by Reginald Luster,
Having grown up in Jacksonville, as I entered the Florida Theater last week, I reflected on the first time my two older brothers brought me to the building for an R & B concert in the early 1970s. I recalled my mother giving us money for a movie at the Center Theater and for shopping if we stopped at a department store along the way. That Saturday afternoon, we left our Harbor View neighborhood and caught the 28 Sherwood Forest bus to Hemming Plaza. Once we got off the bus, we walked in the direction of the theater. I knew the way because I always tagged along with my brothers. This time, we bypassed the Center Theater continuing to walk on East Forsyth Street until we reached a different building. My brothers took the money, bought tickets and we went in the new building. While I enjoyed the concert, my brothers forgot to tell their younger brother that if our mom or our stepfather asked how was the movie, the party line was, we had a good time eating pop corn, drinking soda and watching Bruce Lee’s new movie, “Enter the Dragon”. After hearing my parents complain about my brothers taking me to a concert for teenagers and young adults, I understood why we left the theater in the middle of the concert. Those memories put me in a happy mood as I anticipated the upcoming Investiture.
Perhaps you chose not to attend the Investiture of Marcia Morales Howard and Monte C. Richardson because of your busy schedules or other pressing commitments. If you did not attend, you missed both a ceremonial and a festive occasion. While most Jacksonville lawyers have attended one or more investitures, there was something historical about the Investiture of these new United States Magistrate Judges for the Jacksonville Division of the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida. The site of this Investiture, the historical Florida Theater which opened on April 8, 1927, provided those in attendance with an atmosphere of proscenium arches, ornate walls and a decorated ceiling. Unlike local courthouses or hotels, the Florida Theater has a large orchestra, mezzanine, and deep, sloping balconies that is typical of theaters built in the 1920s.
Once inside the auditorium of the grand, old Florida Theater, I knew that all of those in attendance for the Investiture would be possessed by the aura of this magnificent building including the aura of the past symphonic performances, fashion shows, charitable fund raisers, speaking engagements for dignitaries, jazz concerts, scholastic ceremonies, theatrical plays and R & B concerts. I watched the families of Magistrate Judge Marcia Morales Howard enter the auditorium, hug and kiss familiar persons and take their seats on the left side of the center aisle. I watched as family members of Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson enter the auditorium, hug and kiss familiar persons and take their seat on the right side of the center aisle.
The Florida Theater, in hosting this Investiture, welcomed a parade of judges, friends, former co-workers, current staff persons and Jacksonville lawyers gathered to honor two deserving jurists. Each person I talked with eagerly shared their past and current associations with the respective honoree. I talked with family and friends of Judge Marcia Morales Howard. I heard that her mother and father, natives of Cuba, while on travel in Europe, received word that Fidel Castro had overthrown the government. Rather than return to Cuba, her parents met family members in New York. Eventually, her mother and father settled in Jacksonville. I talked with the family and friends of Judge Monte C. Richardson. While a young boy growing up in Valdosta, he, his older brother and mother received word that his father had been mortally wounded while serving our country during the war in Vietnam. The family history of these two new magistrate judges was appropriately told in the Florida Theater.
As I sat in the dimly lit auditorium of the Florida Theater moments before the ceremony began, I asked myself, Why does the Florida Theater make this Investiture such a nostalgic occasion? After all, there are other judges on the state and federal benches in the Jacksonville area who grew up in Jacksonville, graduated from a local high school or practiced law in the local courts. These jurists too claimed Jacksonville as their home. Further, their investitures provided an opportunity for many local families, local politicians, local judges, local business persons, and local lawyers to flock to the local court houses and local hotels for those judicial ceremonies. Perhaps I was overwhelmed with nostalgia because I recalled that in May 1980, two years before I graduated from high school, the Florida Theater closed due to inner-city decline throughout the state and country. In 1983, the Florida Theater reopened to host more historical events. The Center Theater closed in the 1970s and has been razed. In the early 1980s, I returned to this building of Mediterranean design to attend an R & B concert by the OíJays. I was amazed by the renovations of the building. The new lighting illuminated the ornamented and architectural details that I had never noticed during my visits in the 1970s. The mezzanine arches and walls are absolutely astonishing. As everyone took their seats in honor of Judge Howard and Judge Richardson, I thought, ìwhat a stately building for a stately occasion.î
The ceremony began at approximately 4 p.m. on October 29, 2003. However, on June 2, 2003, Judge Monte C. Richardson and Judge Marcia Morales Howard were appointed as United States Magistrate Judges by the District Judges of the Middle District of Florida. They had been working in their new positions for approximately three months. Judge Richardson had previously enjoyed a successful career with the United States Department of Justice in the Middle District of Florida as an Assistant U.S. Attorney. He also served as the Criminal Division Chief with the North District of Florida. Judge Howard began her career with the law firm of Foley & Lardner. Before being appointed to the bench, she worked with the law firm of McGuire Woods. Article III of the United States Constitution establishes the federal judicial branch as one of the three separate and distinct branches of the federal government. The federal judiciary consists of various courts, most notably the Supreme Court, the Circuits Courts of Appeals and the District Courts. A U.S. magistrate judge is a judicial officer of the District Court. Magistrate judges exercise jurisdiction over matters assigned by statute as well as those delegated by the district judges. The number of magistrate judge positions varies across the country. The number is established by the Judicial Conference of the United States. The Conference receives recommendations from the respective district courts, the judicial councils of the circuits, and the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. A full-time magistrate judge is appointed for a term of eight years. Most magistrate judges continue to serve consecutive eight-year terms.
The reception that followed
the ceremony was held on two floors connected by a grand balcony. The second-floor reception area outside of the mezzanine overlooked the reception area outside of the auditorium. In both areas, guests were surrounded by Moorish walls, glittering lights and delightful conversation. Judge Monte Richardson shook hands, hugged his quest and posed for photographs. Judge Marcia Morales Howard laughed with her guest, kissed her daughter and son and gathered a smile as
she posed for the photographers. The food and drink assured
the new Magistrate Judges that their family, friends and
colleagues would socialize and celebrate well into the night. That historical and grand old Florida Theater is accustomed to hosting such events. That night, I extended congratulations to Judge Richardson and Judge Howard. Today, I extend congratulations to those generous supporters and organizers, the City of Jacksonville, the State of Florida and the U.S. government for preserving the Florida Theater, building my late brothers and I visited in the early 1970s.