Over the past month, there have been many events and a lot of press surrounding the retirement of my partner, Craig Waters, as a longtime spokesperson for the Florida Supreme Court.
And rightly so. If you read yet another article about him, then you’ve heard of his dedication to the First Amendment and communications technology – so what can I possibly add?
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Well, there are aspects of his character that played out just as well at home as they did at Court.
Craig and I have been together since 1995. My brother Glenn, who is developmentally delayed, lives with us. He had lived with our mother, Lou, until her death and has lived with us ever since. I knew from the beginning of my relationship with Craig that this would eventually happen, and he was very accepting. He was very good with Glenn and helped him integrate into our home.
Give credit to others
Either way, many people retire without getting that kind of reaction – let alone the headlines. It is justified, of course; he has become a minor local celebrity since the recount.
But I largely suspect that Craig is so modest, which partly explains his career success. He credited others, in particular Chief Justice Gerald Kogan, with whom he developed the communications plan and described it as “remarkable”, and attorney Sandy D’Alemberte, who he called a “visionary”.
I never heard Craig brag. There has never been a “look at me” moment that I respect and love. I did. I really did. Oh, I was so proud.
But I couldn’t say it the way I wanted to. As Craig wrote in his Democratic column from Tallahassee this week, “When I started working on the Florida Supreme Court 35 years ago this month, silence was the standard response to any question about the court activities. Staff like me risked being fired if we spoke to the press.
And in 1995, relationships like ours were not publicly accepted as they are today, certainly not at the higher levels of state government. Now, in the interest of transparency, I’m happy to say that as you read this, Craig and I are off to Bluemountain Beach.
As Lucy Morgan wrote in the Florida Phoenix, the recount came when Craig’s court communications reforms saved us all. “Faced with an army of reporters on the court steps each time a new opinion was issued, Waters found a way to post the decisions on the court’s website, inviting everyone to view them at the same time. It was a revolutionary decision.
Craig also referred reporters to then-Law Bar spokesperson Francine Walker to put them in touch with lawyers who could address the constitutional issues. (Craig, of course, was himself a lawyer with that training.)
And he helped local reporters who were elbowing the national news stars who had descended on Tallahassee for the recount. An inexperienced local worked for a state bureau whose national reporters left their fast food wrappers all over her desk. Craig drove her and her cameraman through the courtyard basement to get a story. “I will never forget that,” she wrote to him when he announced his retirement.
While the world awaited the decisions of the Court of which he was the face and the voice, Craig received death threats. People wrote to ask him to stop the vote count. We brought him meals at court and he only came out when it was time to talk. He was exhausted, but he never stopped working.
“Partners in Justice”
Josh Doyle, executive director of the Florida Bar, used the term “partners in justice” to describe the Bar’s relationship with the Court during Craig’s tenure. “He was a great friend of The Bar, as he did so much, both internally and externally. …He made sure the Bar knew what the Court was doing. We always supported each other.”
He had everyone’s back. One of the reasons reporters flooded his retirement parties is that, having been a journalist early in his career, he knew few understood the law well enough to cover it. He therefore launched the Ateliers Reporters. And he knew the people of Florida needed to understand their justice system, so he started Florida Court Public Information Officers, Inc. Craig served as its first president.
He also held his staff of 3 in great respect. It “allows you to excel,” in the words of longtime staff member Tricia Knox. “We are small but mighty. We do a lot of work. »
Emilie Rietow has worked for Craig for 8 years. “He has been an incredible supervisor. Her style allowed me to be innovative and creative, and I was able to use my teaching background to design the program. For example, no other court had remote visits before. This is now an important part of the program, and Emilie trains other courts on how to do it.
Paul Flemming is the third staff member and has taken over Craig’s job. At the Court’s retirement party for him, Craig urged everyone in attendance, “Please support Paul in any way you can.
“I think his service has been invaluable, and his wisdom will be missed on all the issues that neither of us understands,” Judge Jamie Grosshans said.
“Craig was just a visionary,” said Barbara Petersen, executive director of the Florida Center for Government Accountability. “When I tell people what we have access to – the Supreme Court hearings on real-time video – they don’t believe me.”
Former Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said Florida’s court disclosure system “has become the model that other states have adopted.” When he attended professional conferences, he says, his peers would say to him, “Hey, Jorge, can you send me that communication plan? »
Craig loves the law and the Florida Supreme Court. He loves journalism and journalists. He is a rare mix of lawyer and journalist and communications expert. But without his essential goodness, his deep respect for others, his modesty, his kindness, he would not have counted so much in Florida’s life.
“He’s been through liberal courts and conservative courts, Democratic-appointed courts and Republican-appointed courts,” said attorney Barry Richard, who has argued numerous cases in the Florida Supreme Court. “And Craig stayed. In fact, his duties increased – because they knew what he was – which was, number one, superbly competent, and number two, completely apolitical. He did his job.”
Jim Crochet has held various positions, both in Louisiana and Florida, throughout his career in social services, serving vulnerable populations. In 2013, he retired from the State of Florida as Long Term Care Ombudsman.
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