by Max Marbut
When asked what is the main factor that established the reputation for professional excellence enjoyed by the Fourth Judicial Circuit Public Defender’s Office, Bill White credits his mentor and predecessor, Lou Frost.
It happened a year late, but Frost went on stage three weeks ago to accept the 2006 L. Clayton Nance Award from the Florida Public Defender Association at the organization’s annual Summer Training Program. Frost was undergoing treatment for cancer a year ago and was unable to attend the ceremony at that time.
“I’m fighting it. I’m still here,” Frost said this week from his home.
He graduated from law school in 1958 and after a short time with a private firm, Lacy Mahon, who was then the County Solicitor, asked Frost to join his office. In those days, the State Attorney handled only capital cases and grand jury indictments while the County Solicitor’s Office prosecuted all other cases for the State.
In 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Gideon v. Wainright case that defendants charged with felonies other than murder were also entitled to legal representation by the State. That’s when the Florida Legislature established Public Defender’s Offices and for the Jacksonville office Gov. Farris Bryant appointed Ed Austin.
Austin asked Frost if he would like to change sides of the aisle and Frost said he jumped at the chance.
“I never got a big bang out of putting people in jail,” he said. “I always felt there was some good in every person – even though you had to find it in some of them.
“I also had prosecuted many people who didn’t have representation and I knew their sentences would have been more lenient if they could have had an attorney.”
The first thing they did, Frost said, was go to the state prison and reopen cases of people who had been convicted without ever having been advised of their constitutional rights.
“We pretty much emptied Raiford,” he recalled.
A few years later when Austin became State Attorney, he again asked Frost if he’d be interested in changing direction. But Frost declined and was appointed by Gov. Claude Kirk to succeed Austin as Public Defender.
From then until his retirement in 2005 after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, Frost logged an impressive career as a Public Defender including being elected to the post nine times.
“And I was a Democrat in the mostly Republican Fourth Judicial Circuit. When Don Brewer was the head of the Republican Party he told me I was doing a fine job and I would run unopposed,” Frost said proudly.
He said of receiving the Nance Award, “It is a distinct honor to be recognized in the same group with former governors Farris Bryant and Leroy Collins and State Supreme Court Justices (B. K.) Roberts and (James) Adkins and Sandy D’Alemberte (former president of Florida State University). It is overwhelming for me. To be listed among those people as worthy of this award is the pinnacle of my career.”