Born in Ocala, FL, after graduating first in his class from Howard Law School, African-American James Dean was elected Monroe County judge. He won over two white candidates in 1888 becoming the first black county judge elected after reconstruction in Florida.
Judge James Dean had a grand reputation of displaying high integrity and probity. However, amidst a scandal in 1889, Governor Francis P. Fleming removed him from office. Dean had married a black woman and a white man (although the groom said he was mulatto), which was illegal during this time period.
Governor Fleming replaced Dean with Angel De Lono, who was the first Hispanic judge elected in the Keys. Dean went on to sue De Lono and argue his case against removal from office before the U.S. Supreme Court on September 13, 1891 to no avail. He left Key West penniless and disgraced, for Jacksonville where he died a pauper at age 59 in 1914.
Dean's history resurfaced in 2000 when Key West lawyer, Calvin Allen, read his name in the local newspaper's history column. Allen began researching the case and what he learned inspired him to try to clear Dean's name.
Former Governor Jeb Bush learned of the effort and his attention was quickly captured. "I got e-mails and thought it was a pretty cool idea and we did the research and it was clear that Judge James Dean was unjustly removed from office," Bush said. In 2002, 113 year later, Governor Bush reinstated his judgeship. "This happened in a different space and time in our state's history, but irrespective of how long it's taken us to right this wrong, I think it's more than appropriate to do so," Bush said.
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