Biographical Sketches of Circuit Judges

Below you will find images and short biographies of past circuit judges, ordered chronologically by the beginning of their term from 1853 to 1999. You may find entries on county judges and other members of the bar on the County Judges and Members of the Bar pages, respectively. Any names showing as links on any of these pages will take you to the corresponding entry to help you navigate and understand the interpersonal makeup of Florida's early judicial system. You may also see a larger version of any of the photos, simply hover over the photo you wish to view and click the "view larger" button that appears, it will open the full-sized image in a new tab.

Thomas Fitch King

(18 November 1812 – 6 November 1904)

1853 – 1865 Circuit Court

Elected to the Southern District Court in 1853, Judge King of Alachua County was on the bench when Polk became a county. He served as Solicitor for the Circuit Court 1846 – 1849. During the Civil War in 1864, as a captain of the home guard, he defended the City of Gainesville against a Union Army raid. He left the bench to continue his work in Gainesville where he served as Justice of the Peace and County Judge. He practiced law many years in Gainesville with his son Augustus.

James Gettis

(4 May 1816 – 14 December 1867)

1867 Circuit Court

Born in Pennsylvania, Judge Gettis studied law at the University of Pennsylvania. He arrived in Tampa in 1848, where he served on the City Council, and was a state representative. He was Solicitor for the Circuit Court in 1853. He was a delegate to the Secession Convention and served as captain in the Confederate 7th Florida Regiment. Many young men tutored in his law office, including Henry L. Mitchell. He died while serving on the bench of the Circuit Court.

James T. Magbee

(1820 – 12 December 1885)

1868 – 1874 Circuit Court

Born in Butts County, Georgia about 1820, Judge Magbee was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1846, and became a resident of Tampa about this time. He is considered the city's first attorney. He was the Federal Collector of Revenue at the port, and was elected to serve in the Florida House of Representatives 1848 – 1852. He was a Florida Senator in 1860. He helped to draft the secession ordinance for the Secession Convention in 1860, and sponsored the legislation to create Polk County. Losing reelection he moved to Wakulla County where he worked as a planter and served as delegate to the Florida State Constitutional Convention in 1865. In 1867 Magbee relocated to Tallahassee where he continued to practice law. He was appointed Judge of the Southern Circuit by Governor Harrison Reed in 1868. He became the first Florida official to face impeachment by the Florida legislature in 1870 for misconduct. He was eventually acquitted by the Senate, and resigned his seat on the bench in 1874.

Winer Bethel

(27 January 1816 – 30 March 1877)

1875 – 1877 Circuit Court

Born in the Bahamas at Nassau, Judge Bethel became a US citizen at Key West where he practiced law. He was appointed Probate Judge for Monroe County in 1858. He was a member of the Secession Convention in 1860 at Tallahassee. For his involvement in the secession crisis he was arrested by Federal troops in 1862, and imprisoned at Fort Monroe, Virginia. After the war he served as Mayor of Key West 1872 – 1873. Bethel was appointed to the Circuit Court in 1873, serving until his death in 1877.

Henry Lauren Mitchell

(3 September 1831 – 14 October 1904)

1877 – 1888; 1891 – 1892 Circuit Court

Born near Birmingham, Alabama, Judge Mitchell moved to Florida at age 15 years in about 1846. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1849 at age 18 years. He served as and Florida Attorney General before the Civil War, but resigned to enlist in the Confederate States Army. During his military service he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives. He was reelected after the war, in 1873 and 1875. In Polk County he is known for presiding over the conviction of William W. Willingham in 1884 for the killing of his brother-in-law Wm. McLaughlin at the Fort Meade ferry. It was the first capital crime conviction for the Polk County courts after sixteen previous trials. In 1888, Mitchell was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, serving as an associate justice until 1891, when he resigned to begin campaigning for governor. He served as the 16th Governor of Florida (1893 – 1897). After he left office, Mitchell returned to Hillsborough County, where he served as Clerk of the Court and subsequently county treasurer.

Gustave Adolph Hanson

(14 October 1834 – 11 March 1909)

1888 – 1890 Circuit Court

Born at Bolivar, Tennessee Judge Hanson served in the 17th Battalion Tennessee Cavalry during the Civil War. He was lead counsel for the Pacific Railway Company in their efforts to build the transcontinental railroad, and was elected a State Senator for Tennessee. He practiced law in Memphis before migrating to Florida by 1880. In 1881 he became editor for the Bartow Courier Informant until 1884. He was a founding trustee for the Summerlin Institute. Hanson was appointed to the Circuit Court by Governor Edward A. Perry.

George Bascom Sparkman

(20 September 1855 – 30 August 1898)

1892 – 1893 Circuit Court

Born near Dover, Florida, Judge Sparkman completed high school in Tampa, and entered the University of Virginia Law School in September 1877 where he earned a law degree. He returned to Tampa where he opened a law office with his cousin, Stephen M. Sparkman who also became one of Tampa's most prominent citizens. Judge Sparkman served four terms on Tampa City Council and was elected Mayor serving three terms in this capacity. He was appointed to the Sixth Judicial Circuit by Governor Fleming. He died an untimely death during a Yellow Fever epidemic.

John Barron Phillips

(February 1851 – 03 May 1904)

1893 – 1899 Circuit Court

Born at Selma, Alabama Judge Phillips began his law practice in Dallas County Alabama. He served there as a notary and justice of the peace, before relocating to Texas. By 1885 he is a resident of Tampa, Florida. He was appointed to the Sixth Judicial Circuit by Governor Henry L. Mitchell in 1893. Phillips resigned from the bench in 1899 to continue his private practice in Tampa.

Joseph Baisden Wall

(23 January 1847 – 29 December 1911)

1899 – 1911 Circuit Court

Born in Hernando County, Florida Joseph B. Wall was the son of a judge. He studied law at the University of Virginia 1868 – 1869. He began his practice at Brooksville, Florida before relocating to Tampa in 1872 where he practiced with Henry L. Mitchell. His career included service as State Attorney in 1874. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 1886, President of the Florida bar in 1887, and served as the President of the Florida Senate in 1889. He was appointed judge of the Criminal Court at Hillsborough County by Governor Mitchell in 1893 and to the 6th Judicial Circuit by Governor Bloxham in 1899. In 1882 he participated in a lynching of a white man outside the courthouse in Tampa, and was barred from federal practice.

Frank Arthur Whitney

(18 October 1869 – 1 April 1951)

1911 – 1917 Circuit Court

Born in Topeka, Kansas Judge Whitney came to Alachua County, Florida when two years old. As a boy He attended the then South Florida Military Academy, Chicago University and Northwestern University Law School, graduating at age 21. He stayed at school on at the request of Northwestern University to lecture on law for another year. Coming back to Florida after college, Judge Whitney made such a name for himself with a law office at Lakeland. He was appointed judge of the Circuit Court for the southern district in 1907 which at that time included Miami. Judge Whitney became the first judge of the new tenth judicial circuit. He lived many years in Arcadia where he was prominent in legal circles and public affairs. In 1925 he relocated to Lee County where he served as Mayor of Fort Myers from 1933 to 1935.

John Sanford Edwards

(4 July 1872 – 17 October 1951)

1917 – 1924 Circuit Court

Judge Edwards, a native of Spring Vale, Georgia, graduated from Mercer University in 1903 and began his law practice in Macon, Georgia. He arrived at Lakeland about 1904. His law partners included Judge Eppes Tucker and Park Trammel. Edwards was appointed Florida's first Tax Commissioner in 1913, occupying that office four years in Tallahassee. In addition to serving as Mayor in 1909 he was also City Attorney for Lakeland. Judge Edwards was appointed to the circuit court bench by Governor Sidney J. Catts to succeed Judge F. A. Whitney of Arcadia. He retired from the bench to devote full time to his law practice during the real estate boom of the 1920's.

Hubert Conner Petteway

(1 January 1893 – 13 February 1976)

1924 – 1945 Circuit Court

Judge Petteway was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina. His family moved to Brooksville where his father was part owner in a turpentine operation. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Florida State University before beginning his law practice at Ocala in 1915. He relocated to Lakeland in 1916 and partnered with A. R. Carver and J. Hardin Peterson. He was Mayor of Lakeland in 1921, and served as City Judge until appointed to the Circuit Court in 1924 by Governor Cary A. Hardee. Petteway retired from the bench on March 31 1945. In 1955 he is credited with developing a new rose pink and white Camellia, which he named for his wife Dovie. He passed away in 1976 in Auburndale at age 82 years.

Harry Gordon Taylor

(10 April 1891 – 28 Jun 1970)

1927 – 1933 Circuit Court

Judge Taylor's ancestors first settled near Bartow in 1869. He attended local public schools and studied at Stetson University. Upon passing the Florida Bar exam in 1915 he began his practice with J. W. Brady at Bartow. His career was interrupted by World War I, when he spent two years in France. After the war he partnered with Leonard O. Boynton. He became Mayor of Bartow in 1920, and was appointed State Attorney at Bartow 1923 – 1926. Leaving the bench in 1933, he was appointed general counsel for the Internal Revenue Bureau at its Miami, Florida office. He is well known for the prosecution of Al Capone in the federal case for 201,347.28 cents in back taxes.

Mark Leo O'Quinn

(9 December 1903 – 11 May 1961)

1931 – 1935 Circuit Court

Judge O'Quinn was born in the Oklahoma Territories in 1903 in the Chickasaw Nation Indian Territory. His name may have been Quiles while he lived in the territories. The 1940 census identifies him as "white." In 1926 he worked as a clerk for Peterson and Carver at 510 E. Pine in Lakeland, FL. He established an office in the Polk Theatre building by 1929. He was appointed to the bench in 1931 by Governer Doyle Carlton. In 1935 he was indicted by a grand jury for driving under the influence of alcohol in Lake Wales. Leaving the bench he continued to practice law at Lakeland. He served as attorney for the Florida NAACP in the 1940s until moving to Miami in 1949. There he partnered with Henry L. Carr until his death in 1921. He is interred in Marlow, Oklahoma.

William Julius Barker

(25 June 1886 – 15 April 1968)

1935 – 1939 Circuit Court

Born in Marietta, Georgia, Judge Barker's family came to Florida in 1889. He attended school in Tallahassee, Florida, and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1916 after completion of the University of Florida. He began his practice at Jacksonville, Florida between 1916 and 1924. In Jacksonville he served two terms on the city council. Barker was appointed to the 19th Judicial Circuit for Highlands, Hardee, and DeSoto Counties, by Governor John Martin. He transferred to Bartow in 1935 when a second seat was added to the Tenth Circuit, becoming our first resident circuit court judge. His circuit court position was eliminated in 1939 and President Franklin Roosevelt appointment Judge Barker to US District Court at West Palm Beach. He died while serving the court in 1968.

Clinton Vane McClurg

(17 July 1891 – 14 December 1960)

1940 Circuit Court

A native of Urbana, Illinois, Judge McClurg practiced law at Lake City, Florida, beginning about 1917. He served as a captain in the Florida National Guard in the 1920s. He became president of the Peoples Savings Bank at Lakeland in the 1930s. McClurg was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from Florida Southern College in 1950. He received a temporary appointment to the circuit court from Governor Fred P. Cone in 1940.

David Osmus Rogers

(24 January 1881 – 6 November 1968)

1940 – 1964 Circuit Court

Born at Thonotosassa, Florida, Judge Rogers studied law at Stetson University. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1906. He practiced law at Wauchula, where he served as Mayor in 1909. By 1913 he had relocated to Lakeland. He was appointed two terms as State Attorney for the Tenth Judicial Circuit 1918 to 1923. At this time, there was the only prosecutor for the circuit. The grand jury met twice per year. He received $200 per month to prosecute all felonies in the three counties. He practiced law with his brother James C. Rogers, who had served as State attorney 1931 – 1933. Judge Rogers resigned due to ill health December 31, 1963.

Don Register

(14 January 1881 – 23 October 1959)

1945 – 1957 Circuit Court

A native of Plant City, Florida Judge Register attended the University of Michigan and Washington and Lee University. He began his law practice in Duval County in 1911 to 1921 where he was a member of the school board and served as county attorney. He relocated to Winter Haven in 1921. He served simultaneously as city attorney for Winter Haven, Lake Alfred, and Auburndale from 1924 – 1928, and was clerk for Polk County Schools 1926 – 1928. He retired at age 77 years, on Nov 7, 1958, after 14 years on the bench.

William Paul Allen

(30 August 1897 – 17 August 1977)

1954 – 1957 Circuit Court

A native of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Judge Allen graduated from Vanderbilt University. He began Practice in Bartow in 1925 until appointed Assistant Attorney General of Florida. After three years of service he became a partner in a Tallahassee law firm. At Tallahassee he volunteered as general chairmen for the inauguration of Governor Spessard Holland. Allen joined the US Navy in 1942. In 1945 he returned to Bartow and began the firm of Allen & Bosarge. Allen served as General Council for the Florida Citrus Commission, attorney for the City of Bartow, Polk County Schools, and Polk Board of County Commissioners. He was appointed to the Circuit Court by Governor Daniel T. McCarty in 1954 and in 1957 he was appointed to the new 2nd District Court of Appeals.

Henry Gunter Stephenson

(6 September 1903 – 14 August 1987)

1957 – 1981 Circuit Court

A native of Athens, Georgia, Judge Stephenson was an FBI agent from 1930 – 1932. He worked on the Lindbergh baby kidnapping case. He came to Winter Haven after graduation from Mercer University School of Law. At Winter Haven he served as City Judge 1935 – 1939. He served as Polk County Solicitor 1939 – 1953, with time out for service in the United States Navy during WWII. He was appointed State Attorney in 1953. As prosecutor Stephenson declared war on Bolita operators, he convicted Polk Sheriff Frank Williams of gambling conspiracy charges. Stephenson was a ppointed by Governor Leroy Collins in 1957 to the Circuit Court and retired in 1981.

William Knox Love

(25 Jul 1912 – 13 Aug 1991)

1958 – 1984 Circuit Court

Judge Love was born at Lakeland, Florida delivered by his father Dr. C. W. Love who had practiced medicine in Polk County since 1903. He attended Baylor University and graduated in 1935 from the University of Florida Law School. Love served in the US Army Air Corp during WWII achieving the rank of Lt. Colonel. He worked with Gunter Stephenson until 1952 as Assistant County Solicitor. He served six years as Polk County Attorney 1952 – 1958. Love was appointed to the bench by Governor Leroy Collins in 1958. He was elected six times without opposition before retiring in 1984 after 26 years on the bench.

Clifton Marvin Kelly

(1 December 1919 – 12 April 2005)

1959 – 1983 Circuit Court

Judge Kelly was born in Madison County, Florida, the son of a tobacco farmer. He graduated from high school in Gadsden County in 1936. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree at University of Florida in 1941. He enlisted in the US Army in 1942, achieving the rank of Captain during WWII. After the war he joined the army reserves and worked in the Judge Advocate Corps. He received his law degree at University of Florida in 1947 and was admitted to the Florida Bar. Moving to Lakeland, he worked as Assistant County Solicitor from 1952 – 1958. He was appointed to the court by Governor Leroy Collins in 1958, becoming Chief Judge in 1975. Judge Kelly became nationally recognized for his work in juvenile crime prevention. Upon retiring in 1983 he continued his work for nearly a decade.

Jesse Howard Willson

(31 December 1901 – 3 April 1992)

1961 – 1972 Circuit Court

A native of Arcola, Illinois Judge Willson came to Alturas, Florida in 1921 where his father managed a citrus grove. He passed the Florida Bar exam without formal legal training, and was admitted to practice in Polk County in 1927. Willson served as City Attorney for Eagle Lake before he moved to Bartow in 1942. At Bartow he served on the city commission, and held the office of Assistant County Solicitor during WWII. He was a Municipal Judge for the City of Bartow. Willson was appointed Count Solicitor from 1958 – 1960 before being appointed to the Circuit Court by Governor Leroy Collins.

Allie Hartsfield Lane

(3 March 1922 – 23 February 2007)

1965 – 1975 Circuit Court

A graduate Lakeland High School and Washington and Lee University, Judge Lane attained the rank of Captain in the US Marine Corp. He was admitted to the Virginia Bar in 1948, and subsequently, the Florida Bar in 1953. He relocated to Bartow in 1954. His career began at Bartow as an associate of Clarence Boswell in 1953. Appointed to the bench in 1965 by Governor Farris Bryant, Judge Lane received the highest rating from his peers in 1972. Upon leaving the bench, he became a senior partner in the Lane, Trohn, Clarke, Bertrand, Vreeland and Jacobsen law firm at Lakeland until retirement in 1991.

John Hollister Dewell

(16 October 1919 – 24 November 2005)

1972 – 1988 Circuit Court

Born at Jacksonville, Florida, Judge Dewell moved to Haines City at age five. A graduate of Haines City High School, Dewell attended the University of Florida, 1937 – 1941, where he played quarterback on the football team. He served in the US Army Air Corp from 1941 – 1945 and upon his return from military service completed his law degree at the University of Florida in 1946. He began his practice with his father and sister at Haines City. Upon the passing of his father he served as Haines City Municipal Judge 1952 – 1972, and attorney for the Polk Board of County Commissioners between 1959 and 1972.

Richard Avann Bronson

(9 April 1927 – 26 August 2003)

1961 – 1972 County Court

1972 – 1989 Circuit Court

Born in Washington, D.C., Judge Bronson moved to south Florida with his family where he attended Coral Gables High School. After serving in the US Navy during WWII, he attended Duke University, and law school at the University of Florida, graduating in 1952. He practiced law at Lakeland with William K. Love. After twenty-eight years on the bench, he retired in 1989.

Thomas Martin Langston

(17 November 1919 – 11 September 1997)

1965 – 1972 Criminal Court

1973 – 1989 Circuit Court

A native of Inverness, Florida, Judge Langston relocated to Lakeland in 1925 where his father practiced law. He attended public schools at Lakeland. Langston served on active duty in the US Navy 1942 – 1946, and later as a Commander in the US Naval Reserves. He completed his law degree at the University of Florida in 1948. For six years he served as Coroner, and in 1959, Justice of the Peace for Lakeland. He was appointed to the bench by Governor Leroy Collins. Judge Langston became Chief of the Juvenile Division. He practiced law with A. R. Carver and J. Hardin Peterson. He retired at age 70 years due to the age limit set by the Florida legislature for Judges.

Gordon Frye MacCalla

(1 October 1912 – 24 October 2002)

1973 – 1982 Circuit Court

Born in Massachusetts, Judge MaCalla arrived in Florida with his family before 1920. He was a graduate of Winter Haven High School and Stetson Law School. Judge MacCalla practiced law at St. Augustine from 1939 to 1940 before returning to Winter Haven prior to WWII. During the war he attained the rank of Commander in the US Navy. MacCalla served as Municipal Judge at Winter Haven from 1946 – 1953. He was elected the first fulltime County Solicitor in 1963, serving until 1973 when Governor Reubin Askew appointed him to the Circuit Court. Upon retiring he continued to serve the courts another seven years.

Marvin Bryant Woods

(21 November 1926 – 9 December 1992)

1973 – 1975 Circuit Court

A native of Polk City, Florida, Judge Woods attended Auburndale High School. After serving as a radio operator for the US Navy during WWII, Woods completed his under graduate studies, followed by a law degree at the University of Florida in 1949. He was appointed Judge of Industrial Claims in the 1950s. He was elected to the Circuit Court in 1973 when the circuit expanded from five seats to nine.

George Bowden Hunt

(2 August 1913 – 18 March 1987)

1945 – 1972 Juvenile Court

1973 – 1982 Circuit Court

Born at Birmingham, Alabama, Judge Hunt's family moved to Jacksonville, Florida where he attended high school. He relocated to Bartow about 1935 and attended Florida Southern College in 1936. He began his career as a social worker in Lakeland. In 1941 he became the first field agent for the new Florida Probation and Parole Commission. Hunt was appointed to replace William Bevis as Judge of the Juvenile Court in 1945. In 1977 he completed Florida's legal training for non-lawyer judges. After retiring from the bench, he taught criminal justice courses at Florida Southern.

Edward Randolph Bentley

(16 April 1932 – 10 December 2006)

1975 – 1997 Circuit Court

A native of Lakeland, Florida Judge Bentley graduated from University of Florida in 1954 and completed his law degree there in 1959. He went to work with his father at Lakeland. Among the partners in the firm was future Governor Lawton Chiles. Bentley was appointed to the Circuit Court in 1975 by Governor Reubin Askew. He continued his service to the courts after his retirement in 1997.

Robert Earl Pyle

(1 November 1932 – 6 October 2009)

1989 – 1999 Circuit Court

Born at St. Petersburg, Florida, Judge Pyle enlisted in the US Marine Corp after high school in 1950. He served in the Korean War. He received his law degree at Stetson University in 1962, and worked as an assistant public defender in Pinellas County at Clearwater before relocating to Polk in 1966. He practiced law in Lake Alfred and served as Municipal Judge there from 1967 to 1977. Governor Bob Martinez appointed Pyle to the Circuit Court in 1989. He was an adjunct professor at Polk Community College and a citrus grower.