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Staff attorney assists judges

28-year-old Bethany Phillips explains how she aids the county's judiciary system.

With ever-growing caseloads and countless thick files to review, Citrus County's judges don't always have as much time as they would like to conduct legal research and handle administrative matters.

That's why they hired Bethany Phillips, a lawyer who since March 1 has served as the judiciary's staff attorney. She takes over for Keith Schenck, who vacated the position to become general master for dependency court for the 5th Judicial Circuit, which covers Citrus, Hernando, Marion, Lake and Sumter counties.

Staff attorneys handle behind-the-scenes tasks that otherwise would occupy a judge's time. For example, they review legal opinions that lawyers submit in advance of a hearing and also conduct their own research at a judge's request.

Phillips can handle assignments from County Judge Mark Yerman or the four circuit judges who work here full or part time: Patricia Thomas, Barbara Gurrola, Ric Howard and Curtis Neal.

Phillips might be somewhat familiar at the new Citrus County Courthouse: She worked there for two months as a prosecutor in State Attorney Brad King's office. She also prosecuted cases for 10 months in Hernando County.

Phillips, 28, attended Clemson University for one year and completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Connecticut, where she earned a bachelor of science degree in business administration.

Then it was on to law school at the Quinnipiac College School of Law in Hamden, Conn. She earned her law degree, took a job as a clerk for a judge in Hartford and eventually worked for a defense attorney.

Phillips recently discussed her new job with Citrus Times reporter Jim Ross.

Question: Why did you become a lawyer?

Answer: Because I wanted to pursue a rewarding and challenging career, something important to the structure of society.

Q: As you prepared for your legal career, who were your role models?

A: My mother and my father (Edison and Beverly Phillips) have been, are and always will be my role models. They are two people who exemplify the kind of person I want to be: caring, thoughtful, hardworking, benevolent and compassionate, among many other things.

Q: Why did you want this particular legal job?

A: Because I felt it would broaden my experience and horizons in today's judicial system. And it also gave me the opportunity to work with five highly distinguished and reputable judges: Judge Thomas, Judge Gurrola, Judge Howard, Judge Neal and Judge Yerman.

Q: What is one thing the average person would be surprised to know about the court system?

A: Most of the law-related TV shows, although entertaining, really portray a distorted and inaccurate representation of the law.

Q: If you could change one thing about the legal system, what would it be? Why?

A: I would give more discretion back to the judges in terms of sentencing. A lot of the times, the judge is in the best position to decide upon an appropriate sentence.