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13th Circuit Judge Charlotte Anderson retires early

TAMPA — Ongoing health issues have prompted longtime Hillsborough County Judge Charlotte Anderson to submit her resignation, two years before she planned to retire.

Anderson, 65, suffers from a pinched sciatic nerve in her spine and sleep apnea, which includes excessive daytime drowsiness as a symptom. Reluctant to resign, she said she couldn't ignore that her illnesses had prevented her from working since October.

"It's a great job, and I loved doing it," she said. But, she joked, "People just don't like to see their judge up there snoozing away."

Her departure comes as the 13th Judicial Circuit is facing a staffing crunch. In an unusual collision of circumstances, four of the 62 judges, including Anderson, have been unable to serve in the county's courtrooms or will be leaving soon:

• Circuit Judge Rex Barbas, 57, has been out since November after getting seriously injured in a motorcycle crash.

• Circuit Judge Marva Crenshaw, 57, was appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal and starts her new job next week.

• Another judge — court officials declined to say who — is expected to be out for up to a month after an operation.

To fill the void, retired judges, known as senior judges, are being assigned to cover the dockets at a cost to the state of $375 a day. But that remedy has limits. The state allots Hillsborough 397 days of senior judge service each fiscal year, and the circuit has already run through half of it.

Knowing it will take several months for the governor to appoint replacements for Anderson and Crenshaw, courthouse officials expect they'll need an extra 100 days to cover all the dockets until summer.

They have asked the state and other circuits for relief. So far, the 7th Circuit has donated five days. No word yet from cash-strapped Tallahassee officials.

"This is quite unusual for us," said Court Administrator Michael Bridenback. Last year, he said, the circuit had to "grovel" only for a total of four or five senior judge days.

Anderson's resignation takes effect Feb. 2.

Elected to the county bench in 1994, the Dade City native came to the law as a second career. She worked as a schoolteacher before enrolling in Florida State University College of Law at age 37. As a judge, she helped set up the court's domestic violence division.

In her latest court assignment, she heard county civil cases. In her free time, she fosters rescued cairn terriers.

Anderson called her decision to leave difficult. For months, she ignored her doctor's urging to do it. "We're in a bad way in the courthouse, and I just don't like not pulling my weight," Anderson said. "But I really did not have much choice."

Barbas hopes to be back on the bench by spring, officials said.

Meanwhile, Chief Circuit Judge Manuel Menendez will keep playing a chess game of sorts, moving senior and sitting judges around to keep the most sensitive dockets moving.

"Hopefully," he said, "we'll limp to the end of the year."

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

13th Circuit Judge Charlotte Anderson retires early 01/26/09 [Last modified: Monday, January 26, 2009 11:18pm]
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