published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
From tension and drama, to smiles and laughter
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
SEBRING -- Judge J. David Langford leans back in his chair, so relaxed it is easy to picture him on a shady porch, enjoying the view from the comfort of a rocking chair.
As of June 30, when he retires, Langford will be a free man, his days presiding in court at an end. He has plans for a full retirement, and they don't include any rebuttals, prima-facie evidence or depositions.
Instead, Langford and his wife Anna --- who are both Florida natives and grew up in Frostproof -- have 60 acres of orange grove and some pasture where they keep cattle.
The judge plans to spend time working with his hands, and looks forward to volunteering more at his church.
The reason he is retiring at 62 has everything to do with his family.
"My father retired at 65," Langford said. "He died just shy of his 70th birthday. He only lived about four years." The judge wants more than four years of retirement, and he wants to spend the time with his wife and family.
Married for 39 years, the Langfords have three grown children, two daughters and a son. Both daughters have children of their own.
"I'm proud of them," Langford said. "Megan was teacher of the year in Okeechobee, Mandy is an attorney in Vero Beach, and James (David Jr.) is an engineer in Fort Myers." The grandchildren are 8 years or younger.
One of the places the family will gather, Langford said, is the generation's old family cabin in the North Carolina woods -- the one with the shady porch, the rocking chair and the view.
"Last year we only spent 13 days at the cabin out of 365," Langford said. "I intend to use it more." Getting ready to step away from the judicial system after about 26 years on the bench, Langford looked back on how different everything was when he started working in the Highlands County Courthouse in 1975.
"The biggest change is how much the population has grown," the judge said. "In 1975, there were about 42,000 people, now it's 100,000.
"When I started as an assistant state attorney there was only one full-time and one part-time position. Today there are seven or eight."
Back when Langford was starting out, there was only one resident judge in Highlands County and none in Hardee. Today Hardee has its own resident judge and Highlands County has four circuit court judges and one county court judge.
Because circuit court judges rotate divisions every 18 months to two years, Langford said his career remained challenging and never boring. From Jan. 1, 2007 to June 30, 2011, he served as chief judge.
Despite the larger case loads, Langford said crime itself hasn't changed all that much. "People are people," he said. "There will always be differences of opinion and conflicts."
One thing Langford misses is the way things were more relaxed then.
"All four doors into the building were open all day. People just came and went as they liked," he said.
Langford said the reason he announced his retirement early is to give the 10th Judicial Circuit time to find a replacement before he leaves. Appointing a judge is a time-consuming process. All applications must be reviewed by a committee that narrows the list down to six. That list is sent to the governor who makes the final selection.
"Consistency is important," Langford said, "one person doing the same thing." When judges stand in for one another, or cover a vacancy, the courtroom changes with them.
Kenny Vincent, a deputy sheriff at the courthouse, has been watching judges come and go for a long time.
"There's nobody finer," Vincent said of Langford. "He's as fine a person as you ever want to meet. He's just a perfect gentleman. There is no facade. And that's not just my opinion; it's shared by everybody who knows him."
"Sixty-two is a good age to retire," Langford said. "I'm ready to sit and look at the mountains, spending time with our grand kids and enjoying days at church."
Last words of advice?
"Just do what your parents taught you, and if you say you're going to do something, do it."
Well Respected (by: Blindman - 3/20/2013)
One man, well respected more than he could ever know.
It's sad new's (by: Jim Terry - 3/18/2013)
He was always made sure he got all the true facts before making a judgement. He was one of the few here in Florida , that didnt let someone's wealth figure into his judgement. They could be dirt poor and come out with a legal and just judgement, which we are lucky to have a few more in Highlandsl like him. But it is kinda scary, cause it shows how old we are all getting when we thought we were sttill young.When we see all these people leaving
Judge Langford (by: Richard Peavy - 3/18/2013)
He is a fine man, committed to Christian principles. He has served in the same area he grew up in. Not aware of many who can do that. He will be missed on the bench. Best of luck in these next 'life chapters'
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