CLEARWATER — Ask any of the bailiffs, judges and lawyers who have dined at the Pinellas County Justice Center for years, or most anyone who has had lunch there while serving on a jury.
Most would likely confirm that Charlie Goodsell ran his corner of the courthouse like a chief judge. Mr. Goodsell was the chef behind the grill, the most crowded corner of the cafeteria.
Mr. Goodsell took orders two or three customers in advance. If you were anywhere near the front of the line, "You'd better be ready to spit it out," said defense attorney Richard Watts.
"Best cook I've ever known," said lawyer Gregory "Skip" Olney, a former short-order cook himself. "Charlie ran this kitchen like a huge restaurant — which it is — doing 10 things at once."
Mr. Goodsell has turned up in lots of courthouse conversations this week as regulars mourn his loss. Mr. Goodsell, a courthouse cafeteria fixture for 15 years, collapsed Monday morning at work and died — the result of a heart attack, his family said. Mr. Goodsell was 61. He had planned to retire in September.
The many people who knew him were aware he had health problems. Mr. Goodsell was a large man who walked with a limp and often leaned on a food cart for support. His death has surprised and saddened the lunch crowd.
"We knew him but didn't know him well," said Chief Judge Thomas McGrady, who caught flak from Mr. Goodsell whenever McGrady's beloved Gators lost a football game. Mr. Goodsell also liked to stay abreast of high-profile cases at the courthouse. "He would ask me, 'Well, what's going on here?' " McGrady said. "I'd tell him what I could tell him, and I'd tell him what I couldn't tell him."
Circuit Judge Raymond Gross, sitting with McGrady on Wednesday, called Mr. Goodsell "one of those great leveling forces who treated everybody the same way."
"He was sarcastic and funny," Gross said. "I was very shocked and upset with his passing."
At a table by the back wall, bailiff Bill Hartigan needed only a few words to sum up his interactions with Mr. Goodsell. "He'd yell at you and make you a good meal," Hartigan said.
Others remembered his yearly trips to upstate New York to visit his family, returning with little bottles of maple syrup and chocolates to give away.
Charles Leon Goodsell was born in 1952 in Glens Falls, N.Y., the son of a paper mill worker and a homemaker. He ran cross country in high school, his family said.
He loved horse racing and told people he had been a harness driver early in his life. An uncle, Harold Goodsell, is a member of the Saratoga Harness Hall of Fame.
Mr. Goodsell never married but had a couple of girlfriends over the years. After cooking for the Queensbury Country Club in the Adirondacks, he moved to Florida about 40 years ago, according to a sister, Nanette Goodsell.
The courthouse, built in 1996, was only a couple of years old when Mr. Goodsell took over its grill. He would ride his bicycle from his St. Petersburg apartment to the bus stop, then bike from a bus stop much farther north to the courthouse, arriving by 6:30 a.m.
In his off hours, he enjoyed trips to the simulcast wing of Derby Lane, where he could also play the horses or jai alai. Mr. Goodsell bet the 1-2-4 and the 2-1-4 trifecta with every race or jai alai match, a $2 bet.
He visited his sister Nanette in upstate New York every Fourth of July and called her every First Friday in St. Petersburg, the strains of rock bands in the background. "When I told him I was thinking about buying a house, he said, 'Make sure you have a room for me,' " said Nanette, 45.
Two small plaques, both honoring deceased lawyers, now adorn a courthouse cafeteria wall and table. Olney, the lawyer, said he and other lawyers are preparing to add a third plaque for Mr. Goodsell.
Said Judge Gross: "He was one of those characters you meet going through life, you really don't know well. But they touch you."
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.