1. Business

Tampa judge becomes chief of one of nation's busiest bankruptcy courts

The bankruptcy court for Florida's Middle District, one of the busiest in the nation, is getting a new chief judge.

On Oct. 1, Judge Michael G. Williamson of Tampa will begin a four-year term overseeing a district that includes four divisions and spans a 35-county area from Jacksonville to Fort Myers.

"Judge Williamson brings years of experience, management skills and a deep and abiding love of this court that will take us further along our way to excellence,'' the current chief judge, Karen Jennemann of Orlando, said Friday. Her term expires Sept. 30.

Covering an area that includes nearly 60 percent of Florida's population, the Middle District bankruptcy court is the nation's third busiest in total case filings, with 13,385 so far this year. It is the second busiest for business filings and, on a per judge basis, the first in "pro se'' filings by debtors representing themselves.

Due to the volume of filings, the district has advertised for an additional judge, which would bring the total to 10.

Raised in a military family, Williamson was born in West Point, N.Y, home of the U.S. Military Academy.

"My dad was a West Pointer,'' Williamson said. "My brother went to West Point. My sister was married at West Point. My parents are buried there.''

Williamson, now 64, spent two years at the academy himself before deciding he wanted to be a lawyer. He got his undergraduate degree from Duke University, his law degree from Georgetown University and was managing partner of one of Florida's oldest law firms, Maguire, Voorhis & Wells, which later merged with Holland & Knight.

Appointed to the bench in 2000, Williamson took the place of the venerable Alexander L. Paskay, who continued on in senior status until he retired at 88.

Though he didn't pursue a military career, Williamson has made three trips to Afghanistan, where he helped authorities draft commercial and bankruptcy laws. He has done similar work in Macedonia, Zimbabwe and Russia.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in 2009, Williamson spoke of how much tighter security had become in Afghanistan since his first trip in 2007.

"In past trips I was picked up by a 'soft' car, a nonarmored SUV that you or I might drive. On this trip I was picked up by an armored car, a Toyota Land Cruiser with doors that take all your strength to open and windows an inch thick. You leave the airport and the very nice man that picked up your luggage introduces you to your 'shooter.' He sits in the front seat with an AK-47. The driver is also armed.''

Williamson didn't have much time Friday to accept congratulations on his new position. With Afghanistan becoming even more dangerous, he was preparing to fly to India to meet with Afghan officials there about readying a new bankruptcy law to be introduced in the Afghan parliament.

Contact Susan Taylor Martin at or (727) 893-8642. Follow @susanskate