It’s a long way from Port Lavaca, Texas, to the Duval County Courthouse.
That’s the geographical path taken by Duval County Judge Meredith Charbula, who was appointed Oct. 9 by Gov. Rick Scott to fill the vacancy created when former county Judge Eric Roberson was elevated to circuit court.
Charbula, 59, a former assistant state attorney, was sworn into office Wednesday and began what she calls as “the largest magnitude transition” of her career.
Her appointment also is the culmination of a 13-year aspiration.
Charbula’s career began with joining the Law Enforcement Explorer Scouts while at Calhoun High School in Port Lavaca; then ROTC and a full Army scholarship at Tarleton State University, part of the Texas A&M University system; followed by active duty as a military police officer.
Her shift toward a legal career began when Charbula served with a fellow officer who was a lawyer in the Judge Advocate General Corps.
“He offered me the opportunity to learn how to do legal research. I volunteered in the JAG office on my own time. That inspired me to want to be an Army lawyer,” Charbula said.
When the Army declined to send her to law school, Charbula applied to several, including her first choice as a native Texan, the University of Texas at Austin Law School.
“I applied to eight law schools and got accepted to every one — except UT Austin,” Charbula said.
She settled on the Florida State University College of Law, graduated and was admitted to the Bar in 1987 while serving in the Army Reserve.
Her first job was assistant state attorney in Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, where she served until she returned to active duty in 1989.
She was deployed to the former Yugoslavia and served as command judge advocate and legal adviser to the task force commander.
After receiving her master of laws degree in 1994, she became chief of administrative law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
In 1997, Charbula left the Army and returned to Tallahassee, where she was deputy general counsel at her law school alma mater.
She returned to government service when she became chief assistant prosecutor in the Office of Statewide Prosecution, then staff attorney in the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Charbula was assistant attorney general in the Capital Appeals Division from 2003 to 2013 before moving to Jacksonville and private practice with the Arnold & Sichta law firm.
She joined the 4th Judicial State Attorney’s Office in 2014, where she was director of the Legal Division until being appointed to the bench.
Charbula first submitted an application to a Judicial Nominating Commission in 2004. “I was persistent,” she said.
After 13 years of seeking a seat on the bench, she’s looking forward to the next phase of her career.
She began a few minutes after being sworn in by shadowing County Judge Gary Flower, who also was Roberson’s judicial mentor when Roberson transitioned from his law practice to county judge.
Charbula moved into Roberson’s former office and will share the suite with County Judge Pauline Drake.
First Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon said he’s known Charbula as a distinguished assistant state attorney and is looking forward to seeing her presiding on the bench in county court.
“Let’s see if she’s as good a referee as she is a player,” he said before administering the oath.