Judge Fleischer to retire this year

The county's first elected female judge wants senior status.

By COLLEEN JENKINS, Times Staff Writer
Published January 8, 2008

TAMPA - After 23 years on the bench, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Barbara Fleischer said Monday that she will retire at the end of the year.

With two other judges facing mandatory retirement because of their age, there are now three open seats for prospective candidates.

Twenty-nine circuit judges and five county judges are up for election this year.

Fleischer, 65, said it's "the right time" to try other things.

"I have just loved, really loved this job, and that's the way I want to leave it," she said.

The social worker-turned-lawyer won't leave judging entirely.

"I hope to come back and haunt people as a senior judge," she said.

A criminal trial judge, Fleischer is known at the courthouse for her sharp legal mind and stern manner. Chewing gum is a serious offense in her courtroom.

She is a trailblazer, the first woman elected judge in Hillsborough County. She won a county judgeship in 1985, then a circuit spot in 1991.

Her decision to retire comes on the heels of U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew deciding to take senior status on the federal bench. Bucklew was the first woman appointed to the circuit bench in Hillsborough in 1986.

"It's a historical event," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Debra Behnke said of the changes.

Fleischer has three grandchildren to dote on and another on the way next month. She also plans to learn Spanish and Italian and maybe take up teaching. The Innocence Project, which uses DNA testing to exonerate wrongfully convicted death row prisoners, interests her.

Circuit judges Frank Gomez and J. Rogers Padgett also will retire at year's end. Four local lawyers have signaled their plans to run for those seats.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or 813 226-3337.