As Belvin Perry Jr. gets ready to retire from 25 years on the bench, the chief judge of Orange and Osceola counties reflects on the two people who helped shape his career.
"One of the things our parents always instilled in us was the desire to succeed," said Perry. His mom was a school teacher, and his dad was one of Orlando's first two African-American police officers. When Perry was 7 or 8 years old, he remembers going to municipal court to watch his father testify.
"That was my first time going into a courtroom and seeing the judge seated there with a black robe," said Perry. "And I became captivated by that."
While attending Jones High School, Perry knew he wanted to become a lawyer and a judge. But after graduating from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1977, he struggled to find a job.
"There were not too many opportunities for minority lawyers at the time," said Perry.
Fortunately, Perry's father was able to put in a good word with State Attorney Robert Egan, who hired Perry as a prosecutor.
"The first courtroom case I had was an actual trial and involved, believe it or not, a high school classmate of mine who was charged with reckless driving," said Perry. "And my classmate was convicted."
Years later, Perry would win a conviction in the high profile case against Judy Buenoano, nicknamed "The Black Widow" for murdering her husband.
"It was, at that time, the longest trial I had ever been involved in. It was close to three weeks," said Perry. "And she received the ultimate sanction. Eventually she was the first woman in modern times to be executed in Florida's electric chair."
Perry continued to dream about becoming a judge. Yet despite applying seven times, the state's judicial nominating committee never gave him that opportunity. So in 1988, Perry decided to run against a sitting judge in an election.
"People said it couldn't be done," said Perry. "I ran a campaign on a shoestring budget with a lot of shoe leather invested from myself and numerous volunteers. And I was blessed to win."
After only a few years on the bench, Perry's fellow judges nominated him to become chief judge, tasked with overseeing the administration of the court systems in Orange and Osceola counties. He has held that position for most of the past 20 years.
"Without the people of Orange and Osceola County I would never have had that opportunity," said Perry. "And for that, I will be eternally grateful."
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