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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Honoring Florida’s First Black Supreme Court Justice

May 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of Florida was honored today for his contributions over a more than forty year legal career. Judge Joseph Hatchett died April 30th at the age of 88. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, those who served with him, say he never lost sight of justice.

When Joseph Woodrow Hatchett took the Florida bar exam in 1959, he still wasn’t allowed to spend the night in the hotel where the exam was administered. Supreme Court Chief Justice told family and friends Justice Hatchett never let race get in his way.

“He did not let the barriers of injustice stop him” said Canady.

In 1975, Justice Hatchett became the states first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. In a 2014 interview, he had this to say about Ruben Askew, the Governor who appointed him.

“He had the courage to take on new issues and push the state forward” 

On the court, Justice Hatchett stood up for Journalists and the first amendment, blocking the jailing of a reporter writing about public corruption.

“Because of this decision, Justice Hatchett, to this day, is remembered as a defender of the first amendment, said Canady.”

While on the bench here, Justice Hatchett supported opening Flordia’s courtrooms to television cameras”

He then went on to serve twenty years on the federal bench where appealate court Judge Gerald Tjoflat got to know him well. “And what stuck me was his quiet confidence. His poise” said Tjoflat.

Antoinette Walker is his Niece. “Gatherings was always fun gatherings. We had talent shows. We just had a happy family.”

And Mark Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of Florida used a Biblical reference to Soloman, who could have asked God for anything, but asked to be a wise judge. “In addition to being brilliant, Judge Hatchett had a wise and understanding heart” said Walker, no relation to the family.

Funeral services are Saturday. Justice Hatchett will be buried Monday in Dunedin.

Judge Hatchett was also a strong supporter of of Legal Services, saying it “costs money to go to court which inhibits the ability of the poor to help themselves”.

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