.
Do you have any courses for credit? Nope.
How about paid internships? Nope.
If I come to your office Monday morning with a suit and a tie on, will you take me? Yep.
Family helped him rent a cheap place in the Justina area for the summer. It wasn’t a great neighborhood, but he didn’t have much money.
His most common meal that summer of 1992 was microwaved lima beans with barbecue sauce.
It was great experience, though, and when he returned to Gainesville for his last semester he interned at the state attorney’s office there. He again participated in the mock trial competition and won this time.
At that point, it all clicked. It was the kind of law he wanted to practice. Luckily, that last semester he also received a phone call from Jacksonville. A job offer — he could show up with the shirt and tie and get paid.
“It was a big relief,” he said.
He started at the State Attorney’s Office in 1993.
The ones he helped
Twenty-two years has meant a lot of cases, a lot of families he’s met after unfortunate circumstances.
But he made a difference for many families seeking justice at a time of loss and pain.
Like Lucia McBath, whose 17-year-old son, Jordan Davis, was gunned down in a Gate parking lot by Michael Dunn. The high-profile case garnered national attention and ultimately a conviction of life in prison.
“He’s a very patient person,” said McBath of Guy. “He’s an extraordinary listener and doesn’t seem to get his feathers ruffled.”
McBath said Guy believes in the work he does. Which means the world to the people he’s helped.
The most common adjective Jensine Henderson uses when talking about Guy is “professional.” In how he handled the courtroom. In how he handled her family while prosecuting the killer of her grandson, Chad.
Henderson said her family was distraught and were very vocal about wanting a first-degree murder charge. However, she said, Guy convinced them the chances for a conviction were better with a second-degree charge. They ended up agreeing with the even-keeled prosecutor.
A conviction and some relief followed, said Henderson.
Yet, even those cases once thought closed can come back up. Guy said those are the toughest — reopening old wounds at a time when families have already had justice served.
It was the situation in the Henderson case, which was overturned years later because of a ruling in another case.
“We were upset,” said Henderson of that call years later.
He explained everything to them, though. And after another trial, the conviction held.
Guy has had many of those cases over his two decades. And if he hadn’t received a call of his own in mid-December, he would have had more.
Getting the call
Guy had applied to become a judge four times in his career.
The most recent time was the first the 4th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission had sent his name to the governor for consideration.
One of the most common questions by the local Judicial Nominating Commission reflected on the stability of his career, possibly a positive and a negative.
You’ve been a prosecutor your whole career. Why now?
The answer was he’s spent his whole life in public service. Being a judge was an opportunity to continue that in a challenging, different way.
At 8:29 a.m. Dec. 18, Guy was sitting at his office when the phone rang. A Naples area code. From conversations with other judges, he knew Gov. Rick Scott had a Naples cellphone.
The brief conversation informed him he was being appointed to the Circuit Court to replace Mallory Cooper, who was forced to resign due to age limits.
However, Guy couldn’t share the news just yet. Not until the governor’s office gave him the OK. It’s a story he can now laugh about.
It was at the end of the required 60-day window for Scott to make a decision on judges. People knew this, so questions were constant. A couple of people poked their head in to ask if he had heard anything yet.
No, Guy told them.
It had to stay a secret for the time being. Hours went by with no word, enough time elapsing that Guy actually called the governor’s team back to ask if it was OK to tell people. Not yet, they said. You can when the news release goes out.
Guy had a speaking engagement at Mandarin High School during lunchtime. He was really looking forward to it now to get away from his inquisitive colleagues.
However, his phone started ringing. It started buzzing. Voice mails, text messages with people asking if the rumor was true. He left them all unreturned, though, until he received one from his boss, State Attorney Angela Corey.
You need to call me right now, she said.
A fire drill offered a couple of minutes to make the call.
“She was excited for me,” Guy said, admitting he told her.
So was everyone else in the office when he could share the news. So were his family, wife Homa, a former prosecutor, and their three children, Gracie, Ella and Layla.
And so were the families he helped, the ones whose gave those heartfelt hugs.
“I think he’ll be such a credit to the judgeship,” said McBath. “I was really excited for him … it’s an extraordinary position.”
Henderson also was happy to hear Guy was moving on. She was more bittersweet about it. It was a great move. But if he left, it meant others like her family would lose someone who could mean the world to another family in need.
“I am glad he got it,” she said, “but the state attorney is losing a great assistant.”
That was never his goal when he started out. But it’s the way his career has worked out.