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Judge Edwin Malmquist had no law degree but did have loads of charisma

Here are some of the jobs our recent county judges held before they ascended to the bench:

Prosecutor.

Public defender.

Assistant county attorney.

Baker at Publix.

"Recent" is a relative term, of course. But consider that Edwin Malmquist, the former baker and judge who died Monday at age 94, wore a robe to work until January 1989, when the county was more or less in its current form. Citrus as an economic force was dead. Spring Hill had been around for more than 20 years, and Hernando's population was closing in on 100,000.

How was this possible so late in our history, a judge without a legal degree? Well, because of a situation definitely not recognizable to modern Floridians: a shortage of lawyers, especially in small rural counties. At one time, Malmquist was one of four county judges who lacked a legal degree in the 5th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hernando, said veteran Brooksville lawyer Jimmy Brown.

There was another reason Malmquist made it to the bench and stayed there. He was a pure politician — not in the modern sense of being willing to step on his mother's neck to get ahead, but in the older meaning that he never met a stranger.

"If there were two people who stopped on a street corner, before they finished their conversation Judge Malmquist would be there talking to them," Brown said.

"I bet he shook everybody's hand in Hernando County," Bill Eppley, a Brooksville lawyer, said of Malmquist's first campaign, in 1976. He beat his complacent opponent, Monroe Treiman, another nonlawyer who had held the judge's job since 1948, by six votes.

"Monroe didn't campaign," Eppley said.

As a judge, Malmquist was so personable that even people he ruled against walked out of his courtroom marveling about what a decent fellow he was.

"Judge Malmquist was just a wonderful human being," Eppley said.

And describing him as a supermarket baker is a disservice to his early career, said his daughter, Diane Cook, of Vancouver, Wash., one of Malmquist's three surviving children.

He owned a bakery in Monticello, Ind., and was such an accomplished cake decorator that he was invited to work at the inaugural banquets of President John F. Kennedy in 1961. There, he made some of the political connections that helped get him an appointment as a city judge in his hometown.

He was also a pilot who owned a small airplane that he liked to fly down to his vacation home in Brooksville, his daughter said. Malmquist and his wife, Catherine, who survives him, moved their family here permanently after the "super outbreak" of Midwestern tornadoes in April 1974 destroyed much of Monticello. The job at Publix, Cook said, was a stopgap as he eyed the county judge's job.

How did he do on the bench? Pretty darned well, considering.

He was fair-minded and smart and asked good questions, said retired Circuit Judge Jack Springstead, who won the election in 1988 to replace Malmquist. Also, Springstead said, the misdemeanors and low-dollar civil cases Malmquist handled in County Court usually didn't require great legal knowledge.

But when they did, Malmquist's lack of a degree could be a handicap, said Peyton Hyslop, another longtime county judge. One local lawyer, Hyslop said, still talks about the time Malmquist had denied so many defense motions that he finally granted one to even the score. It wasn't until lawyers started packing up their briefs that Malmquist realized he'd dismissed the case.

And when it came to the rules covering the admission of evidence, Hyslop said, Malmquist often had to rely on prosecutors.

Florida voters decided to end the era of nonlawyer judges in 1984, when they passed a constitutional amendment requiring a legal degree for judges and capped the age at which they could run for office at 69, which eventually forced Malmquist to resign.

The rules had changed, in other words. And even as they applied to decent, honest judges like Malmquist, it was probably about time.

.Services

Edwin Malmquist

Visitation for retired Hernando County Judge Edwin Malmquist will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Turner Funeral Home, 14360 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill. The funeral will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at Christ Lutheran Church, 475 North Ave. W, Brooksville, with visitation from 10 a.m. until service time.

Judge Edwin Malmquist had no law degree but did have loads of charisma 11/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 8:12pm]
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