Family tradition drives Ashley Moody in attorney general’s race
The Moodys are a deep-rooted Plant City family that have served as mayors, bank presidents and judges. Ashley Moody wants to take the family name to Tallahassee.
By William March
Published Oct. 9, 2018
The Moodys have been in Plant City for five generations now, starting when Moreau Estes Moody founded the town’s pharmacy in 1891 and its first bank in 1902.
Big things were always expected from Moodys. They’ve served as mayors, bank presidents, city council members and judges.
The family “inspired their children to be self-confident because of the Moody name,” said Mike Sparkman, a former mayor and family friend. “They were proud of it, and they would take the lead.”
Now a Moody has her eyes set on a higher office: Florida Attorney General.
Ashley Moody, 43, is a former prosecutor, former circuit judge, mother of two and the great-granddaughter of Moreau Moody’s nephew.
In the Republican primary, she outlasted two legislators who dropped out and easily defeated state Rep. Frank White, R-Pensacola, who spent more than $3.5 million of his own family money on negative ads accusing Moody of being a liberal.
Prominent lawyer Martha Barnett, a Democrat who’s known Moody since childhood and backs her today, called her “ambitious not in terms of self-gratification … she’s a smart, can-do person, and is eager to use it in the public arena.”
Moody herself doesn’t like the word “ambitious.”
“I have always focused on using the experience that I’ve had and looking to see how I can use that and be productive and helpful in this world,” she said. “We only have one life.”
What will be next?
Moody surprised many political observers when she suddenly left the comfortable Hillsborough circuit judgeship she was elected to in 2006 and months later announced she was running for attorney general.
But to friends, she was just taking the next step for a woman who had already undertaken two major career changes by her early 30s.
“She’s always had that drive, and each thing she’s done, it was like, ‘I’ve done that and what will be next?’” said Sparkman’s daughter Aimee Solomon, who has been friends with her since sixth grade.
Ashley Moody is the eldest of three children of lawyer Carol Moody and U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr.; she’s also granddaughter of another judge.
At Plant City High School, Ashley Moody built a reputation as a hard worker — National Honor Society, captain of the cheerleading squad and a member of Future Farmers of America.
Not that she ever wanted to be a farmer.
“It was Plant City,” Moody said. “Everybody in student leadership wanted to be in the FFA.”
She was also the Strawberry Festival queen.
Sparkman said the contest is about more than just beauty.
“It’s also about poise, personality, how you handle yourself in public,” he said, adding that she nailed the public speaking competition.
The University of Florida was a family tradition, and Moody received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting there before the gravitational pull of her family’s legal history led her to UF’s law school.
She was at the center of UF public life: honor court defense counsel, treasurer of her sorority and of the Panhellenic Council, chair of various organizations and a UF Hall of Fame inductee.
She was also president of Florida Blue Key, a highly political honorary society that prepped the political careers of people like Lawton Chiles, Bob Graham and Bill Nelson.
A Democrat, then a Republican
In 1993, Moody registered to vote while in high school as a Democrat.
She switched her party affiliation to Republican in January 1998, while the GOP was in the midst of taking over the Florida Legislature. It was also 11 months before Gov. Jeb Bush was elected.
The next year, Bush appointed her to be the student representative on the Board of Regents, a defunct body that once ran the state’s university system.
Her Republican opponents used her five years as Democrat against her in the primary. Plant City, like much of the rural south, was solidly Democratic then. They also accused Moody of changing parties just to land the appointment. Bush, however, was no shoo-in to be elected in 1998.
Moody said her parents had always been conservative, and that her own political personality formed when she went to college.
After law school, she landed a prestigious internship with Barnett, then president of the American Bar Association. No law student would have turned it down, she said, but her ties to the prominent Democrat gave White more to use against her in a GOP primary.
Barnett said she isn’t happy with some of the conservative positions Moody now espouses – opposing Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights for non-violent felons, and expanding gun rights.
Barnett attributed those stances to “a tough primary” and “the current division in party politics where we have to go to extremes.”
Nonetheless, Barnett hosted a fundraiser for Moody and called her “the person I would have confidence in to act based on the law with service to the public in front of their mind … a person of great integrity who views service to the public as a high calling.”
After interning with Barnett, Moody went to work for Tampa’s Holland & Knight law firm, putting her on track for the career she says she expected then, a high-paying law partner.
But after three years, she quit and took a pay cut to become a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. There, she met and eventually married an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency, Justin Duralia. Two years later, she left that job to return to Tampa and run for circuit court judge.
Suing, and supporting, Trump
Despite being attacked as a “liberal judge,” during the primary, Moody assures Republicans that she is quite conservative.
During the primary she took hardline conservative stances on issues such as gun rights and on her campaign website proclaimed herself “100% pro-life.”
Moody was asked whether she wants Florida to join a legal action to overturn the Roe v Wade decision legalizing abortion. She did not offer a specific answer, but said she would “faithfully defend” any such law passed by the Legislature.
She also said Amendment 4, which would restore voting rights of most felons if it passes Nov. 6, is too broad. Instead, she favors “a streamlined process” for restoring rights to non-violent felons to address the huge backlog of those who have already applied.
Moody has proclaimed herself to be a strong supporter of President Donald Trump. However, she and other family members were among those who sued Trump over the failed 2004 Trump Tower Tampa project, which was never built and disappeared into a sea of litigation. The Moody family was among those seeking to get their deposits back. Trump settled the case in 2011.
That “has absolutely no bearing on my support for President Trump,” Moody said. “I wholeheartedly believe he is committed to making the tough decisions necessary to strengthen our country.”
Her opponent, Democrat Sean Shaw, has said that electing Moody would be like electing “Bondi 2.0.” But Moody doesn’t mind being compared to her longtime friend and supporter, incumbent Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Moody says she would have opposed the state’s new ban on anyone ages 18-21 buying a firearm, which was included in the school safety legislation passed after the Parkland school massacre.
“We ask 18-year-olds to pick up a gun and fight for our country, and sometimes die for it,” Moody said. “By law, those who have no parents are completely on their own at 18.” She said the new law “would leave them defenseless.” The NRA is suing to overturn it in federal court.
Moody also favors the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law, allowing open carrying of firearms in public and allowing concealed weapons permits to carry guns on state university campuses.
She has praised Bondi’s tenure and initiatives. Moody says she supports Bondi’s decisions to join a lawsuit backed by 20 Republican-led states to overturn the Affordable Care Act.
Asked whether she has ambitions beyond attorney general, Moody left that door open.
Right now, she said, “I really want to be a dynamic successful attorney general – that’s what I’m focused on.”
Where does Ashley Moody stand on …
▪The Affordable Care Act: Moody agrees with Attorney General Pam Bondi’s decision to join Florida in a lawsuit by Republican-led states to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Moody says the 2010 healthcare law is an example of excessive government intrusion.
▪Gun laws: Moody backs Florida’s “stand your ground” self-defense law and opposes any new restrictions on availability of firearms, calling herself a staunch defender of the Second Amendment. She also opposes the new state law that bans anyone 18-21 from buying a firearm, which was part of the school safety legislation passed after the Parkland mass shooting.
▪Abortion: Moody calls herself “100 percent pro-life.” But she would not say if she would involve Florida in a legal challenge to Roe v Wade. She did say that she would defend any state law challenging Roe.
▪Medical marijuana: Moody promises to defend the way the Legislature has implemented the 2016 amendment legalizing medical marijuana, and said the ban on smokable marijuana “is reasonable.”
▪Restoring felon voting rights: Moody favors “streamlining the process” of restoring felon rights, and would automatically restore the rights of those convicted of “less serious, non-violent” felonies that served their sentence, completed probation and paid restitution. But she opposes Amendment 4, saying the automatic restoration of rights for all except those convicted of murder and sex crimes is “too broad.”
▪Donald Trump: Moody has aligned herself with the president, even though she was among those who sued him a decade ago to recover their deposits in the failed Trump Tower Tampa project. She said that litigation has no bearing on her support of Trump and that she believes he is “committed to making the tough decisions necessary to strengthen our country.”
Political: Republican, spent 10 years as a Hillsborough circuit judge.
Professional: Started her law career as a civil litigator at Tampa’s Holland & Knight law firm, then worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She returned to Tampa and won the judicial election in 2006. She resigned in 2017 to run for attorney general.
Education: Moody attended Plant City High School. She obtained her bachelor’s degree, master’s degree in accounting and law degree from the University of Florida. She also received an advanced law degree from Stetson University College of Law.
Family: Married to Drug Enforcement Administration agent Justin Duralia. They have two children.