WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
After a distinguished 22 years on the bench, the judge will leave at the end of the year.
ST. PETERSBURG - Pinellas-Pasco Judge Susan Schaeffer, a widely known and respected Tampa Bay area judge, will retire at the end of the year after 22 years on the bench.
Schaeffer, 62, a heavy smoker through much of her career, confirmed last month that she is undergoing treatment for lung cancer. In a memo to her colleagues Tuesday, Schaeffer said most of her cancer is in remission after chemotherapy.
"It's time to smell the roses!" as she pursues interests such as golf, the piano and travel, Schaeffer told her colleagues. She sent a letter to Gov. Jeb Bush on Friday announcing she will retire Dec. 31.
Schaeffer, who has been on medical leave, said she and her doctors think that by the time treatment is finished in February the cancer will be in complete remission.
"Cancer has given me a new set of priorities, and a new perspective on life," said Schaeffer, who has declined an interview related to her health. "I want to spend quality time with my friends, and tell them how much they have meant to me and how they have enriched my life. Retirement will provide me the necessary time to do this."
Judge David Demers, chief judge of the circuit, said Schaeffer's "contributions to the court system in general, to the Sixth Judicial Circuit, to the state of Florida and its people are absolutely immeasurable. And she has done it with great courage and we will never be able to replace her."
Schaeffer has been a fixture of the local judiciary since then-Gov. Bob Graham appointed her in 1982. She was a finalist for a Florida Supreme Court seat in 1997 and served six years as the chief judge of the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit.
Schaeffer has presided over some of the circuit's biggest cases, from the trial of fallen minister Henry Lyons to killer Oba Chandler, whom she sentenced to death.
Schaeffer graduated first in her class at Stetson University College of Law. Even before she became a judge, Schaeffer was known as a first-rate lawyer who was fun to watch at trial.
"Thank you to each of you who sent me encouragement and support in whatever form," wrote Schaeffer in her memo to other judges. "Prayers have been answered and good thoughts and vibes have gotten through."