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Attorney Charles McBurney served in the state House of Representatives from 2007-16 while also maintaining his law practice in Jacksonville. The American flag with 48 stars is a family heirloom displayed in McBurney's conference room.
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jun. 8, 201712:00 PM EST

Lawyer & Lawmaker: Charles McBurney balanced his legal, legislative careers for 9 years.

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

From attorney to state legislator — and then back to attorney.

That’s been the career path the past 10 years for Charles McBurney, a Republican who served Jacksonville’s District 16 in the state House of Representatives from 2007-16.

Having never held elected office — or having had to keep a law practice going while splitting his time between Jacksonville and Tallahassee — McBurney said he soon realized some challenges, most of which, he said, turned out to be advantages.

“I have my own firm, so that’s the same as having your own small business. It made my life more challenging and I had to make a lot of adjustments,” he said.

“But I believe it made me a better legislator because I could relate to people who have their own businesses with the time and financial pressures,” he added.

As a freshman representative, McBurney’ time in Tallahassee was much more limited than it was later in his legislative career. What began as about three days a week away from home and the firm later became five days, or even closer to six, counting travel time.

“When I started, my responsibilities were less. Depending on the schedule the speaker gave, I could leave Jacksonville Monday night and come home Thursday night,” McBurney said.

As he became a more seasoned lawmaker, committee assignments and more responsibility became the norm, particularly toward the end of his time in office.

“In my last year, when I chaired the judiciary committee, it was a full week. Sometimes, I’d come home Saturday morning and turn around and go back to Tallahassee on Sunday. That was much more challenging, but it’s what I wanted to do,” he said.

As attorneys often will do, McBurney sought the counsel of his colleagues who also had combined their law practice with service in the Legislature, including Fred Tygart, Mattox Hair and Bill Maness, who was an attorney, judge and member of the House.

“Bill Maness told me being in the Legislature was like being in a graduate law program. You really get to see how the process works — all parts, the good and the bad,” McBurney said.

“I got to see a vast overview of the law. From a professional standpoint, it was a huge help.”

Reviewing his tenure in the House, McBurney cites restoring civics to the public school curriculum as one of his proudest accomplishments. It was part of the reason he ran for office in the 2007 special election after Mark Mahon left the District 16 seat when he was appointed to the bench in the 4th Judicial Circuit. Mahon is now the circuit’s chief judge.

“There was a study done that year by The Florida Bar that said 40 percent of Floridians couldn’t tell you what the three branches of government are — but two-thirds could tell you who two of the three judges were on ‘American Idol.’ I thought it was ridiculous that they weren’t teaching civics anymore,” McBurney said. “I came up with a bill that was eventually passed.”

He also said helping establish funding for Veterans Treatment Courts in Duval and Clay counties, Operation New Hope’s Ready 4 Work ex-offender program, Pace Center for Girls, the Monique Burr Foundation’s Child Safety Matters initiative and Guardian ad Litem are among his most significant legislative accomplishments.

The nine years he spent dividing time between his family, law practice and the state capital changed him for the better, McBurney said. He’s confident his public service was worth the sacrifice.

“As lawyers, we often look at the bottom line. How many hours did we bill? How much money did we make? Every hour I spent as a legislator was an hour I didn’t spend with my law practice, but you can’t put a dollar value on the things you were able to do and the legislation you were able to impact,” he said.

“You’re forgotten in a few years if you’re out of the public light,” McBurney added. “People will forget you personally, but you can look back and say, ‘Hey. I made a difference.’”

He is, however, contemplating a return to the public light.

After 35 years in practice, McBurney said he’ll be on the ballot in the 2018 election for a seat on the 4th Judicial Circuit bench to replace Judge Hugh Carithers, who is retiring.

“I think it’s a natural progression for my career. I’ve always thought the last years of practice should be a way to give back to the profession,” McBurney said.

Should he be successful in again seeking public office, his wife, Deborah, will appreciate that he’s based exclusively in Jacksonville.

“She likes to kid that every time I left for Tallahassee, something would break and I wouldn’t be there,” McBurney said.

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