From the Bench: Duval County Judge Roberto Arias

After 27 years on the Duval County Court, Arias retired in February.

  • By
  • | 12:50 a.m. March 2, 2023
Duval County Judge Roberto Arias and his wife, Donna, unveiled his judicial portrait at a retirement ceremony Feb. 2 at the Duval County Courthouse.
Duval County Judge Roberto Arias and his wife, Donna, unveiled his judicial portrait at a retirement ceremony Feb. 2 at the Duval County Courthouse.
  • The Bar Bulletin
  • Share

Work history before taking the bench:

In 1981, I started my career as an assistant public defender in Jacksonville. Four years later I opened my own office and practiced mostly federal and state criminal defense.

I also represented a local credit union in collection and bankruptcy cases, as well as handling general civil litigation.

Work history/positions since joining the bench:  

Mostly I sat as a county judge handling criminal and civil dockets. I have sat as a circuit judge on assignment, including handling a felony division for six months.

Who or what inspired you to become a judge?

The “what” is having experienced the lack of fair justice under communism. This experience has been my compass and led me to revere the law, the United States justice system and its goal of the fair and equal application of the law.

The “who” are those jurists before whom I appeared and whose reputation for professionalism, fairness and intellect were widely respected among the Bar: Judge Louis Safer, former Justice Major Harding and Senior Federal Judge Henry Adams.

There are several others, but these jurists had a great impact on me in my early days as an attorney.

What accomplishment in your legal career will you reflect on most fondly?

Simply having been able to be well accepted by the Bar in Northeast Florida and having earned their respect for my legal abilities, professionalism and fairness.

What will you miss the most about being a judge?

I will miss the opportunity to teach new lawyers and students how to be better lawyers. Those teaching opportunities were invaluable in forming the foundation to practicing professionalism.

I will miss the camaraderie with my fellow judges and the challenge of making the correct decisions for the right reasons.

What will you miss the most about working in the courthouse?

I will miss the interactions with all the good people that work here to make this system work as best as possible to better serve the people who must resort to our courthouse for redress. There are so many that I have worked with and whom I consider as close as family. They will be missed.

What plans do you have for retirement?

I cannot see myself being exiled from the practice of law, so I intend to return as a lawyer, mediator or senior judge.

In the short term, I intend to travel with my wife, Donna. She deserves to have my undivided attention and time, though, after a while she probably will want me to go back to work.

I also will work on learning to play the guitar and will spend more time in my wood shop.

What can lawyers and judges do to improve the practice of law?

By and large, most practicing attorneys in Jacksonville are true professionals and exhibit all the attributes that makes them so.

However, it is incumbent on the Bar (and the bench) to intervene when they interact with lawyers that are not professional. There is no excuse or reason for lawyers not to treat others with respect, dignity and professionalism.

Therefore, all must find ways to help these lawyers change the way they practice law.

What advice would you give to new lawyers?

Find a mentor and ask for guidance from those lawyers you and other lawyers respect. Be prepared and undertake legal representation of only legal matters in which you are knowledgeable and confident of your ability to properly handle.

Lastly, set aside time for yourself and the significant others in your life. You must nourish and maintain a healthy personal life to lead a satisfying professional career.

What advice would you give to new judges?

To treat each litigant as an individual, in spite of having large calendars.

To be humbled by their responsibility to decide the future of those that appear before them.

To realize they are not going to know the legal answer to all the issues that will come before them and to be prepared for hearings just as they expect the lawyers to be.

Duval County Judge Roberto Arias was appointed to the bench in 1995 by  Gov. Lawton Chiles.