As Judge Turner readies for retirement, colleagues reflect on his tremendous impact
By Michael Laderman
ORLANDO, Florida — Sherri Sharp has always believed that people come into our lives at times when we need them most, without ever knowing why.
Such was the case when a chance meeting between Sharp and Judge Thomas W. Turner -- then the newly-appointed judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court -- began not only a 13-year working partnership, but, more importantly, a friendship that would guide her, and provide her faith and support for life events that she never could have imagined would occur.
Before fate intervened, Sharp had previously worked for three other judges as a judicial assistant, prior to leaving to take another position elsewhere. Due to a family emergency, she needed to resign to take care of a family member. It was toward the end of 2002, when temporarily filling in for a colleague, that Turner was appointed by then-Governor Jeb Bush to his Circuit Court position on the bench.
Sharp was then reassigned to assist the new judge, as he was interviewing for his judicial assistant position. She never imagined wanting to come back to the court system.
“But then I saw the type of person [Judge Turner] was, and I was like, ‘You know, after thinking about it, I’d like to work for you.’ And that was that. He hired me, and that began our story.”
It was that simple. And she has worked for him ever since.
What Sharp saw in Judge Turner is something that has not wavered in the 13 years since they first met that late December, 2002: A love and respect for all people, no matter their situation, no matter their religion, no matter their skin color, no matter their job.
“He is all about helping people,” Sharp said, a smile on her face while describing Judge Turner. “Whatever it is, whether it is helping people find themselves, or helping people he’s sending to jail realize that they need to find faith, or realize their wrongs so that they come out a better person, he is exactly the same. I have worked with him for 13 years, and he is exactly the same every single day. His personality never changes, which is a blessing.”
Sharp spoke of her boss – and her friend – while leafing through old photos of him … those that showed him with family, with friends, and even former presidents and attorney generals of the United States. She did so, though, with tears in her eyes, as Judge Turner is retiring from the bench at the end of this year. His term officially ends on January 2, 2017.
He leaves behind an amazing career of successes and accomplishments. A graduate of Ball State University [Bachelor of Arts, Political Science] and Wayne State University [Juris Doctor], he held private law practices in Michigan, Indiana, and Florida. His career began as a Trial Attorney for the United States Department of Justice in 1974. Four years later, he was named the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of Illinois, followed by positions as First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana and in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.
His role and career, though, is not what defined him as a judge, nor is what defines him as a person. It is the size of his heart, and how he is one to help. It is not only taking part in a Medicine for Mali missionary trip, but going there to take medical supplies, shoes, and help dig trenches. It is also literally giving Mali children his own personal shoes for them to wear when they had none.
It is serving meals at the Coalition for the Homeless with his wife of 46 years, Judy; daughter, Laura; son-in-law, Chris; and son, Brian.
It is supervising the homeless refuge his church provides for a weekend each month. It is playing the Easter Bunny at Sunday School. It is developing and implementing the “Courthouse Dog” K-9th Circuit Program, that utilizes trained Companions for Courage dogs to “provide comfort and a sense of security to children who must undergo forensic interviews or testify in court.”
And it is being honored with an award such as the 2006 Liberty Bell Award, given by the Orange County Bar Association to one who promotes a better understanding of the law while encouraging a greater respect for the law and the courts, stimulating a sense of civic responsibility, and contributing to good government in the community.
“Meeting Judge Turner truly changed my life,” said Sara Qureshi, a third-year law student at Barry University’s School of Law who recently completed an externship during the 2016 semester with him. “He is one of the most intelligent and talented individuals I know. He is an individual with such a loving and caring heart. I have gained a lifelong mentor, and, moreover, a lifelong best friend. The Ninth Judicial Circuit bench will never be the same without him. He has changed my life, educated me about the law, and taught me several life lessons.”
“I never could have imagined the significant impact he would have on my life,” said Janice Chon, a third-year law student from Barry University’s School of Law who also worked alongside Judge Turner. “My work with him has transformed my view of the courtroom and the law. He has motivated me to serve the community with the genuine passion and humility that he exhibits every day. He is not only kind-hearted and sincere, but also truly a man of God. He is full of profound wisdom, and has shown me what it means to uphold the standard of law. Without him, I doubt I would be as confident in evidence as I am now.”
His reach expanded from his staff, to his church, to his friends, to his family, and even to inmates, who, according to Sharp, gave Judge Turner an amazing level of respect, in returning the respect that he has shown them. He is one who oversaw many big trials throughout his career, and, yet, never lost sight of the person he was.
And it is that person, the one that Sherri Sharp had the honor of seeing and working alongside for the past 13 years, that will be missed by all who came in touch with him.
“He is so well-loved and respected, just because the way he carries himself,” Sharp said. “You will never see him upset, or never hear a bad word from him. Judges have a very difficult job, and yet, he has been the same person every single day.
“He is such a good person, humble and compassionate, I wish I could be like him,” she added. “It is just something different and refreshing, the way he has been, and the way he is. He has changed people’s lives. He is just a great person – not just as a boss, but as a caring human being and, best of all, my friend. He is that once-in-a-lifetime person who totally impacts your whole life, every day. I will truly miss him.”