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The Honorable William Terrell Hodges

Judge Terrell Hodges, the widely esteemed senior judge from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, was selected to receive the 2007 Professionalism Award for the Eleventh Circuit. 

Judge Hodges’ recent response about his own personal mentors was notable. He named Chester H. Ferguson and Morris White as his two mentors, both of which are the namesakes for his American Inn of Court in Tampa, FL, The C.H. Ferguson-M.E. White American Inn of Court. Mr. Ferguson was a senior partner in the Tampa law firm that employed Judge Hodges as a young associate coming out of law school.  Judge Hodges recalls that Mr. Ferguson was an exceptional man and lawyer from whom he learned the values of candor and loyalty.  Mr. White was senior partner in a different Tampa law firm.  Judge Hodges had litigated a case in which Mr White, toward the end of his long and illustrious career, represented the opposing party.  Judge Hodges recalls that when he was later nominated to become a federal district court judge, Mr. White wrote an unsolicited letter of recommendation, which is to this day one of Judge Hodges’ cherished possessions.  He kept it, as he recalled, “because earning the respect of respected peers is what the professional aspect of the practice is, or ought to be, all about.”  By that measure, Judge Hodges is the gold standard of professionalism. 

A lifelong “Gator” (and still huge fan of the University of Florida Gators), Terrell Hodges received both his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Florida.  At University of Florida Law School, he was the Executive Editor of the Law Review.  After practicing law with the prominent Tampa firm of Macfarlane, Ferguson, Allison & Kelley, he was appointed as a United States District Court Judge in the Middle District of Florida at the age of 37 in 1971, becoming one of the youngest lawyers ever appointed to the federal bench. 

As a trial court judge, he presided over innumerable high profile trials and proceedings, earning the respect of his fellow judges and lawyers for unfailing courtesy, supreme powers of concentration and intellect, organizational skills, and professionalism.  From 1981 to 1989, he served as Chief Judge of the Middle District of Florida.  Judge Hodges has held many national leadership positions within the federal judiciary, including President of the District Judges Association of the Eleventh Circuit (1981-82), member of the Subcommittee on Pattern Jury Instructions of the Federal Judicial Center (1982-87), and as longtime Chair of the Eleventh Circuit Committee on Pattern Jury Instructions (1981-present).

In 1987, Chief Justice William Rehnquist appointed Judge Hodges to serve as a member of the Judicial Conference’s Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules, which Judge Hodges went on to chair from 1990 to 1993.  Chief Justice Rehnquist also chose Judge Hodges to serve on the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference in 1994, and in 1996, he appointed Judge Hodges as Chair of the Executive Committee—only the second district court judge in the history of the conference to serve in that position.

Judge Hodges assumed senior status in 1999.  Nevertheless, he still not only carries a full load as a trial judge, but also regularly sits with the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  In 2000, he was appointed to serve on the Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation and the following year became its Chair, a responsibility he continues to ably perform.

Judge Hodges’ service and accomplishments were recognized by the American Judicature Society when he was presented the Edward J. Devitt Distinguished Service to Justice Award by Chief Justice Rehnquist.  The Devitt Award,  considered one of the highest awards a federal judge can receive, honors an Article III judge of national stature, whose distinguished lifelong career is characterized by “[d]ecisions that, through their wisdom, humanity and commitment to the rule of law, make clear that bench, bar and community alike would willingly entrust that judge with the most complex cases of the most far-reaching import; writings, including opinions, lectures, or other publications that reveal scholarship and dedication to the improvement of the judicial process; and activities that have helped to improve the administration of justice, advance the rule of law, reinforce collegial ties within the judicial branch, or strengthen civic ties within local, national and international communities.”  Many have said the award should have been “retired” after it was presented to Judge Hodges.  That same year, the Florida Bar Standing Committee on Professionalism awarded Judge Hodges its prestigious William M. Hoeveler Judicial Award as a judge “who best exemplifies strength of character, service, and competence as a jurist, lawyer, and public servant.”

His approach to the law as a trial judge is to first determine what the law is, and then to apply it without indulging personal opinions as to inclinations concerning the outcome.  As he says, “Trust the law—the common law system—to get it right.”  He then quotes Justice Brandeis:  “Stare decisis is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right.”  Practitioners who have appeared before Judge Hodges would tell you, though, that his decisions are both based on settled law and settled right—and that is what makes a judge so widely esteemed.