Posted permission of The Lakeland Ledger
Judge Known for Intellect, Discipline
Monday Profile: Roger Alcott
Monday, February 28, 2000
By SUZIE SCHOTTELKOTTE
BARTOW -- Now that Lakeland attorney Roger Alcott has become a circuit judge, his friends keep asking if he'll part with his 1987 Dodge Dakota pickup truck -- the one with 227,000 miles on the odometer.
Never, comes the response from the man who has never bought a new car in his life.
"It's just getting broken in," he said. "Besides, I want to be the same person I've always been. Just because I wear a robe in the courtroom doesn't mean I don't still take the trash out at home."
On Wednesday, Alcott will take his formal oath as circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit, including Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties. He was appointed to the bench in January by Gov. Jeb Bush to replace Robert Pyle, who retired in October. The circuit totals 29 judges, 19 in circuit court and 10 in county court.
The investiture ceremony at the Bartow Civic Center is a formality. In reality, Alcott, who will turn 57 on March 11, took the oath Feb. 14 and began hearing cases in the family law division that week.
Colleagues know Alcott as a lawyer with a keen legal mind and a quick wit and as someone who's always optimistic. He's fiercely punctual and has little tolerance for untimeliness in others.
But mostly, his friends know him as a tightwad who can pinch a penny until it squeals. Even though he'll earn $117,020 annually as a circuit judge -- nearly three times Polk's median family income of $42,100 last year -- they don't expect him to change.
It's a personal trait he wears like a badge of honor.
"He's proud of it," said Charlie Guthrie, special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tampa. "He's tight, and not just with his own money. We worked together when he was a statewide grand jury prosecutor, and he was even cheap with the state's money. When three of us would travel, Roger would sleep on a rollaway bed before he'd get a separate room for himself, and the state was picking up the tab."
Like most facets of Alcott's life, his thrifty spending habits are rooted in the Iowa farmland where he was raised. Born March 11, 1943, in Charles City, Iowa, just across the border from Minnesota, Roger Allan Alcott was the youngest of the late Carlisle and Ruth Alcott's three sons.
As a schoolboy, he'd be up at 4 a.m. to ride the dairy farm circuit with his father, gathering full milk cans for processing at the dairy in town. After school, father and son would collect the empty cans and return them to the community's farmers.
Five decades later, Alcott still rises before the chickens, arriving at his law office long before 7 a.m and often at the courthouse by 7:45 a.m.
"The Navy may have had something to do with that, too," said Alcott. After high school, he spent seven years in the Navy as an electronics and computer systems technician on aircraft carriers in the Pacific during the Vietnam War.
Throughout his youth and while in the Navy, Alcott harbored visions of himself in a courtroom. But his practical side demanded a backup plan, so he studied education in Orlando at the University of Central Florida, at that time called Florida Technological University. He graduated with honors in 1971 with a bachelor's degree in education, becoming the first in his family to earn a college degree.
While attending college in Orlando, Alcott met his wife, Laura, now a guidance counselor at Lakeland Highlands Middle School. They married in 1971 and have two daughters, Patricia, 22, who's attending Polk Community College, and Beth, 18, a student at UCF.
"Roger was giving a speech in American Lit about the Federalist Papers, and his delivery was excellent," Laura Alcott recalled. "I knew then that this guy has got something special. I wasn't surprised at all when he told me that he wanted to pursue a legal career. He has the personality for something in that order -- he's outgoing and is an excellent speaker."
Though he majored in education, Alcott's first love remained the law.
"I was looking at education as a second profession," he said. "I'd already decided that I wanted to go to law school. I was a child of the 1960s -- with all the civil unrest going on. So much of that had a legal basis. I guess I felt like I could make a difference by going into the law. Maybe one of these days I will."
During that time, he also served as a legal adviser to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and was appointed by then Gov. Bob Graham to statewide grand jury prosecutor, focusing primarily on drug cases.
Since 1985, Alcott has been in private practice in Lakeland handling criminal defense and divorce cases.
"It's interesting to make that transition from presenting the evidence as a prosecutor to challenging it as a defense attorney," he said, "but I think that has made me a more well-rounded lawyer. I think it will give me a strong perspective on the bench because I've been on both sides."
Assistant State Attorney John Aguero said that Alcott has an ability to identify the strengths and weaknesses of a case.
"He has a good sense of fairness," Aguero said. "When he's approaching a prosecutor with a proposal to settle a case, that proposal isn't going to be something ignorant. There are a lot of lawyers out there, and not all of them can put their finger on (a reasonable settlement) like Roger can.
"He's very middle of the road. He's not a bleeding heart, but he doesn't want to lock them all away either."
When he takes the bench, Alcott brings the perspective of a lawyer who has been in the trenches and the courtroom every day doing the job, said Chief Circuit Judge Charles B. Curry.
"He's a really experienced practitioner who, for a long time, has been in the courtroom doing what lawyers do," he said. "A lot of us here are trial lawyers but haven't done that for a long time. Roger brings a current perspective of how things work from the other side."
Alcott's road to a circuit judgeship hasn't been without its bumps. Though he's never campaigned to be elected judge, his name has been presented to the state's governor four times as one of three candidates to fill a vacancy on the bench.
And four times, Alcott was passed over.
"Back in the 1980s, I suspect that I didn't have the overall experience that's needed for this job," he said. "I had no private practice experience, and that's given me a perspective that I think will help me on the bench. It gives balance to your perspective.
"I never became disillusioned," he said. "It was a question of experience."
LIFE ON THE FARM
"It's quiet and peaceful," he said. "I enjoy my home here in Lakeland, but there's something about getting out in the country that's like nothing else. Maybe I'm getting back to my roots. Maybe it's the physical labor of working the farm -- repairing fence and working in the barn. Maybe it's that nobody really knows who I am or what I do for a living. Up there, I'm just another farmer, working the land."
Eventually, Alcott plans to retire to the farm, to his roots.
"It's ingrained in him," his wife said. "It's his heritage, that Midwest commitment to the land."
But Alcott's not ready to start building his retirement home just yet.
"I've been looking forward to this judgeship for a long time," he said. "I plan to enjoy every minute of it that I can."
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