TALLAHASSEE — Friends, family, judges and lawyers gathered Monday at the Florida Supreme Court to say goodbye to former Justice Ben Overton who died Dec. 29.
Former Gov. Reubin Askew, the man who appointed Overton to the state's highest court, called Overton "an extraordinarily good man'' who led the court during tough times when "things just went wrong.''
Overton joined the court in 1974 as one judge resigned and three others faced impeachment. He was soon joined by Askew appointees Joseph W. Hatchett, the court's first African-American, and Alan Sundberg and Arthur J. England Jr. Together they led the court to better days.
Askew said he realized the state's system of government could not work without "competence and integrity.'' Overton was the first justice selected under a merit retention system Askew pushed in an attempt to eliminate political influence from the process.
Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, former president of Florida State University and the Florida Bar, praised Overton for helping "save the court.'' When Overton was appointed, D'Alemberte was chairman of a House committee investigating the misdeeds of several justices.
"We were very, very lucky to have a governor who cared and replaced his own unbridled powers with a merit selection process,'' D'Alemberte said. "It was important to have someone on the court who was not associated with prior misconduct.''
Former Justice Parker Lee McDonald said the "sad gathering'' also recalled many happy memories of the 15 years he and Overton served together.
McDonald described Overton as "a guy who didn't like the spotlight, but once he got there, showed he deserved to be there.''
Overton, a former Pinellas circuit judge, will be buried in St. Petersburg on Wednesday after a service at noon at St. Anne of Grace Episcopal Church in Seminole.