Judgeship Ends Barrier

Gov. Bush selects first black woman to serve on the Polk County bench. Karla Foreman Wright

Saturday, May 27, 2000

By BILLY TOWNSEND The Ledger

BARTOW -- Karla Foreman Wright, a veteran attorney for the state and Polk County, will become the first black woman to hold a Polk judgeship, Gov. Jeb Bush announced Friday.

Wright replaces Judge Charles L. Brown, who was appointed to the 10th Judicial Circuit Court in January.

"I'm pleased, honored and excited at the opportunity," Wright said.

She will be only the second black judge to serve on the Polk County bench. Former Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Judge Timothy Coon to the county court in 1995. He remains there today.

Wright acknowledged the historic overtones of her appointment.

"I'm certainly proud to see that barrier broken," Wright said. "It's unfortunate that we're in the year 2000 when it occurs."

Bush chose Wright, 50, from among five nominees selected by the local Judicial Nominating Commission, which interviewed 23 applicants before sending the names to Bush in March.

Wright said the governor called her at home Thursday night with the news.

"Karla has faithfully served justice by consistently upholding the highest standards of the legal profession," Bush said in a statement released Friday.

A graduate of Northwestern University Law School in Chicago, Wright moved to Polk County in the mid 1980s and got a job as an assistant public defender.

She left after two years and began work with the Florida Department of Transportation. She joined Polk County government five years later in 1992 and has worked there ever since in County Attorney Mark Carpanini's office.

County commissioners must still release Wright from her contract, which commission Chairman Bruce Parker said is simply a formality.

"This is the opportunity of a lifetime for an individual," Parker said. "We're all thrilled for her."

Wright's chief area of expertise as an attorney has been real estate and employment law.

But Chief Circuit Judge Charles Curry said she will be assigned to criminal cases.

Curry said Wright had appeared before him at various times as a lawyer.

"I'm very familiar with her as a practitioner," he said. "I think she'll do a tremendous job."

Republican Bush's appointment of Wright, a registered Democrat, crosses party lines.

Wright said it reflects the governor's commitment to a judiciary that mirrors the state's diversity.

Bush's office reports that 26 percent of his judicial appointments have gone to minorities, with 16 percent going to blacks.

Since Bush took office in 1999, the total number of minority judges in Florida has increased by 19 percent, according to his office.

Wright is active in a number of local organizations, including the Polk Historical Commission, Girls Inc. and the Peace River Center for Personal Development.

She has also been a member of the Bartow branch of the NAACP.

Ironically, Wright has been a key figure in defending the county against a discrimination lawsuit brought by the Florida NAACP on behalf of several employees and former employees.

"I support the historical goals of the NAACP, even though I may disagree with specific political or litigation initiatives," she said.

Wright is married to Dr. Victor J. Wright, a podiatrist with a practice in Bartow and Sun City.

The couple have two sons, Jahi, 24, and Ameer, 20.

The other finalists for the judgeship were Rex Dimmig, an assistant public defender; Robin Matis-Jackson, a Bartow lawyer; Mike McCarthy, a Lakeland lawyer; and Peter Sternlicht, an assistant state attorney.

The position pays $104,000 a year.


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