Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough juvenile court judge reassigned to Plant City

TAMPA — Tracy Sheehan, a passionate, Harley-driving judge who once donated $100,000 from her retirement fund to build a children's shelter after surviving cancer, has lost her job in juvenile court after a war of words with the Public Defender's Office.

Besides reassignment to the satellite courthouse in Plant City, Sheehan faces a 25-page complaint that she abused her authority. It was sent to the state Supreme Court this week by Hillsborough Public Defender Julianne Holt.

Those are the repercussions of a dispute over a boy in her court last week both she and the Public Defender's Office were trying to help. In a public dressing-down, Sheehan had called Assistant Public Defender Kay Murray "an inept supervisor and mean-spirited individual who publicly berates her underlings." Sheehan also issued an order recusing herself from any cases involving Murray.

Manuel Menendez, the 13th Judicial Circuit's chief judge, said Friday that he hadn't formed an opinion on who was right or wrong, but because of Murray's involvement in so many of Sheehan's cases, he was stuck with a "logistical issue."

Menendez said he had been planning to move a judge to the satellite courthouse in Plant City to help out with the growing caseload there in family court. By moving Sheehan, he said, he could solve two problems.

On Thursday, he issued an order creating a new "East Circuit Division T" for civil actions, domestic relations and family law actions. Effective Aug. 6, Sheehan will work there.

In the meantime, she is swapping jobs with family law Judge Caroline Tesche in the downtown Tampa courthouse. Tesche will take over Sheehan's bench in juvenile court on Monday.

Menendez acknowledged Sheehan's reputation as a champion for children since her election as judge in 2007. "She has great passion for children's issues," he said, "but family law is all about children. She is still in the arena."

Holt declined to comment Friday on her complaint to the state Supreme Court.

But the complaint describes in detail Sheehan's dispute with Murray. It involved a boy whom the Department of Juvenile Justice had recommended for placement in a "moderate risk" facility. But the department later decided he would be better served in a "low risk" facility.

Making that happen would take several days. In the meantime, everyone wanted to keep the boy in detention rather than send him home. Sheehan and two public defenders debated a way to keep him — having him sign a statement that going home posed a "physical threat" to his safety.

Later in the day, Murray and other senior attorneys for the Public Defender's Office said such a statement would "perpetrate a fraud on the court."

Sheehan then chastised Murray for not speaking out earlier and then "second-guessing your own attorneys." She said Murray had caused an "unmitigated debacle." (The boy ended up in a moderate-risk facility.)

Murray filed a motion asking Sheehan to recuse herself from the case. Sheehan responded by recusing herself from any case involving Murray.

In Holt's complaint to the Supreme Court, Holt wrote, "Judge Sheehan's blanket order disqualifying Ms. Murray … exceeds her jurisdiction and constitutes an encroachment upon the constitutional authority of the Florida Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law and the discipline of attorneys."

This week, Murray appeared in Sheehan's court every day through Wednesday.

The judge recused herself in eight cases.

Sheehan was recently re-elected without opposition to another six-year term.

On Friday, Sheehan said that her reassignment to Plant City was "Judge Menendez's prerogative."

John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or

Hillsborough juvenile court judge reassigned to Plant City 06/29/12 [Last modified: Saturday, June 30, 2012 12:13am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Who's behind the mysterious butt graffiti all over St. Petersburg?

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — The first butts, perhaps, appeared in April on some steps behind the Sundial shopping plaza.

    A photo of the butt graffiti that has been cropping up around St. Petersburg in the past several months. [CHRISTOPHER SPATA | STAFF]
  2. During the most expensive mayoral election ever, St. Petersburg City Council wants to limit PAC money


    ST. PETERSBURG — In front of a large group of red-shirted campaign finance reform supporters, the St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday started the ball rolling on an ordinance that would limit individual campaign contributions to $5,000 from political action committees.

    A large crowd gathered Thursday to support passage of a controversial measure to limit campaign spending in city elections
  3. Minority business accelerator launch by Tampa chamber to aid black, Hispanic businesses


    A "minority business accelerator" program was launched Thursday by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce geared toward helping black and Hispanic business owners identify and overcome barriers to grow their companies. The accelerator, known as MBA, will provide participants with business tools to cultivate opportunities …

    Bemetra Simmons is a senior private banker at Wells Fargo, The Private Bank. She is also chair of the new minority business accelerator program for the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce. [Photo, LinkedIn]
  4. Peter Budaj loves 'vibe' with Lightning


    Two years ago, nobody was willing to give Peter Budaj a shot, the veteran goalie wondering if he'd ever play in the NHL again.

    Peter Budaj signed a two-year extension with the Lightning, worth $1.025 million per year.
  5. A test the Rays haven't passed

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — I have no idea what to think about the Rays. Not a clue.

    Tampa Bay Rays players celebrate their 8-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.