Former circuit judge Terry Lewis has embraced retirement. He’s indulging in hobbies and interests, getting involved in the community in unique ways, and even giving back to the next generation of the legal profession.
He feels like staying active and busy is a key to happiness when you’re no longer working. But, he says, don’t feel like you have to wait until retirement to do things that make you happy – he sure didn’t.
And you do have the time too – you just need to find it.
We talk about what he’s up to these days and how it affects his mental and physical well-being, as well as…
The power of mentors and a “support group” to help you master a new skill
What really happens in small claims court – this isn’t Judge Judy
The type of retirement that is a “death sentence”
Ways to prepare for retirement you haven’t considered (that have nothing to do with finances)
John Curry: Hi, folks, John Curry here with another episode of John Curry's Secure Retirement Podcast. I've been looking forward to this interview today. I'm sitting here with my friend, Terry Lewis, who recently retired as Circuit Judge. We've been wanting to do this for a long time, Terry, but we couldn't do it, because you were still actively working, and we didn't feel comfortable doing it, but welcome. Thank you for agreeing to do the podcast.
Terry Lewis: My pleasure.
John Curry: The reason I wanted Terry to be with us today is because he has worked in the legal field, as an attorney, a Leon County judge, circuit judge, but he's also an author. We're going to talk about a lot of things today. We're going to talk about how he got into writing books, and why he likes doing it, and also talk about some of his most famous cases, most interesting cases. Terry, if you would first, just tell us who the heck Terry Lewis is. Give us a little bit of your background.
Terry Lewis: Well, I'm a North Florida native. I was born in Live Oak and grew up in Perry, then came to Florida State, and so I haven't steered too far from home. My dad was in business for himself. He was a subcontractor in construction industry, did flooring, mostly tile, and then when carpet became a little more popular, did that. I worked some for him. I wasn't his best worker, so he probably didn't want me to be too much around.
My mother was a schoolteacher. That's pretty much where I came. I came up to FSU in '69, went to school, and ended up going to law school here.
John Curry: What possessed you to want to become an attorney? What was the attraction?
Terry Lewis: I'm not sure, except I always, in the back of my ... From a young age, I liked the idea of it. I always thought I'd be a lawyer. I don't know why, except that I used to watch Perry Mason when I was growing up, and I said, “Well, he's cool. I like that.” That was about it.
I thought about teaching, because I liked that, too. I like teachers. I always have. My mother was a teacher. I also knew, from experience, that teachers don't make a lot of money, not that I wanted to make a lot of money, but I thought, well, I like both of them, but I think that I like law, and I think I can make a little better income doing that, so that's pretty much what I did. That's why I majored in history in college. What are you going to do with history unless you teach, right?
John Curry: That's right.
Terry Lewis: I said, “Well, but I'm going to law school,” right? If I hadn't gotten into law school, I guess I would've been a teacher probably.
John Curry: That's funny, because I remember three paths I thought about doing. I wanted to be a minister, a schoolteacher, and a lawyer. I moved here from the Air Force to go to FSU, then law school.
Terry Lewis: Chose not to do it.
John Curry: Yes, I didn't go to law school, but I had so many friends in class that are attorneys. Sometimes I look back, and I go, well, I made the right choice for me, but I enjoy still reading and studying about legal issues. That's why I enjoy doing these interviews.
Terry Lewis: I think a lot of people do. That's why the cop shows and the legal themed shows are very popular. There’s a bunch of them.
John Curry: Bunch of them. I always enjoyed Perry Mason, but I've got to tell you. My favorite one was Boston Legal with William Shatner.
Terry Lewis: Oh yeah, uh-huh (affirmative), yeah, a lot of tongue in cheek, and a lot of, I guess, black humor in that one.
John Curry: Right, dark humor.
Terry Lewis: Yes.
John Curry: I can see you as being one of the characters in that show.
Terry Lewis: There was also one that came up a little before that one. I can't think of its name, but it was a firm out of ... Maybe it's LA Law. It was firm out of Los Angeles. Corbin Bernsen was on that, who ended up playing the father on Psych. That was a real bluestocking law firm, but nothing quite like the old Perry Mason.
John Curry: Here's a question for you. While you were especially working as a judge, did you ever look at any of these shows and go, “Oh, man, they're so off base,” or did you look at it and say, “It's pretty realistic,” or a combination?
Terry Lewis: Combination, and you mentioned writing. I would read, and I would see things actually and say, “Oh, come on now.” I'm sure every profession that sees themselves represented in a film or TV do that, so it's not unusual, but yeah, you'd see things like Law and Order, where they're walking down the hallway talking to the judge about a search warrant. Oh, come on.
John Curry: You're not doing that.
Terry Lewis: That's not going to happen, or a John Grisham novel, where they're ex parte-ing, talking to the judge without the other side being there, which they can't do, so yeah, I look at things sometimes and say, “That's crazy,” and sometimes, the ones I like, says, “Yeah, that's pretty realistic.”
John Curry: Wouldn't we call that poetic license.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, they do call it, or whatever they call it. I forget, yeah, some sort of license. That's okay. John Grisham sells a lot of books, but my wife and I will be driving down and listen to Audible or something of a ... She, who is not a lawyer, but is pretty smart, will say, “Well, wait a second. They can't do that, can they?”
I'll say, “No, they can't.” You say, you get a little bit of license, but it takes away from the verisimilitude, the authenticity, which, if you're in that, you descend, what is it, suspend your disbelief?
John Curry: Right.
Terry Lewis: You get into the story, and then something like that happens, and it jars you, so now I don't believe it. You've got to be careful how much license you take, I think.
John Curry: True. I think that's true of any type of writing. Since we're into that, talk a little bit about what our court system looks like and how it works. Most people listening to this will never, ever go before a judge. If they do, it's going to be, could be a traffic violation. It could be some small thing, could be a marriage or a divorce, or some friend in trouble, going as a character witness or something. Just walk them through, a little bit, from your experience as an attorney, and then the two different levels of judges, just a little bit about our legal system, if you would. Educate us.
Terry Lewis: In the very limited time we have, I will do the best I-
John Curry: We're very limited, sure.
Terry Lewis: Well, I ... As we were talking before, actually I've taught a course on occasion with judges called Perceptions of Justice. The whole premise of that is that, as a judge, even if you've made the absolutely correct legal decision, the correct ruling according to the law, if the parties in front of you don't understand it and walk away not knowing why you did what you did, have you really done justice, the perception being as important at least, perhaps more important, than the actual law itself, or the doing of justice. I've always thought it important to do that.
Now the judicial system itself ... I remember when I was very new on the bench, and I went to a course that talked about small claims. I was in County Court, and we'd have small claims, which is The People's Court, they call it. That's where a lot of people go. The amount involved is very small. The rules of procedure are less formal. Anybody that's ever watched The People's Court on TV or Judge Judy or whatever, have a pretty good idea. Okay, I've read your complaint. I've blah-blah-blah. Here we are. Let's see what we're going to do.
John Curry: Those are fun to watch, too, by the way.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, yeah. I'm here to tell you that it doesn't happen like that. They're not rude like Judge Judy. “I've heard that. Shut up and sit down. I wouldn't believe you if your tongue was notarized,” and all that.
John Curry: You're a comedian, too. I forgot to tell people that.
Terry Lewis: It's not quite like that. I remember this course, and the guy that was doing it made a very good point. He held up a picture of a person and said, “Okay, who can tell me who this person is? This is Justice Brennan from the U.S. Supreme Court.” Then he held up a picture of Judge Wapner, who, if you go way back, was the original People's Court judge.
John Curry: Everybody knew him.
Terry Lewis: All the hands went up. “Oh yeah, that's Judge Wapner.” The point was that most people in the population, if they go to court, will end up in County Court. They'll end up in small claims or misdemeanor, traffic. We are what we call the volume discount dealer in County Court. I mean, you see so many people. There's good and bad about that, because there's so many, you have to have streamlined methods or procedures to handle cases. You end up ... If you've ever been to a traffic courtroom full of 150 people, you see a video, and the video is like an advisory.
Okay, here's what's going to happen today. You're charged here with a traffic offense. You've got three choices: plead guilty, not guilty, no contest. If you plead no contest, you're guilty. Here's what's going to happen. If you're a first time blah-blah-blah, here's the sentence you might expect. It walks it through, and if you want to have an attorney and you can't afford one ... It's sort of like what you would do with an individual, but you do it by video for the mass people.
In County Court, you could actually enter what's called a plea in absentia, which means I can enter a plea, and the judge doesn't even have to be there, and I know what my sentence will be, because it's already spelled out in this plea agreement. Ooh, well, that's pretty cool, so a lot of times as a County judge, I'd come in, and what used to be 150 is down to about 25, because everybody has paid their small, little fine, or done whatever it is, and they're gone. You have the advantage of it being consistent. You're charged with this, and you know that everybody's going to get the same thing.
In small claims, it's like a Judge Judy, but without the rudeness. People come in, and it's designed to be quick. You file a complaint, and the complaint doesn't have to be anything formal. It just might be John Curry owes me money, because I loaned him $500 and he hasn't paid me back. That's all that you need.
John Curry: Really? It's that simple?
Terry Lewis: It's that simple.
John Curry: I never knew that.
Terry Lewis: It's called a statement of claim. What they depend on is they serve it on the defendant. I'd be the plaintiff. You'd be the defendant. They'd serve it on you, and within 35 days, we'll say, the case is in front of the court. I'm there, and you're there. If you're not there, I get my judgment, because you've been served. You didn't come. You didn't respond. If you're there, and I'm not there, it gets dismissed. If we're both there, they say, “Well, listen. We're going to send you over here to a mediator. We have volunteers that will come in and try to help you resolve your case.” You go, and you spend a few minutes.
If you can't work it out, you come back, and we set it for trial. The trial will be set within another 30 days. Your case, theoretically, should be over in 60, tops 90, days. It's a very informal, very efficient way to handle it. You sometimes wish, having been part of the system for a while, that we could incorporate a lot of that into other cases, which become extremely complicated and take way too long.
John Curry: And expensive.
Terry Lewis: And expensive-
John Curry: Experimental.
Terry Lewis: To resolve, but the more money at stake, the more people are reluctant to do that. It's just, I guess, the nature of the beast. Most states are like Florida, and they are divided into what we call County Court, which may be something else, and a Circuit Court. The County Courts in Florida, and the similar courts in the other states, are what we call courts of limited jurisdiction. Their authority is in your ... They have authority or jurisdiction over certain types of cases. County Court in Florida, any civil case that involves less than $15,000 in damages that's at stake is in County Court. Any crime that's a misdemeanor and only a misdemeanor, it will be in County Court. Some landlord/tenant eviction can be in County Court.
Circuit Courts, and they go by different names in different states, are called courts of general jurisdiction, which means everything else, which includes anything over $15,000 civil, any more serious criminal offenses, family law, probate, guardianship, real estate disputes, so everything else is in Circuit Court, and that's pretty similar. What is confusing to a lot of people is that different states call those different courts by different names. In Florida, you're a County Court; you're a Circuit Court. If you appeal from Circuit Court, you go to a District Court of Appeal. If you go from there, it's to a Florida Supreme Court.
John Curry: It's still a State of Florida court.
Terry Lewis: Right.
John Curry: It's a District Court, Florida State.
Terry Lewis: Yes. Now, if you go into Federal System, the District Court is not the court of appeal. It is the trial court, so go figure, but that's the ... If you go to a Circuit Court in the Federal, that's the appellate court.
John Curry: It's reversed.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, crazy.
John Curry: It's confusing.
Terry Lewis: States have their own. For example, in New York, the Supreme Court is the trial court. If you've ever watched Law and Order, ding-ding, they'll have a little thing to tell you, and they'll say, “Supreme Court, Day so-and-so.” It's not really the Supreme Court, in terms of you think the Supreme Court like the U.S. Supreme Court or Florida Supreme Court. That's the trial court. It can be very confusing, even for people who are familiar with it, but most states and the federal system are usually set up that way.
You don't have a county court in federal, you have what's called the Magistrate. The Magistrate in Federal Court will handle the less serious criminal things and minor civil stuff. They're all pretty much like that, in all the states and the federal system, in terms of how you handle it.
John Curry: You were judge for a long time, so nine years County Judge, 21 years Circuit, so 30 years. Talk a little bit about what happened when the Legislature came out with the standard rules of sentencing. I don't know what the proper name is. I'm going to call it standard rules.
Terry Lewis: Sentencing Guidelines.
John Curry: Sentencing Guidelines, thank you. Talk a little bit about that, how that changed your world, from being a judge.
Terry Lewis: Well, they actually came out with Sentencing Guidelines before I came on the bench. It would've been in the '80s, so at least if not early '80s, by the mid '80s, because at the time I was working as a contract to do appeals for the Public Defender's Office. I had ... Those were issues a lot of times, where you violate the Sentencing Guidelines, and that was an issue for appeal. They've changed over the years.
At that point, it was a range, from this to this. You had to have written reasons. A lot of the appellate court time was taken up with what's a valid legal reason to depart from that range?
John Curry: Excuse me a second. Can you tell us why it even came about? Was it because of different judges have a different, so different, views on the outcome?
Terry Lewis: I think that's the conventional wisdom about it. It was that there was some concern in the Legislature that somebody in Miami, who robbed a Minute Market would get three years, and somebody in North Florida would get 30. They said, “Well, that doesn't seem right.”
John Curry: No.
Terry Lewis: Geographical difference should make a ... Of course, a lot of people would say, “Well, no, if you believe in local rules, local customs, local whatever,” he says, “Well, this is how we feel up in North Florida. You commit a robbery, you're going to jail for a long time, period. Why should we be ...” That was, I think, the impetus behind it, was to try to make it more uniform, so if you went to prison, you're sitting there saying, “Well what'd you do?”
“I robbed a Minute Market.”
“What'd you get?”
“Damn, I only got three.”
Then you're going, hmm, what ... You're thinking something's wrong here. I gave you the example. You went to County Court traffic court, and you ended up in jail for 12 months on a DUI, and another guy says, “No, I just paid a fine, did some community service, and did some DUI school.” You'd be thinking, I got railroaded. I got a bad deal.
John Curry: I don't like my judge.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, and of course, as long as we have people doing it, it's going to ... I think that was the idea. It was to take away some of the discretion, to make it more uniform, but anytime you do that, you have inherent problems. Like I said, you ... Well, what's a good reason to depart? Then you have to litigate all that. It takes a lot of effort, lot of time, lot of money.
John Curry: What do you mean by depart?
Terry Lewis: Well, if you had a range, the Law would say, “Well, you know, there may be circumstances where you want to go below or above,” like well, the defendant showed no remorse, so I'm bumping that up. Well, we don't know whether that's going to be a good ground or not. You go to the appellate court, and they said, “Well that's ... You shouldn't do that.” He didn't show remorse because he said he was not guilty, and he got found guilty at trial, so that shouldn't apply. That's just one example of various things that judges would say to justify it, or going ... not just going above, going below. The defendant is the sole provider for his family, or there was a need for restitution to be paid, whatever.
You had to work through all that. That's been since the '80s. That's what 30-40 years, I think.
John Curry: Yep.
Terry Lewis: Not that much, and they've changed. Then you have ... Of course, when they change it, you have somebody who says, “Well, is he sentenced under the Sentencing Guidelines that were in effect at the time of his crime or the time he was convicted or the time now he's back?”
John Curry: It's a moving target, isn't it?
Terry Lewis: It-
John Curry: It's complicated.
Terry Lewis: I have a saying, “More law, less justice.” The more times you start tinkering with it, after a while, you get ... Now, we've in a groove now, I think, with the Sentencing Guidelines. They changed it several years back, so now basically they've set a bottom. They didn't set a range. They said, “Okay, well, they score out.” If you came before me, they'd look at your past record. They'd look at the nature of the offense, and various other things, and you would score. If your score was a certain amount, then your minimum sentence would be X, and I would have the authority to sentence you to anything from the minimum up to the legal maximum.
Let's say it's grand theft. You embezzled money from Jay, here. You came up. You'd look. Do you have a record? Do you not? It may be that you'd score in what they'd call a non-state prison, which meant, unless you've got a good reason, you're not going to prison.
John Curry: It's that detailed in the scoring.
Terry Lewis: Right, but if you scored a certain amount, it would mean, well, you could go to prison for, say, 13 months. You scored 13 months, but I could go 13 months up to 5 years, so the judge still has discretion. If I want to go below that, which I did with the case we were talking about, I've got to have a legal ground to do it. I've got to articulate that, either ... preferably in writing, as to why I'm doing it.
I might say, for example, "Yes, well the victim was an active participant in that, and was a mitigating factor, because the victim instigated the fight, which ended up with the injury that the victim got." That's a mitigating ... The person has a physical or mental problem that requires treatment, which is not available in prison. There are several things that are listed, that you can hang your hat on, so to speak, if you find it ... or I forget what the other one is. There's a few others.
John Curry: I'm glad we covered this, because I had no clue, number one, that it was that strict, and that, I guess, systemized, which is good. Knowing more about the range, when you hear of a sentence now, people who listen to this, they'll have a better understanding.
Terry Lewis: Yep.
John Curry: Thank you for taking time to do that.
Terry Lewis: Oh, sure, and keep in mind, too, that at least 95%, probably more, sentences are the result of a plea bargain, where the State says, “Okay, you plead guilty or no contest, and we agree that this will be your disposition,” and they agree. It comes in front of the judge, and the judge always has the authority and discretion to say, “No, not acceptable.” If you did that, things would grind to a halt, because they'd say, “Well, what are we going to do? Let's go to trial and ... Well, Judge, what would you do?” I'm not getting involved in a plea bargain. That's not my job.
John Curry: Well, we hear about plea bargaining all the time in the news. Would it be fair to say that that's somewhat of a negotiation between the two sides?
Terry Lewis: That's exactly what it is. The State makes an offer. The defendant says yes or no, or they come back with a counter offer. They go back and forth. It's like anything else. Both sides are looking at what's my chances of winning? If I go to trial, can I get a conviction? Well, I think so, but there are witnesses in my case, so I'm willing to accept less if you'll ... Plus, it'll save me the time and trouble and effort.
John Curry: Sure.
Terry Lewis: Can I get my witnesses? You never know what'll happen. Maybe they don't show up. Maybe they don't say what I think they're going to say. On the other side, it's like, well, what's my chances of getting an acquittal. I'm looking at ... They're offered five years in prison. That's a lot of time. Well, yeah, but you could do 15. It's a second degree felony. You could end up doing 15. You score out for 8 or 10, so 5 is pretty good, if you're convicted.
It's always, in civil and criminal, weighing the chances that you have of succeeding all the way. Like I said, part of it is time and money. From the State's standpoint, they may have a very strong case, but they're saying, “Listen. If you'll save me all the trouble of having to do it, I'll make you this offer.”
John Curry: Interesting. That's a good clarification, too, because you know that there's something going on, but you have never really understood the ... I hope I never have to participate in it, to be honest, on either side.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, I'm glad you haven't, too.
John Curry: Let's switch gears and talk about things that you're doing. Way before you retired, you started writing books. You were telling me earlier, while we were having lunch, you've actually published three. One is finished, looking for a publisher, and you're almost done with number five.
Tell us about the books. When you started doing this, I was fascinated. In fact, you were gracious enough to donate some of your books one night, as a door prize, at seminars. Tell me more about how you got into that. Tell us a bit about your books. Folks, you've got to read his books. They are very good. They're fun to read, if you like legal stuff. Please, tell us. Give us some background.
Terry Lewis: Well, we talked earlier about Perry Mason, and how I got into the law. I've always liked mysteries. I've always liked legal themed mysteries to read and to watch. I used to read that sort of genre. In some cases, as we talked ... Some books, sometimes, like we talked about, you'd look at it and say, “What?” I would've said, “That's crazy.” I would say to myself, “I could do that. Somebody wrote this book, and they got it published?” I'd say to myself, “I think I could do that.” I'd never done anything like that before, never took any ... Well, I did take, actually, I took a creative writing course when I was undergrad, but I remember very distinctly my instructor not being very encouraging.
John Curry: I remember, also, you telling me one time at a Rotary luncheon that you got interested in writing, so I think you went and took a class in the evening.
Terry Lewis: Yes, I did.
John Curry: Talk about that for a minute, because the reason I want this emphasized is too many people sit back, and they hold back, “Oh, I could never do that. I could never do that.” That's a bunch of hogwash. If you decide you want to do it, just go do it.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, well, it's like anything else. You could say, “I'd like to be a pianist. I'd like to learn how to play the piano and be a concert pianist.” Well, you know you're not going to do it right away. You have to learn it. You have to do it.
What actually got me started was I'd read these things, but I read, very soon after I got on the bench, which would've been January of '89, I read Scott Turow's book — I actually pronounce it Turow, but everybody says Turow — his book called Presumed Innocent. I read that book, and I said, “Man, this guy knows what he's doing. He knows what he's talking about. It's very realistic, great story. Boy, I wish I could do something like that, as opposed to looking at some of the crap that I read.”
That's what really got me going. I said, “I'm going to see if I can write something that I can look at later and think it's okay.” I did that, and that was probably sometime in 1990. I'd just make notes and do an outline and write some rough drafts and stuff, didn't really know what I was doing. Of course, my wife would say, “What are you doing up there?”
“Oh, I'm writing a novel.”
“Okay fine, dear.”
John Curry: I could hear Fran doing that, “Okay fine, dear.”
Terry Lewis: Yeah, never expecting anything to come of that, of course. Then, as you say, it was probably two or three years into that process I said, “It may be a good idea if I took a class on writing. That might be worthwhile. Maybe FSU's got something.” As it turned out, they were having a class at night, called Narrative Techniques, taught by Jerome ... Gosh, I'm running a blank now on his name. Shoot. Anyway, he was the head of the department, of the Creative Writing Department. I'll think of it. Anyway, he was teaching it, and it was at the Center for Professional Development.
I called up my friend, Mary Pankowski, who was heading up that at the time. I said, “Mary, is there any chance I could get in there?”
“No problem. We'll get you in.”
Okay, I got in, so I'm there the first night, and he's looking over the roster and looking at me. “How'd you get in this course? This is supposed to be undergrad, full-time?”
“I don't know. I just signed up.”
John Curry: I have a friend here.
Terry Lewis: That was a great course. Stern, Jerome Stern was his name. He was very nice. He would give assignments. We'd turn in our stuff, and he would make comments on it. I found him to be very insightful, very funny, and encouraging.
When that was over, there was another course, called something about Novel Writing Workshop or Novel Workshop, taught by an undergrad, or a graduate student, Pam Gault, so I decided to take that. That was also good, mostly because she would do the same thing. She would critique whatever you turned in, but you had other people in the class do the same thing. After the class was over, there were three or four or five of us that said, “Want to continue? We don't have to be in this class to do this.” We met, and that helped me finish my first novel, because I'd have to turn something in, people would critique it, and it helped me get through.
John Curry: Tell us the title of your first book.
Terry Lewis: Conflict of Interest.
John Curry: I remember the book. I couldn't remember the title of it, but I remember reading it. I couldn't put it down. I read the book in one sitting.
Terry Lewis: Okay.
John Curry: I enjoyed it. It was a good book. How long did it take you to go to book number two?
Terry Lewis: I started right away on book number two, because after I finished that, and I got pretty good feedback on it, it made me think, maybe I can find a publisher. I eventually found an agent and a publisher, small publisher, Pineapple Press down in Sarasota, but I was just tickled pink to have it published. My agent said, “Well, just keep writing. Don't stop,” because it takes so long to get it done, but also so long from the time you submit something that it might get accepted by some publisher and may get published. That's typically at least a year and a half, and a lot of time more, depending on when it's accepted. It generally takes me, or took me, five to six years from start to finished product.
John Curry: Do you see yourself continuing to write, now that you're retired and have more time?
Terry Lewis: Yes. One of the things I wanted to do is not go ... I feel certain that I will do something legally related, mediation, arbitration, senior judge, something, but I'm not going to do that for at least six months or so, maybe a year. Number one, I can't work for the State, or else I'll lose my retirement, which I don't plan to do.
John Curry: Right.
Terry Lewis: I don't want to work for free. Since I've started this little thing of writing on the side, I thought, I'm going to try to concentrate on that more, and really spend more time doing that, and hopefully see whether I can produce something quicker. If I could earn some decent income, I thought I'd do that.
John Curry: You might be the next John Grisham.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, I doubt it, but yeah.
John Curry: Earlier, while we were having lunch, you made a comment, and I wrote this down. “I'm doing what I used to do on the side when I was working. I now do more of it.” Expand on that a little bit, because so many people retire, and I see two ends of the spectrum, 44 years now doing my work. I see people who retire. They do nothing. They sit in front of the television, and they wither. I see others who, they retire, but they're very busy doing other things. Just share with our audience some of the things that you're involved in, because to me, it's a bunch. You're a young guy. Yeah, you're ... I forgot. Tell us how old.
Terry Lewis: 67.
John Curry: 67, so you're only a year older than me. You've got a lot more life in you, so you're not going to sit around and do nothing, good Lord willing, right?
Terry Lewis: Yes.
John Curry: Tell us some of the things you're doing, and why.
Terry Lewis: Well, we've mentioned the writing. Yeah, I started that in 1990, so I've been doing that on the side for a long time. You find the things that were connected to your profession. For example, I just recently did a round as the presiding judge for a mock trial team practice, which I used to do as a judge all the time. Now I'm not a judge, but they still think, “Well, come on down and help us.” This is the FSU Mock Trial Team. Sure.
I have a guitar, which I, one Christmas, about five or six years ago, got lessons, guitar lessons, as a Christmas present. I knew how to play the guitar, in terms of just basic stuff, chords and things like that, and all of that. I wanted to go further, and I quit taking lessons after a couple years, but I still would play guitar and practice on it, on occasion, so I do that. I try and do that a little bit more.
I got a call the other day from the lady that heads up the curriculum for the OLLI, the Osher Learning thing and said, “Maybe you'd like to teach a course.” It's hard for me to say no to those kind of things. I like teaching.
John Curry: Sure.
Terry Lewis: I've been asked to teach two courses: one, Evidence, with Professor Earhart, who I mentioned before, and a course called Perceptions of Justice I'm going to teach with a couple other judges at the, what we call, the College of Advanced Judicial Studies in May, so I've got to get ... It's all the stuff I used to do before, which I'm still doing. I've also been asked to do a course, short course, on Evidence for the Criminal Defense Attorney's Statewide Association in April. I have signed up to do a prescreening with my dog, to see if my dog can be a therapy dog, with the TMH program.
John Curry: That'd be awesome.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, and that screening is Saturday. I figure, "Well, I spend a little bit of time with him, because I walk him a couple times a day, and we have a pretty good thing," so that would give him something to do and something for me to do.
John Curry: Take a moment and explain that, because a lot of people don't know about that program. That's one of the best programs around. Would you share a little bit of what that is?
Terry Lewis: Yeah, there's several options that you can do, with the idea being is that ... I think the main thing, the one that got me interested was a friend of mine, Chuck Mitchell, got this thing going.
John Curry: That's where I first heard about it, for sure.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, try to allow dogs into the courthouse, and for the purpose of being a comfort to alleged victims, child victims, of sexual abuse. I think most people understand having a dog like that calms you down. It's good for you. That's why a lot of people with dogs have a lower blood pressure and all that stuff. I thought, that's a nice thing, and it's a good program. Of course, I was there when they had a certificate, the paw prints on the thing to certify that they can come in and do it.
There are other options. You can also go to nursing homes. You can go to schools and sit there, and they have-
John Curry: Hospice programs.
Terry Lewis: You can have your kid, who's real nervous or anxious if they're asked to read in front of an adult, but put a dog there, and the dog's just sitting there, and you're reading to the dog. Dog doesn't judge you. Dog doesn't say, “That's not how you pronounce that word.” They're with Florida State Hospital. There are a lot of ways that you can be a comfort. I thought, I'll see. Maybe my dog won't make it through the prescreening. I don't know.
John Curry: The dog might make it, but you may not.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, yeah, that's what usually happens. He's a pretty chill dog, so I'm hoping that'll work.
John Curry: Now, so far, you've been talking about all the things that are nonphysical, but talk about some of the things you do for physical activity.
Terry Lewis: Oh, yeah, for many years my exercise primarily has been basketball and tennis, and conveniently located to the courthouse is the First Baptist Church, and they have the Christian Life Center. I've been going up there since probably mid to late '70s, when I was a lawyer, and I just keep going. There's some people that are still there that were there when I first started. You think, well, you're 67. What are you doing playing basketball, but there's usually somebody about your age and speed that you can try to stay with. That's good exercise.
I've been playing tennis pretty much since law school, through basketball, actually. A fellow classmate of mine was also an avid tennis player and said, “Let's go out and play some tennis.”
I said, “You don't want to play with me. I don't know how to play tennis.”
“Ah, we'll just hit a bucket of balls.” That got me started on tennis. That was back in the mid '70s. I've been playing tennis pretty regularly since then. I fairly regularly go at lunchtime and play basketball, and fairly regularly play tennis.
John Curry: One of the things we're going to be talking about, with an upcoming interview, is how to start planning for these things years before you retire. So many people will say, “I have no hobbies. I don't do anything.” I have a friend, who's going to talk about the transition. Why wait until you retire to do it? You did that early on. For you, it's not a big deal to walk out of the door to find something to do, because you're doing some things related to your profession, some things totally different, like writing and the guitar, teaching some things, but some things related to your profession, but other things that can change the venue and change the mental venue, if you will.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, my advice to your clients is don't wait until retirement. This is important for your day-to-day living. For example, writing ... People say, “Well, when I retire and I have more time, I'll get around to doing something.” No you won't.
John Curry: Nope, I agree.
Terry Lewis: Some say, “Well, I'd do that, but I don't have time to do it.” No, no, no, you make the time.
John Curry: True. I was struck by, which is the reason I wanted you to talk about it, you taking classes at night, because I know very busy in your work, family ... very devoted to your family. A lot of stuff that you do ... You're very active in your Rotary Club. In fact, I'm happy that you're being honored as the roastee this year.
Terry Lewis: One thing I couldn't do, as a judge.
John Curry: That's right, but you make the time.
Terry Lewis: You're right.
John Curry: You had to give up your freedom, your evenings. You could've been home watching television or being with the family. You paid the price in time and money to build on a skill. Unfortunately, so many people are like, “Well, I don't want to do that,” but then they'll whine and complain later, because they don't like the results they got.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, I don't have a lot of sympathy.
John Curry: I don't either. Either go do it or shut up.
Terry Lewis: Well, some people, if you're especially younger, and you've got young kids, and you've got two or three kids, and they've got this going, and you just really literally do not have the time-
John Curry: That's a different issue.
Terry Lewis: Yeah.
John Curry: Even then, if people can find an hour to watch a television show, they could find an hour to get online and read and study.
Terry Lewis: Exactly. People ask me about writing. I said, “Yeah, it's a lonely endeavor, and it does take a lot of time,” but I say, “Well, how long does it take you to go play a round of golf?” At least four hours.
John Curry: That's right.
Terry Lewis: Four hours. That’s a lot of time.
John Curry: Or go to a football game or watch a football game.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, go to a football game, prime example ... You've got to get there early. You've got to tailgate, and they do all this stuff. Yeah, I mean, you have to prioritize and you have to make choices, so you make choices. Don't regret it. I mean, if you said, “Well, I don't have time to do it,” and you did something else, you maybe spent time with the kids reading, that's great. I've got no problem with it, but I always reject the thing that I don't have time to do something, especially if they're in the same situation. Like you said, I've been doing a lot of things for a long time. Maybe if I didn't do so many things, I'd be better at it. Maybe limit yourself, sort of like, well, you know-
John Curry: Well, there's a lot to be said for focus on a few things.
Terry Lewis: Yeah.
John Curry: No doubt about that. Let's wind this up a little bit. Let's go back to some of the things we've already been covering, in fact, but what advice would you offer people. Suppose there's somebody listening to this, who, they're 5 to 10 years away from retirement, could be longer, but let's just say 5 to 10 years. They're not sure, okay, what am I going to do when I retire? I'm not sure what I want to do.
Share your thoughts on what process, if you will, they should start thinking about, not the financial side, or that, too, if you want to talk about it, but primarily just getting ready mentally for this thing called retirement or slowing down. For me, I know I'll never fully retire. I'm taking Social Security and a pension now, but I'll never fully retire, as long as I am healthy and clients want me. Now, if they quit coming to see me, then I'm done, I guess.
Terry Lewis: That's another factor. You may have to consider that, yeah, because in the business you're in ... Essentially, the financial is definitely a part of it, because if you're not financially secure and have a plan financially, it's difficult to do the other things that you want to do. You feel pressured to earn the money.
John Curry: You've got to have the money to fund what you want to do.
Terry Lewis: Right. A friend of mine, who has been retired not very long, but came back to volunteer, not get paid, but volunteer as a senior judge, he said, “Well, I planned financially very well, but emotionally I didn't plan too good.” He says, “There's only so many projects around the house you can do before you get bored.”
Now, if you really like that, it's fine. I'm doing things I like. I don't really regret my decision at all. Like I said, I'll probably end up doing something legally related, but I feel like I don't have to, which is important. There were other things that I did, while I was a professional and full-time employed, like we talked about, that I enjoy, so it doesn't bother me. I do other things.
It's that same advice we talked about, is you need to have a balance in your life. If all you're doing is working ... You say, “Well, I love my work.” I do, too, yeah, but that's one of the reasons I really am glad I got into judicial education fairly early on, because that gave me a related thing. It was related to what I was doing, and it helped to make me a better judge. Obviously, if you're teaching something, you have to learn it, and attending classes, as well.
There are things you can do that will help you in whatever profession you're doing, but will also give you an outlet, give you a little balance. You've got to use both sides of your brain. It also helps reduce stress. Exercise is one of the greatest stress reducers.
John Curry: Absolutely.
Terry Lewis: It's like they say, “A tired dog is a good dog.” Same thing ... If you're tired, you're not going to get in too much trouble.
John Curry: Won't be in front of a judge.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, but mostly you feel better. It's a good tired, as opposed to the stress and strain of looking over documents and doing that all day.
John Curry: How would somebody refer to you now, still refer to you as Judge or Retired Judge? What's the official moniker for you now?
Terry Lewis: I think, in some circles, you're always considered judge. I had a lawyer call me the other day, on a premise of engaging my services for something. He called me Terry. He said, “I've got to get used to this,” but yeah, and it was sort of like when I became a judge. People I'd known a long time — lawyers, friends, and stuff — insisted on calling me Judge, even if I wasn't in the courtroom. Now, in the courtroom, you've got to do it, because everybody's looking at that, and it's formal, and you've got to keep certain protocol, but invariably, the ones that I didn't know that well, lawyer who I'd see occasionally, would call me Terry. They were like, “Oh yeah, I'm friends with the judge. Oh yeah, I call him by his first name.”
I suspect the same kind of thing. It's like senator. You're always a senator, Senator Bob Graham, or governor-
John Curry: Governor, or whatever.
Terry Lewis: Whatever, what may ... regardless of that. I think that's appropriate, but it's also appropriate, now you're not a judge anymore, we just call you whatever we called you before, which is Terry.
John Curry: Maybe some that's not repeatable.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, right, right, truly.
John Curry: Well, Terry Lewis, I thank you so much for today, because it was very-
Terry Lewis: Certainly.
John Curry: I want to wind down what I learned today. What I've learned today is more about our court system, the Sentencing Guidelines, and that when you go in, there are different levels of judicial services. When you started going through the local courts and the circuit, to me, that was very educational, and I'll bet a lot of people listening in learned a lot today that, if they ever need it for themselves or a family member, they'll be better prepared. Thank you for sharing that.
Terry Lewis: I hope it's not too boring for your listeners.
John Curry: I don't think it will be, because I think what you did, you did as you always do. You're always very gracious in what you do, but I do want to end it on this, okay, because I almost forgot this. Talk a little bit, a little bit, about your most famous case, because a lot of people may not even know this, but you presided over, in Leon County, the hullaballoo over Bush/Gore. Can you talk about that for just a little bit?
Terry Lewis: Sure.
John Curry: As our parting shot?
Terry Lewis: Sure. I was one of several judges involved in many cases. I think there were over 30, somewhere around 35-36, various actions, claims, that were filed regarding this election, somewhere-
John Curry: I didn't know it was that many.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, some down in South Florida, butterfly ballots and this, that, and the other. We had several that were filed up in Tallahassee. They're filed here because we're the State Capital. If you sue the governor or the secretary of state or any statewide office, you generally sue them in their home, which is Tallahassee, where they have their main office. That's why the ... The very first case I had was a case against Secretary of State Katherine Harris by Volusia County, Dade County. Broward County eventually joined in by the Gore team, saying, “There's a provision in the election law that says if somebody meets certain criteria and requests it, we have to do a recount of designated precincts.” That's what they had going.
They were trying to do a manual recount of certain precincts, certain voting districts in those counties. They had suggested to the Secretary of State that the statute says we have to get this in, we have to certify our results, within a week of the election. That was the 7th; it'd be the 14th. By the 14th we have to get our certified results. We don't think we can do that. We have to do this manually. It's going to take us longer, so we need an extension.
Another part of the statute ... That one says you shall get your results in within seven days of the election, so they were mandatory to do that, but another part of the statute said the Secretary of State may reject untimely filed certified results. The Secretary of State sent a letter, memo, or whatever, to the supervisors of the election saying, “If you don't have your stuff in by the 14th, I will not count them. The votes will not be counted.” Ah!
They filed a suit in Circuit Court, asking for an injunction, which is what you can get. An injunction basically is either telling somebody not to do something, or telling them to do something, enjoining them either affirmatively or negatively. They asked ... It's also called a declaratory judgment. We have a dispute about what the law requires, and we need a judge to declare what the law is.
They were saying the Secretary had to accept our late votes, and the Secretary was saying, “No, and I ain't going to do it,” so we want you to declare what the law is and to tell her to take our votes. Yeah, that was the first thing that we had, up in Tallahassee, I think. I heard the arguments on it, and made my ruling that the term may, in terms of the Secretary may reject, means that she has discretion. It means she can or cannot. It doesn't mean shall reject, like they shall have it filed. There's a conflict there. They're supposed to get it in, but it doesn't mean that she has to reject it. She may reject it.
I said that, by her telling the counties that they won't be counted, regardless of their reason, she has advocated her responsibility to exercise discretion. You can't just say, “This is my policy,” like a judge. “I have discretion to sentence, but if you come in with a DUI, this is what you get.”
“Well, Judge, you've got the discretion. You can do it both-”
“This is what it's going to be.” Well, that's not discretion. It's sort of like, “I don't take no contest pleas. You have to plead guilty.” You just can't do that. You have discretion. You've got to exercise it, so she's got to have some reason. That was my ruling. It came back to me within a couple days, because the Secretary of State sent out a letter to them and said, “Okay, tell me what you're reasons are.” They gave her a reason, and she said, “That's not good enough, still not going to count them.”
They came back and says, “Judge, you need to hold her in contempt of court, because she hasn't done what you told her to do.” My second ruling said, “Well, no, I told her to exercise her discretion. Now, you may disagree with that, but she's exercised her discretion. She's said why she doesn't think that's a good reason. Now, you have a remedy under the election law, if you think that the Secretary of State has unreasonably exercised or abused her discretion, but it's not a contempt of court.”
That was my first case, and I guess the one that you're probably thinking of. Well, there were a couple other things that I had there I thought were going to be important and ended up not being, but the recount was what you're probably thinking of, right?
John Curry: Yeah, it was.
Terry Lewis: Sandy Sauls had, actually, where they filed for what they call a contest of the election, which is the remedy I was alluding to. Had it been me, if I were on that side, I would have said, “Judge, can we amend our complaint? We want to file a complaint to contest the election and ask for a statewide recount.” That's where it was going to go. I don't care what happened. It was either going to be requested by Gore or it was going to requested by Bush. They were trying their best to make the optics look-
John Curry: The truth is, it was inevitable that that's what was going to happen?
Terry Lewis: Of course, the team that's winning, which was Bush, would say, “Oh, no recount, no, no, no, no.” To me, they weren't going to ... It was not going to end up with just the three or four counties being recounted. That was not going to happen, because that wouldn't be right. It wouldn't be fair. They were all heavily Democratic. It was pretty obvious to me that eventually ... If it had been me, I would've just right away ... I would've saved the time. I wouldn't have gone up to the Florida Supreme Court, gone up to the U.S. Supreme Court, come back, done a couple of other things. By then, you'd wasted too much time.
By the time you had the trial with Sandy Sauls, you were really running down to the wire, and then the Florida Supreme Court says, “No, we think you're wrong, Sandy. We want a statewide recount of all the ballots.” It came back, and Sandy Sauls said, “I ain't doing it. I recuse myself.” Judge Nikki Clark was home by then and had had a pretty rough week. Anyway, she got a lot of death threats and terrible things, so she said, “I prefer not to do it.” Of course, then it came to me, who happened to be there on a Friday afternoon.
John Curry: Lucky Terry.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, so that was the one that was probably the more visible.
John Curry: What would you say were the learning opportunities for you, going through that, because it had to be a hell of a lot of pressure on you? I remember talking to you during that time some, and what I've always been impressed with is you never revealed your personal feelings about any stuff. You're just like, “This is my professional job,” and you don't talk about it. In hindsight, looking at that, back in 2000, early 2001, what came out of that for you? What was the learning opportunity, if any?
Terry Lewis: It reinforced my belief that ... We talked about the perception of justice, is that, depending on the place where you're coming from, if you are an invertebrate — not invert, invert, what's the term? — unrehabilitative partisan, you see things in a partisan way. If you're a diehard Democrat or diehard Republican, you're an advocate for your client or your candidate, you think everybody else is like that. It's like being a liar, a ... What do you call it when you can't help yourself? You're a liar and you can't help it?
John Curry: Yeah, the compulsive liar?
Terry Lewis: Compulsive, yeah. You think everybody else is. People would look at that, and they would look at me and other judges. They would look to see what party we belonged to. Who appointed us?
John Curry: Right.
Terry Lewis: And say, “Oh, well, we know what's going to happen here.”
John Curry: No, you don't.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, that's an insult, because judges ... I don't care where they come from politically. Now not everybody, of course, but I think most judges have integrity, and they're conscientious, and they want to ... They may be wrong. We're all wrong,-
John Curry: Sure.
Terry Lewis: But they want to come to what they think is the right answer, based on the facts and the law. That's annoying, but that's there. It reinforced my belief that it's important that judges explain to the litigants what they're doing and why, so that people who are watching — here, you had a lot of people watching, because it's on national and international TV — would say, “Okay, I understand. I don't agree with it, but I understand.” It helps to encourage or promote trust and confidence in the whole system, if they know what you're doing. That's why it was probably good it was televised.
John Curry: Yes, and you told us during lunch, when you had lunch with Jay and me, from the standpoint of the professor that will call on students, who are asking questions even now, so this case is still out there from the standpoint of in the public domain, if you will, as being studied. It'll happen again. There's no doubt that it will happen again.
Terry Lewis: Right, like I said, I just did an interview for a group that's doing a documentary on it. Yeah, it's still ... Of course, next year will be the 20th anniversary of that. It doesn't seem like that long, but Craig Waters of the Florida Supreme Court is trying to do something to get a lot of the participants together to do something. That's a ... Yeah, it'll always be a little footnote in history. That was a special situation.
John Curry: Well, you had your few minutes of fame.
Terry Lewis: Yes.
John Curry: I remember seeing you on television a lot then. Terry Lewis, thank you so much for doing this.
Terry Lewis: My pleasure.
John Curry: It was good seeing you again.
Terry Lewis: Yeah, thanks for lunch.
John Curry: You're welcome.
Announcer: If you would like to know more about John Curry's services, you can request a complimentary information package by visiting johnhcurry.com/podcast. Again, that is johnhcurry.com/podcast, or you can call his office at 850-562-3000. Again, that is 850-562-3000. John H. Curry, Chartered Life Underwriter, Chartered Financial Consultant, Accredited Estate Planner, Master's in Science in Financial Services, Certified in Longterm Care, Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities, LLC. Securities products and services and advisory services are offered through Park Avenue Securities, a registered broker-dealer and investment advisor, financial representative of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, New York. Park Avenue Securities is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of Guardian. North Florida Financial Corporation is not an affiliate or subsidiary of Park Avenue Securities. Park Avenue Securities is a member of FINRA and SIPC.
This material is intended for general public use. By providing this material, we are not undertaking to provide investment advice for any specific individual or situation, or to otherwise act in a fiduciary capacity. Please contact one of our financial professionals for guidance and information specific to your individual situation. All investments contain risk and may lose value. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, or employees do not provide legal tax or accounting advice. Please consult with your attorney, accountant, and/or tax advisor for advice concerning your particular circumstances. Not affiliated with the Florida Retirement System. The Living Balance Sheet, and the Living Balance Sheet logo are registered service marks of the Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York, New York, copyright 2005 through 2018. This podcast is for informational purposes only Guest speakers and their firms are not affiliated with or endorsed by Park Avenue Securities or Guardian, and opinions stated are their own.
2019-75824 EXP 3/5/2021