Trailblazer: Webster defines this as a person who blazes a trail through wild country. Sarasota County Judge Judy Goldman embodies this definition. She spent time as a uniformed auxiliary police officer in the City of Tampa, made headlines as the first woman prosecutor hired by the State Attorney’s Office in the 12th Judicial Circuit of Florida, worked in three law firms for a decade, then sought and won a seat as a Sarasota County judge in 1989, which she’s held ever since. She is constantly giving back to the community as a prominent member of female legal organizations.
Recently I had the opportunity to observe Judge Goldman in court. I was struck with her kind, wise presence, and the way she guided both prosecution and defense to positive outcomes.
So I felt honored when I later had the chance to spend time with Judge Goldman. She invited me to sit next to her on the bench, where I could see every inch of navy carpet in the courtroom, and how that tall oak desk could command such respect. It was empowering to sit with her, the flags of Florida and the United States nobly standing behind us.
But with power, Judge Goldman told me, comes great responsibility. She explained how she cautiously wields her authority and legal expertise for the types of cases she hears, such as criminal misdemeanors (DUI, domestic battery, shoplifting, and prostitution cases), citizen or small claims disputes, and traffic violations with serious injury or death. “You can have your own opinions, thoughts and emotions about a case, but you can’t let those interfere with how you interpret the law,” she said.
How does she levy justice? “I do everything I can to get the person I sentence to a better place. I believe in a therapeutic component to punishment, whether it’s counseling or community service. You have to give something back to the community where you committed the crime,” she said.
To me, it was most inspiring to hear about Judge Goldman’s journey, which began when few women worked within Florida’s court system. There was some discrimination, but mostly behind the scenes. “Sure, it was harder as a woman. I remember when women couldn’t even get nominations from the Judicial Nominating Commission. But fast forward to the present, and only one out of our five County Judges is a man,” she told me. Time, Judge Goldman believes, has changed old-fashioned perceptions about women in law to today’s more modern stance. “We’ve come to a good place respect-wise. It is not so female-versus-male anymore.”
Judge Goldman pointed out that many prosecutors and defense attorneys are women now, and that women—even judges—have found ways to make it possible to have a family life, too. “I struggled to get my kid to school and then get to court early. Now we have judges who say they can’t start hearing cases until after they’ve taken their kids to school. How empowered these women are,” she said.
When I asked for advice about following in Judge Goldman’s footsteps, she said that being a judge is not for everyone, but it is rewarding. Best way to find out? “Come meet with us,” she said. “Spend some time to see if being a judge is a job that you would like. The position comes with difficult ethical balances and a somewhat isolating code of conduct, but it is never boring. I never stop learning in court, be it about human nature or the law or how they go hand-in-hand. I still find it fascinating.”
Thank you, Judge Goldman!