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Grimes retires from Florid Supreme Court

Florida Supreme Court justices suspended the high court's typical formality Thursday to say goodbye to one of their own.

Stephen Grimes formally bid farewell to his six fellow justices and other colleagues in an hour-long ceremony at the Supreme Court. Grimes, who will celebrate his 70th birthday this month, is retiring after almost 11 years on the court. Court rules require justices to retire at age 70.

Longtime friend Gov. Lawton Chiles on Thursday remembered going to high school in Polk County with Grimes during the year the conservative justice played on the school's championship baseball team.

"Justice Grimes, you leave some big shoes to fill," Chiles said. "Someone will be able to succeed you, but you will not exactly be replaced."

Other former Supreme Court justices and friends recalled Grimes as a hard worker, consensus builder and top flight legal mind. Former clerks gave him a wooden chair engraved with the seal of his alma mater, the University of Florida.

Grimes seemed genuinely embarrassed by the attention and gave credit to his wife, Fay, to whom he read words from the song Wind Beneath My Wings. Grimes said he was not sure what he would do when he retires.

"I can never remember a day as judge that I didn't look forward to going to work," Grimes said. "It's been really fun."

There are several candidates for Grimes' seat, including Pasco-Pinellas Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer.

The appointment has taken on a special significance in the light of a recent 4-3 decision on the use of the electric chair in Florida. Last spring, the chair malfunctioned and caused Pedro Medina's head to catch fire during his execution.

Grimes was in the majority in the opinion approving use of the chair.

Lawmakers this week have expressed fear that the split of opinion could endanger the future use of Florida's electric chair and are exploring lethal injection as an option.

Grimes began his legal career after serving in the Navy from 1951-53. He settled in Bartow and joined the Holland & Knight law firm.

He was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in 1973, and to the Supreme Court in January 1987. He was chief justice from 1994 to 1996.