Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know.
That was the case for Harvey Jay III when he applied for a spot on the 1st District Court of Appeal three times starting in the mid-2000s.
Jay was a successful trial lawyer at the time, doing mostly medical malpractice defense work. He loves the law, just like his revered grandfather — Harvey Jay Sr. — who practiced in South Georgia. And the younger Jay deeply enjoys research and writing.
Jay knew he wanted to an appellate court judge.
The court’s Judicial Nominating Commission members knew Jay wasn’t ready.
“Harvey, you’re a trial lawyer,” they told him. “You need to apply for the circuit court.”
A decade later, as Jay prepares to join the appellate court next month, he admits he wasn’t ready earlier. But knows he is now.
Jay followed the commission’s advice and got some time as a 4th Judicial Circuit judge under his belt after being appointed in October 2011.
Two or three members of the appellate JNC from his earlier attempts also were on the panel this time. He let them know they were right before.
”I believe I told them in spite of me applying before, I was not ready,” Jay said. “I didn’t know it then, but I really did need the trial judge experience.”
He believes that experience and his career as a litigator will bring a unique perspective to the 15-member appellate court.
A dream job in a career that was really Jay’s only choice.
The right reasons
As a kid, Jay said he wanted to be like his grandfather, who “always did the right things for the right reasons.”
That meant adding a second generation of lawyers to the family.
As Jay understands it, his grandfather was a trial lawyer and an assistant district attorney at a time when you could do both simultaneously.
He’s obviously proud as he talks about his grandfather’s reputation. “Everyone would say how ethical he was and that sticks with me today,” he said.
His grandfather enjoyed trying cases, Jay said, but had to give it up after developing emphysema.
When Jay was a teen, his grandfather sensed his interest in the law and was a big part of helping his grandson get to law school.
Not just financially, Jay said, but helping him think through the decision and making sure he did it for the right reasons.
Jay’s parents also supported his pursuit to be a lawyer. His father, Harvey Jay Jr., is a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker Vanguard Realty; his mother, Barbara, was a longtime substitute teacher in Mandarin before working at Stein Mart.
After graduating from The Bolles School, Jay got his undergraduate degree from Stetson University and his law degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.
He then began his career path to the appellate court, gathering lessons along the way.
Lessons learned at each career stage
Jay’s first job was at Howell, Liles and Milton.
His first case where he was lead attorney came soon after joining the Law Offices of Joe Milton.
The experience was intimidating, he said, even though he won the case.
It was there he learned just how many moving parts lawyers have to deal with: the jury, the judge, the law, the witnesses, the other side. The list continues.
It’s something the 53-year-old Jay keeps with him decades later.
“To this day as a trial judge and now as an appellate judge, I appreciate how difficult it can be to be a trial judge,” he said. “I won’t forget that.”
Something else he won’t forget is the experience of arguing a case before the 1st District Court of Appeal.
The obvious difference is you have three judges questioning you about a case versus the one judge you face during hearings and trials in lower courts.
In the multiple times he’s argued before the appellate court, all of the judges were “very well prepared and asked me very tough questions,” he said.
It’s not easy being an appellate lawyer, he said, including sometimes battling nerves, something he’ll keep in mind from the bench.
“If someone inadvertently misspeaks, I can understand how they would do that,” Jay said.
And he’ll take with him examples provided by a series of judges over the years, including A.C. Soud, Aaron Bowden, Bernard Nachman and Jack Schemer.
The latter two were involved in a case that sticks with Jay from his time as a litigator.
He was representing University Medical Center in a case where he got a bench judgment from Nachman. That was overturned by the 1st District Court of Appeal on apportionment of fault issues.
He tried the case before Schemer, who also sided with Jay. That case also was overturned by the appellate court, this time for an issue dealing with nuances of the contribution statute.
Ultimately, the case was settled.
One of the lawyers on the case was Susan Kelsey, who was appointed to the appellate court in April 2015.
And as a circuit judge, Jay takes with him an appreciation of the great sacrifices of jurors and an even further appreciation of the hard work it takes to be a lawyer. He also has an understanding of family law cases, having handled them for two years as a circuit judge.
The calls of a lifetime
Getting the two calls from Gov. Rick Scott to serve on the circuit bench and the appellate court were different experiences.
He missed the first call in October 2011, when the number showed up as “blocked” on call identification. When Jay heard Scott’s message, he called back but got voicemail.
For a while, he heard nothing. Then he began to worry a little.
“I remember thinking he was going to select the next one on the list,” Jay said, with a laugh. “Move on to the second person.”
It turns out Scott had apparently gone into a Cabinet meeting, which sometimes last hours. The governor called back after 5 p.m.
Jay doesn’t remember if the number was blocked that time, he just knows he answered it. Jay was the governor’s choice to replace Circuit Judge Frederick Tygart, who retired in the summer of 2012.
When Scott called this month to say Jay was his choice for the appellate bench, a number from Naples popped up.
Finalists for appointments made by Scott are routinely told the governor’s cellphone shows up as a Naples number.
The day after Jay interviewed with Scott, a Naples number showed up on his cellphone. Jay answered and accepted the appointment immediately.
No need to worry about Scott going to the second person on the list this time.
Making the transition
Because the appellate court decisions are made by three-judge panels, Jay knows the importance of having a consistent presence in Tallahassee. Building that collegiality and camaraderie is critical.
He’s got an office there and has hired a couple of senior law clerks.
But back home, it’s his youngest daughter Helen’s senior year at Providence School.
That means a series of what he called “short-term” events for him and his wife, Mary.
The couple’s oldest daughter, Jordan, is a junior at the University of Florida and wants to be a physician.
Helen wants to be a lawyer and maybe a judge, Jay said, which would have made his grandfather “tickled to death.”
Dad seems pretty tickled, as well. And he knows the path to help her get there.
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