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Sunday Conversation: Judge Daryl Manning brings military order, sensitivity to bench

In 2016, Noah Walker, Daryl Manning's "little" in the Big Borthers Big Sisters program, participated in Manning's investiture. Manning serves of the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay. | TIMES FILES
In 2016, Noah Walker, Daryl Manning's "little" in the Big Borthers Big Sisters program, participated in Manning's investiture. Manning serves of the board for Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay. | TIMES FILES
Published Nov. 12, 2017

Daryl Manning has practiced law for more than 20 years but he won his first case when just a teenager in his New York City hometown. Manning's high school created rules that he thought unfair. He complained to his parents, but his pleas fell on deaf ears. If he wanted to change things, they said, he would have to settle the matter with the administration himself.

Manning took on the challenge. He organized other students to rally around his cause and solicited and received a meeting with school leaders. After hearing his arguments, the administration agreed to change some of the rules.

The experience sparked Manning's infatuation with the law, order and justice.

"From that moment, I knew there was a proper way to go about changing things," he said. "Get involved, understand the rules, and come up with a viable option.

From then on, I wanted to be an advocate."

Manning deepened his legal knowledge while a student at St. Johns University School of Law and the Army Judge Advocate Legal Center and throughout his career as a JAG officer in the United States Army, where he enlisted while just 17 years old. He served several tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait before retiring in 2015 as a Lieutenant Colonel.

Today, Manning's passion for the law and stickler for order is on display daily at the George Edgecomb Courthouse where he hears civil cases as a judge in the 13th Judicial Circuit Court.

Manning recently spoke to Tampa Bay Times correspondent Kenya Woodard about the importance of community service, leadership, and the two things that make Hillsborough County a real gem.

Each jurist runs their court differently from another. You're patient with those who appear before you and methodically gather information before ruling. How did you develop your style as a judge?

I realize the things that I say and do have a direct impact on people's lives. I take it seriously to do justice to these cases and the litigants. I want to have all the information available and have it in an orderly manner.

Many of our defendants are pro se. They don't have an attorney for a variety of reasons. As they come to court we want them to be able to share their stories. Also, so the individual can follow, I want to ensure there is an orderly process. Procedure is important. Evidence is important. Clarity is important. I ask just enough questions to ensure I get the full picture.

I know that line not to cross as I'm on the bench. I cannot be the prosecutor or the defense. I know how far I can go as a judge to maintain my impartiality but get enough testimony to render a fair decision.

Because their decisions instantly can change someone's life and affect the lives of others, judges are regarded as among the top leaders in a community. What's your take on leadership?

True leadership is combining integrity with compassion and weighing the plight of both parties. For example, in an eviction case it's difficult if you have a situation where you have a family where someone's lost a job and now they are a couple of months behind in paying rent. At the same time, I've got the landlord saying I can't pay my mortgage if (the tenant) is late with the rent. That's where true leadership has to kick in with integrity and combining that with compassion and weighing the plight of both parties.

Making those kinds of decisions can impact both parties and have a ripple effect. I look to see how matters can be resolved amicably for both parties. I realize that my actions can have long-lasting impact on people's lives. True leadership requires me to look beyond today.

It's understandable that as a veteran, you're sensitive to this group's plight. Earlier this month, you and other judges presided over Veterans Outreach Court, a special convening that helps veterans easily resolve fines and legal fees. What's the importance behind a special court just for veterans?

We often wonder why veterans aren't doing the things they are capable of doing. I look to see if there's anything we can do to get them back on track. One issue is legal hurdles that they can't overcome. We don't excuse them from complying with the law, but when they have these minor transgressions and can't take care of them, they can slip through the cracks and over the years, (the fines) grow into thousands of dollars.

You talk with them and you know they have the ability to do great things. (After Veterans Outreach Court) they're back on track.

If someone can assist them with that they can be productive members of society. I don't expect them to come back to the courthouse and say "thanks." I do expect them to go on with their lives. That's the satisfaction I get from participating in that program.

You're big on community service: board member for A Kid's Place of Tampa Bay, longtime participant in Big Brothers Big Sisters America, and a volunteer for Meals on Wheels. Why is serving others so important to you?

I've been blessed and I think those who have been blessed should share with others.

I really enjoy Meals on Wheels. It gives me a break from the courthouse and you're dealing with people in the community.

I deliver meals once a month to homebound individuals. That might be their only hot meal for the day. It may be the only contact they have with anyone. Many of them live alone. They don't have someone to come in and clean up. Their family members aren't prevalent in the home.

It's such a different role that I play. In the courtroom, I am in charge. When I'm delivering meals, I'm at their disposal. It's an interesting reversal of roles.

You've had a 30-year military career that took you all over the world. But you chose to make Hillsborough County your home. What is it about this area that's kept you here?

It's such a diverse community. When people come here, they bring their rich culture. They bring their ways of doing things. They bring a whole different outlook to the community that make it stronger. The diversity is tremendous. I love it.

I've raised two children here in Tampa. It's a family-friendly place. There's so much activity. Those things make this a great community.