Garner makes Gadsden judicial history

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By Alice Du Pont

Dec. 7 was a historic day in Gadsden County. On the second floor of the of the 100-year-old Gadsden County Courthouse, Kathy Garner was sworn in as the first elected African-American and first female as County Judge in the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Garner as county judge on the retirement of former County Judge Stewart Parsons three years and 11 days ago. Garner was appointment Nov. 16, 2009, and was overwhelmingly elected on Aug. 14, 2012, for a six-year term.

“You, the people, validated Gov. Crist’s choice. You, the citizens, have allowed me to do a job I love, work in a county I love and work with people I love. Today, I have joy in my heart,” she said.

Then, looking skyward, Garner said she hoped she had made her parents, the late Alfred and Betty Garner, proud.
“My commitment is to continue to treat everyone with fairness. I don’t care what your status is in life, I will treat you and your families with fairness,” she said.

Accolades were lavished on Garner by family members, friends and those whose lives she has touched.
Dr. Kim Shaw-Grant, Garner’s cousin, called her a beacon and a shining example for the members of the family.
“She is the family motivator and role model,” Shaw-Grant said.

Student Nancy Romero told the packed room that Judge Garner touched her life when she needed a friend most.
“Two years ago, I was a student at Carter-Parramore Academy when she came to our school. I was going through some immigration problems, and I was telling her about it. She told me not to worry about a thing, that she would fix it,” she said.

Others, like Dr. Anthony Viegbesie, called Garner an “awesome community leader.”

“As a person and as a judge, Kathy Garner has made a difference in this community. She is an active community volunteer, an ordinary person who does extraordinary things,” he said.

Garner attended Gadsden County public schools and Florida A&M University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. She often tells the story of how she and her father would visit the county courthouse when she was a child.

“I used to wonder how they (the judge) got up there, and I always wanted to sit up there,” she once said.

To pursue her dream, Garner attended Florida State University College of Law, graduating in 1995 with a Juris Doctorate Degree. She also studied law in the English and Caribbean systems. She traveled to Oxford, England, and studied law at Oxford University’s St. Edmund Hall. She also studied at the West Indies Law School in Barbados.

Following law school, she established the Garner Law Group in Tallahassee. While operating the law firm, she served as a part-time child support hearing officer, serving Gadsden, Liberty, Wakulla and Jefferson Counties. She currently serves as chair of the Gadsden County Canvassing Board and is a member of the Florida Conference of County Judges, the Florida Bar, Tallahassee Bar Association, life member of the Disabled American Veteran Auxiliary, Gadsden County Health Council, W.S. Stevens Chapter of the Order of Eastern Star and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.

She has been the recipient of many accolades including the “Off The Bench Award” given by the Florida Conference of County Judges for her service to the community off the judicial bench. The Tallahassee Democrat recently named her as one of the “25 Women You Need To Know” and in March 2012, Garner partnered with Tallahassee Community College to create the Pathways To Success program. The program allows probationers who do not possess a high school diploma to work toward earning a high-school diploma instead of community service.

A reception was held immediately following the ceremony where Judge Garner personally thanked her family, friends, and colleagues.