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Hillsborough judge hands down hope


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 15, 2001


The fourth in a series of first-person stories appearing in February, Black History Month.

* * *

Perry Little, a judge in Hillsborough County for 23 years, has spent the last four hearing juvenile cases. Though many judges would consider it a dismal assignment with few glimpses of hope, this is where he wants to be.

Taped to a wall in his chambers, next to crayoned pictures by his 7-year-old daughter, is a photograph of a smiling young woman in a Navy uniform. Once she stood before him in court, a girl in trouble.

This is his story.

* * *

I was born in Georgia. My father was the first in his immediate family to go to college. I was the first lawyer.

My mom was a schoolteacher. She died when I was 51/2. From 1950 to 1957 I lived with my grandparents. I don't think they went beyond the fifth grade, but they saw the value in education. Every time there was a school function, they were there. That stuck with me.

I know I had positive role models in my life, my grandparents and my dad, and I think that was critical in developing my work ethic, a chance to be successful.

I'm here because we have a high percentage of minorities coming through the juvenile court system. I want to demonstrate to them by my presence: You can be successful. You don't have to come from a wealthy family. You don't have to have every advantage.

It's hard to get feedback every day, but I can give you two examples. There was one young lady who was on the verge of getting sent to a residential program. She and her mother pleaded with me. Something about her demeanor or something led me to take a chance.

This young lady just finished basic training. She sent me a picture. This picture speaks volumes. I'd like to say they all worked out, but that's not true.

I was at a movie two years ago with my daughter. It was Stuart Little. There were these two teenagers behind me raising Cain. There was a little cursing. But before I could do anything, one of them leaned forward and asked me if I was Judge Little. I said yes. They remained quiet for the rest of the movie.

Hey, if you're looking for positive reinforcement every day, you're out of luck. You just have to believe you're making an impact. That's what keeps me going.

- Interview by Times staff writer Sue Carlton

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