The rules Judge Virginia Norton expects those entering her courtroom to follow are based on simple ideals and common sense: Use good manners. Treat others with respect. Be on time and be prepared. Be honest. Your word is your bond.
Good rules for everyone to follow in any circumstance.
A circuit court judge for the Fourth Judicial Circuit since 2009, Judge Norton has been particularly moved by the Jacksonville legal community during the pandemic, witnessing unprecedented collegiality among members of the Bar.
“Seeing that spirit — that everyone is in this together — and observing how individuals have risen to the occasion for each other and their clients, is inspiring,” she said. “Jacksonville has always been an incredible place to practice law. The past year has only highlighted what a special community it is.”
Judge Norton advises those considering a career of service to fully evaluate their reasons why. “Service is about those you serve — not yourself. You are the custodian of your position of service; your position does not belong to you — it belongs to the citizens.”
She considers one of the greatest honors of her life to have had the opportunity to ask people for their vote.
“While campaigning for my position, I had the opportunity to hear firsthand what citizens thought about our judicial system,” she recalled. “While this experience does not affect how I apply the law, it does affect how I administer the courtroom. How I communicate my rulings needs to be done in a way that anyone — from lay persons to lawyers to the appeals court — can understand.”
Judge Norton’s accomplishments reflect having been committed to serving Jacksonville since the 1990s, when she first worked at the law firm of Moseley, Warren, Prichard, and Parrish. As an assistant general counsel for the City of Jacksonville, she helped address major legal issues facing the city.
For many years, Judge Norton has been helping inmates at the Duval County Jail through the Developing Adults with Necessary Skills (DAWN), program, which helps inmates earn high school diplomas, learn vocational training and life skills for employment, and stay out of the criminal justice system. Her mentor and friend Richard McKissick launched the program in the 1980s and hand-picked her to continue his vision.
Judge Norton received the Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice’s Distinguished Judicial Service Award in 2017 in part for her efforts with the DAWN program.
“I have worked within the correctional system for over 15 years,” Judge Norton said. “While I have never condoned breaking the law, I am extremely proud of my part in helping others change their lives and their futures when they have committed to the hard work that is required in taking a new path.”
Judge Norton has deep respect and admiration for the many current and former members of Jacksonville’s legal community who mentored and supported her along her lifelong path of service, from McKissick, who took her under his wing; to Ernst Mueller, whose teachings about fairness inspire her in the courtroom every day; to James F. Moseley, Sr., who hired her as a young attorney; to Judge William Van Nortwick, Jr.
“Each of them, and many more, have afforded me unbelievable opportunities,” she said. “Without their help, I couldn’t be doing what I do. In turn, I want to help others, whether they are starting their careers or re-starting their lives.”
These colleagues and mentors, as well as the people she sees throughout the judicial system, inform Judge Norton’s perspective on her career. “I like to be reminded of the different paths it took for me to get where I am, and how those before me encouraged and guided me. I have had my share of disappointments. The world values success, but we need to be a society that equally values humility and resiliency. It is important to learn from your mistakes, not repeat your mistakes, and do better the next time.”
Judge Norton also cherishes her Courthouse family. Her Civilian Bailiff, Rosa Johnson, has been with her for 11 years and is her “right hand in the courtroom.”
Her judicial assistant, Lynn Davis, was assigned to her in 1999 on her first day at the General Counsel’s Office.
“Lynn and I complete each other’s sentences and have worked together for almost 22 years, but it didn’t start off like that,” Judge Norton recalled. “On our first day together, I took over a caseload from another attorney and as I worked through the filing cabinet, I said to Lynn, ‘One day, I can be a judge and you can be my JA.’ Lynn said, ‘Yeah, right — now get back to that filing cabinet,’ turned around and walked out! And now here we still are,” she laughed.
She is grateful to her parents for her work ethic and determination to do the right thing. “I was very fortunate to be raised by parents who instilled in me that if I worked hard, I could achieve anything,” she said. “My parents taught me that it was my job to find solutions to, not to complain about challenges. Consequently, I am mindful to focus on looking forward and not backward.”
For Judge Norton, working with young lawyers is “a true honor — playing even a minor role in helping someone grow as a professional and a human being.”
She offers these words to young lawyers:
“Remember who you are. What makes you different is what makes you irreplaceable and ultimately successful.”
“Ask people how they are doing – as a real question not as a perfunctory greeting. Then listen to their answers.”
“If you want to be a powerful person, forgive someone. It is the most powerful thing that a human being can do.”
“At some point, you just have to grab your nose and jump into the pool.” (Credit given to Cindy A. Laquidara for these words of wisdom)
“Every morning, remind yourself of your core values. That’s your road map for the day.”