Biographical Sketches of County Judges

Below you will find images and short biographies of past county judges, ordered chronologically by the beginning of their term from 1861 to 1943. You may find entries on circuit judges and other members of the bar on the Circuit 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.

Levi W. Cornelius

(1825 – 3 January 1864)

1861 – 1862 County Court

Born in Virginia about 1825, Judge Cornelius joined the Florida Mounted Volunteers at Fort Brooks, Tampa in February 1858 as a "farrier" , for a six month enlistment in the Third Seminole War. In the 1860 census he is a physician living in Hillsborough County. He was appointed the first probate judge for the organization of the newly created Polk County in 1861. In this capacity he was Commissioner of Education and chief officer for the Board of County Commissioners. His career was interrupted by the Civil War, and he enlisted as a private in the 7th Florida Regiment. His company left Polk County on March 8th 1862. He was captured at Missionary Ridge on November 26, 1863, and died a prisoner of war at Rock Island, Illinois from pneumonia in January 1864.

William Joel Watkins

(4 January 1808 – 9 August 1884)

1866 – 1868 County Court

Born at Charlotte County Virginia, Judge Watkins studied law at Yale University in 1825. He had become a planter in Georgia by the 1840s, and relocated just north of Bartow, Florida in 1862 with his family and sixteen slaves, to escape the war. Unable to continue farming after the war, he relocated to St. Augustine by 1870. In St. Augustine he served as Justice of the Peace and a term as mayor.

James Thomas Wilson

(13 March 1823 – 28 October 1889)

1868 – 1873 County Court

Born in Effingham, Georgia, Judge Wilson moved with a large group of extended family members to the Alafia River about twenty miles east of Tampa in about 1851. The families made their living raising cattle, and soon drove their herds to the area near Homeland, Florida. Wilson grew citrus and operated a saw mill. A Union supporter during the secession crisis, he became a County Judge during reconstruction in Florida, and served as a Polk County Commissioner 1874 – 1875.

James Ashley Fortner

(January 1843 – 7 December 1906)

1871 – 1881; 1883 – 1887 County Court

Judge Fortner was born in Emmanuel County, Georgia. During the Civil War he served in Company H, 10th Georgia Infantry, locally known as the Wilcox County Rifles. He was wounded by a bullet in the right hip at the battle of Savages Station, Virginia, on June 29, 1862. He moved to Polk County, Florida, in 1871. Fortner was a farmer and Polk County Judge for two terms 1871 to 1881, and again from 1883 to 1887. James Ashley Fortner died in Manatee County, Florida.

George Sherrod Durrance

(18 March 1851 – 02 January 1905)

1888 – 1896 County Court

Born near the Florida and Georgia border in 1851, Judge Durrance relocated to Hillsborough County with his family prior to the Civil War. He enlisted in the Confederate State Army at Fort Meade in 1861. After the war he became a successful cattleman. He relocated to DeSoto County in the late 1890s where he served as County Judge until 1905. He is buried at Arcadia, Florida.

Clarence Alexander Boswell

(12 October 1869 – 14 August 1941)

1897 – 1905 County Court

Born in Lee County, Alabama, Judge Boswell attended public schools in Alabama. In 1886 he relocated with his family to Lakeland where he continued his early education. He served as Mayor of Lakeland 1894 – 1896. He studied law at the firm of Tucker & Tucker in Lakeland, and through a correspondence course with the Spraque School of Law, was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1897. In 1898 he partnered with Bartow attorney Solin G. Wilson. For eight years Boswell served as attorney for the City of Bartow. He made the opening address for the new Polk County courthouse celebration in 1909.

William Selwyn Preston

(15 November 1845 – 15 December 1922)

1905 – 1913 County Court

Born in Ohio, Judge Preston was a Justice of the Peace and a farmer at Eldora Iowa in 1880. He continued farming at Lakeland, organizing the Farmer's Club and serving as its president.

Charles Monroe Trammell

(6 July 1887 – 26 July 1947)

1913 – 1917 County Court

Cousin of Park Monroe Trammell, Charles attended public schools in Lakeland graduating in 1904. He attended Emory University, and received his law degree at Vanderbilt University in 1909. He was admitted to the Florida Bar and began his practice in Lakeland in 1909. He was appointed County Judge in Polk and served from 1913 to 1916. President Coolidge appointed Trammell to the Federal Board of Tax Appeals where he served in Washington D.C. until 1936.

James Kelsey Blanton

(29 May 1876 – 2 February 1962)

1917 – 1921 County Court

Judge Blanton's parents arrived in Hillsborough County from Georgia prior to the civil War. He was born near Plant City, and taught school there for several years. He graduated from Stetson University in 1905 and began practicing law in Tampa in 1906. In 1911 he relocated to Lakeland, Florida. He is credited with organizing the first area Boy Scout troop in his office in 1913. In the 1930s he wrote for the Works Progress Administration American Guide series, becoming a respected local historian.

Spessard Lindsey Holland

(10 July 1892 – 6 November 1971)

1921 – 1928 County Court

Born in Bartow, Florida, Judge Holland attended local public schools, and graduated from Emery College in 1912. He taught public school in Georgia from 1912 to 1914 before entering the University of Florida College of Law. Holland was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1916. He returned home to work, but soon volunteered for WWI. He received the Distinguished Service Cross for valor. In July 1919, he returned home to be elected County Prosecutor and County Judge in 1921. In 1932, he was elected to the Florida Senate and Governor of Florida in 1941. He served in the US Senate from 1946 to 1971. During his stay in office, Holland led the effort to ban poll taxes in federal elections.

Horace King Olliphant

(28 October 1858 – 22 September 1933)

1923 – 1931 Criminal Court

Born in Enterprise, Mississippi, and educated in Mobile, Alabama, Judge Olliphant began his career as a teacher in Mobile. He moved with his family to Pensacola, Florida, in 1878 and was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1880. He worked as a clerk in the office of William Alexander Blount. He relocated to Bartow in 1892 and practiced law with Robert B. Huffaker. He eventually opened a practice with his son in Bartow, Olliphant and Olliphant.

Chester Maurice Wiggins

(25 April 1889 – 4 December 1964)

1929 – 1961 County Court

A native of Manatee County, Florida, Judge Wiggins' father served as Polk County Sheriff 1904 – 1908. He attended Washington and Lee University and studied law at Stetson University. Wiggins was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1915. He succeeded Spessard Holland as County Judge and served 33 years on the bench, longer than any other individual. When he retired in 1961, Polk's centennial year, he had served one – third of Polk's history.

Robert Treat Dewell

(5 June 1885 – 21July 1952)

1935 – 1943 Criminal Court

"LAKELAND LEDGER – 22 July 1952 –– Robert T. Dewell, prominent Polk County lawyer and former judge of Polk county Criminal Court, died yesterday in a Winter Haven hospital after several months illness. A native of St. Augustine, he moved to Haines City in 1924 with his family from Jacksonville, where he had set up law practice after his graduation from Yale Law School in 1911.

"In the spring of 1935 the Governor of Florida David Schultz appointed Dewell as judge of the Criminal Court of Polk County, a position held until 1943 when he chose not to run against Roy Amidon of Lakeland, present Judge. Ill health forced Judge Dewell to retire from legal practice the first of this year. He had been in the firm of Dewell and Dewell of Haines city with his son John H. Dewell, and his daughter, Miss Mary Frances Dewell."

Judge Dewell also attended Connecticut State University. He served as municipal Judge for Haines City in 1951.

William Franklin Bevis

(23 October 1893 – 8 July 1979)

1942 – 1945 Juvenile Court

Born at Bascom in Jackson County, Florida, Judge Bevis attended the University of Florida, graduating in 1904. He relocated to Bartow in 1915. In 1932 he formed a partnership with Spessard Holland. He was appointed the first judge of a separate juvenile court in 1942 by Governor Spessard Holland.

Roy Herrick Amidon

(14 April 1895 – 14 April 1985)

1943 – 1973 Criminal Court

Judge Amidon was born at Keene, New Hampshire. His father came to Florida in 1901. Settling first at Pinecastle, the family moved to Lakeland, where Roy graduated high school in 1915. He entered Stetson University that fall as an engineering student. Drafted into the army during WWI, in 1918 he returned to Lakeland to work for the US Postal Service. Desiring to obtain a law degree, he enrolled in a correspondence course. In 1924, he was admitted to the Florida Bar. He became City Attorney in 1931 and City Judge in 1933. During his career he became recognized as an outstanding criminal trial judge. He was known to many as old "10 and 20" . Judge Amidon retired in 1974 after 30 years of service.