BROOKSVILLE — Tom Eineman came to Brooksville in 1989 and saw a need for attorneys in an area of law that makes many lawyers shudder.
Family law attorneys work with clients during the most trying times of their lives. Divorces, child custody battles and paternity suits are a routine part of the job.
"You are helping people at often one of the most trying emotional times they're ever going to experience," Eineman said.
Last week, Eineman, 56, shifted from advocate to arbiter when he started as Hernando County's newest Circuit Court judge.
The Spring Hill resident will spend the first three days each week here and then two days in Citrus County. In Hernando, he will cover half of all domestic relations cases — essentially, the family law that he knows so well.
"It's different being on this side of the table," he said Wednesday after holding several hearings in his chambers. "You're making the decisions, but I find it very easy because I have the family docket. It's a comfort zone."
Eineman decided about 10 years ago that the bench was where he wanted to be, and he applied for five judgeships between 2005 and last year.
"It's an opportunity to serve, but in a different capacity," he said. "I think a good judge has to be a good listener, especially in the area of family law."
Gov. Rick Scott called on Jan. 29 to tell Eineman he'd been tapped for the 5th Circuit Court, Group 9 seat left vacant by Marion County Judge Jack Singbush's retirement. Eineman, though, is taking the Hernando-Citrus assignment held by Judge Lisa Herndon, who transferred to Marion County when Singbush retired.
Eineman will handle about 12.5 percent of Hernando's foreclosure cases, an area of the law he needed to study. In Citrus, he will preside over first appearances for criminal defendants on Thursdays and Fridays. He watched three of his Citrus colleagues run the docket to prepare for that task.
Eineman earned a reputation as a calm, level-headed attorney who came to court prepared and who obviously enjoyed practicing family law. In 1994, he obtained his board certification in family law from the Florida Bar, an achievement earned by a fraction of practicing attorneys. Since 2009, he has authored and updated the Florida Family Law Trial Notebook, continuing to do so each year with changes to statutes and new, relevant cases for the reference manual.
"It's nice to have someone in the courtroom who's calm and fully in control of the case and knows the law, and that's why he'll be a great judge," said Hernando Circuit Judge Richard Tombrink Jr., who has presided over many of Eineman's cases during the last 24 years.
Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr., who serves as Hernando's administrative judge, regularly squared off with Eineman in court as a young attorney, and as a judge has presided over many of his family law cases.
"He was easygoing and had a good temperament, but he was a good advocate and he knows the law and went about things in the right way in terms of his ethics and professionalism," Merritt said. "If he told you something, you could rely on it, and all those things got Tom to the bench."
Born in Detroit and raised in nearby Redford Township, Eineman was spared the kind of familial turmoil suffered by so many of his clients.
His mother was a homemaker, and his father worked as a pressman, printing sales brochures and manuals for General Motors. Eineman often sat on the porch waiting for his father to come home from work and wouldn't let him in the house without tossing the baseball around for a while.
"It wasn't a life of wealth by any means, but a lot of love and a roof over our heads," he said.
Eineman thought about studying law when he found out many FBI agents had law degrees. His poor vision derailed the FBI dream, but Eineman stuck with law. He earned a bachelor's degree in political science and psychology from the University of Michigan, where he met his future wife, Wanda Nichols, and got his law degree from Wayne State University.
Wanda's parents moved to Spring Hill in 1987, and Eineman and his wife followed two years later after her father died. She joined the Hernando County School District as an elementary teacher and is now an instructional technology specialist.
After a year at attorney Glen Greenfelder's Brooksville law firm, Eineman struck out on his own, opening an office in Spring Hill, just south of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.
When they're not working, the Einemans love to travel and try to spend as much time as they can at their mountain cabin in Cherry Log, Ga., north of Atlanta.
For the last 20 years, Eineman has volunteered regularly as a judge in Hernando's Teen Court, a program for first-time juvenile offenders who commit misdemeanors such as shoplifting and admit their guilt. The crime stays off the offender's record, and middle and high school students serve as attorneys and jurors in a mock trial to get firsthand experience of the judicial process.
The Einemans' daughter, Emily, volunteered as a mock attorney and went on to earn her law degree. She is now assistant general counsel in the state's Department of Economic Opportunity.
Eineman hopes to continue his volunteer work.
"Just because you become a judge," he said, "doesn't mean you have to stop doing things that benefit the community."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.