Sunday, May 27, 2018
News Roundup

Frank H. White, second African-American judge in Pinellas County's history, dies at 84

ST. PETERSBURG — Retired Circuit Judge Frank H. White, a quiet leader whose passion for equal justice under the law spurred a legal career, died Wednesday at a rehabilitation center. He was 84.

He was one of the first African-American lawyers in St. Petersburg and the second black judge in Pinellas County's history.

When he stepped down in 1993, he was the only African-American judge serving in the county.

As a soft-spoken young lawyer in solo practice, then in the public defender's office, Judge White literally towered over opposing lawyers, standing nearly 6 feet 8.

"He was a huge man and his heart was just as big," said former Circuit Judge Ray E. Ulmer Jr., who served as an assistant state attorney before a career on the bench. "Once in a while, you would look across at a sentencing when there would be some young fellow going off to prison, and he'd have a big old tear in his eye."

After serving for years as chief assistant in the public defender's office, Judge White won a county judgeship in 1976.

"He had an ideal temperament for a judge," said Sixth Judicial Circuit Judge Lynn Tepper, who practiced before Judge White in her first years as a lawyer. "It was very obvious that he was very alert to what was going on in the courtroom."

Judge White had been breaking color barriers ever since graduating at the top of his class at Florida A&M University College of Law in 1959. He was invited to join the city's first black law firm working with Fred Minnis and I.W. "Ike" Williams, but decided to open a solo practice on 22nd Street S instead.

"He had his own ideas and he just wanted to pursue that," said Kenneth Rogers, 71, Judge White's brother. He was soon joined by James B. Sanderlin, who would go on to become the first black judge in Pinellas County, and Frank Peterman.

In 1961, Judge White and Sanderlin began research for a lawsuit against the Pinellas School Board that eventually banned segregated schools.

The law firm dissolved after several years and Judge White joined the public defender's office, where peers knew him as unflappable and methodical. He defeated two other candidates to win the county judgeship, presiding over minor criminal cases, traffic cases and civil suits.

In 1981, Gov. Bob Graham appointed him to fill a vacant circuit judgeship.

"He appeared to have a tremendous grasp of constitutional law," Tepper said. "As a county judge, it appeared to me in retrospect that his talents were not well utilized, so it was a perfect fit for him to go on to the circuit bench."

However, the stresses of trying criminal cases with lives at stake was bad for his heart. Reluctantly, he requested permanent reassignment to civil cases. He retired in 1993, a year before the end of his term. At the time, he said he hoped another black judge would replace him. But there would be no more black judges until 1995, when Myra Scott McNary was appointed as a Pinellas County Court judge.

Judge White was born in Decatur, Ala., the eldest of seven children. At age 10, his mother, the principal of a black elementary school, took him to a courtroom to watch a famous trial. Nine black youths known as the "Scottsboro boys" had been accused of raping two white girls. Despite the outcome, decried as an example of racial injustice, a young Frank White was enthralled by the cross-examination of an alleged victim by defense attorney Samuel Leibowitz.

"It was a masterpiece," Judge White recalled years later. "He showed that her story wasn't, and could not have been, true."

His family moved to Winter Haven when Judge White was a teenager. He attended Bethune-Cookman College, was drafted into the Army for two years, then finished his undergraduate studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C. He then married Clearwater native Elaine Carson.

In retirement, he continued a lifelong pursuit of reading and cared for his wife, who by then suffered health problems. Elaine White, his wife of 60 years, died in April.

Judge White also had multiple health problems, including a stroke.

His family is now going through folders containing his notes and some writings, much of which center on racial discrimination.

"He wrote a lot about that," his brother said. "He wanted to challenge some of the longstanding rules and laws that existed that excluded African-Americans from being real citizens."

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

Comments
Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

BIDDEFORD, Maine — A spokesman for former President George H.W. Bush says the 93-year-old was experiencing low blood pressure and has been hospitalized. Spokesman Jim McGrath tweeted just after 2 p.m. Sunday that Bush will likely remain in the hospit...
Updated: 2 hours ago
None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

None injured in Trinity rehab center fire

TRINITY — No one was hurt Sunday morning after a fire broke out at a rehabilitation center.According to Pasco County Fire Rescue, Trinity Regional Rehab Center at 2144 Welbilt Blvd. is running on generator power after the blaze broke out about 10:30 ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Part of Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard closed through at least 5 p.m.

Both southbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard between W. Barcelona and W. Rubideaux streets are closed while the Tampa Water Department repairs a water main break.The repair and roadway restoration work is expected to be completed by 5 p.m. Sunday but ...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

Meteorologists are calling Alberto a ‘subtropical storm.’ What the heck is that?

We’re all waking up to the impacts of Alberto: dreary rain, gusty wind, the reluctant change of Memorial Day plans.But while the effects are routine for storm-weathering Floridians, the category of storm Alberto falls into is a little less familiar. ...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Temple Terrace applauds progress on downtown project

TEMPLE TERRACE — A round of applause from the audience followed the recent vote by the Temple Terrace City Council to negotiate a contract with a company that plans to build and manage luxury apartments in the long-idle downtown redevelopment area.Th...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

Troopers looking for driver in New Port Richey fatal hit-and-run

NEW PORT RICHEY — Florida Highway Patrol troopers are looking for a driver who hit and killed a 46-year-old bicyclist then drove from the scene.Shawn Michael Grady, of New Port Richey, was biking south on Rowan Road south of Massachusetts Avenue abou...
Updated: 6 hours ago
FHP: 30-year-old motorcyclist killed in Hudson crash

FHP: 30-year-old motorcyclist killed in Hudson crash

HUDSON — A 30-year-old man died after he was struck by a car and thrown off the motorcycle he was riding.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Derek Fingerle, of Hudson, was traveling south on U.S. 19 in the center lane about 8:20 p.m. Saturday. M...
Updated: 6 hours ago
A wet Memorial Day weekend continues as Alberto treks north

A wet Memorial Day weekend continues as Alberto treks north

Subtropical Storm Alberto continued its trek north-northeast overnight and is expected to make landfall in the northern Gulf Coast late Monday.The storm was about 85 miles north of the Dry Tortugas as of Sunday morning, producing winds up to 40 mph a...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

Rays journal: After Alex Colome trade, Rays’ closer situation is fluid, Kevin Cash says

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays have had to get creative in how they start games. Now, after Friday's trade of closer Alex Colome, they might have to get creative in how they finish them.How they handle the ninth inning going forward will be a fluid ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

Vegas envy: Is Tampa Bay ready for a Vegas’ birth-to-best story?

What in the name of the 0-26 Bucs is going on here?The breathtaking Vegas Golden Knights are the greatest expansion team in professional sports history. They are the best (or worst) thing to ever happen to our games, having won 51 times during the re...
Updated: 8 hours ago