NEW PORT RICHEY — Growing up, William Webb never had law on his mind.
He always wanted to help people, and thought the best way to do that was to become a doctor, inspired by a man who treated the poor in Laos.
But after spending a few years in a hospital lab during his senior year of high school and as an undergraduate at the University of Toledo in Ohio, he decided medicine wasn't for him.
"It's hard to put my finger on exactly what made me decide," Webb said. "But the decision was clear in my mind. I did not want to go to medical school."
His wife, Mary, encouraged him to try something new. The biology and chemistry major enrolled in the University of Toledo College of Law, where he got a full scholarship and graduated in two years.
More than four decades later, after a storied legal career — nearly all of it spent in Pasco County — Webb, 67, retired last week as a circuit judge in the 6th Judicial Circuit, where he served on the bench for 21 years. He spent 13 of those years presiding over Pasco's Unified Family Court, where he addressed issues ranging from the division of property after divorce to termination of parental rights.
Before that, Webb spent nearly 20 years in private practice in New Port Richey. During that time, he also spent 11 years as one of Pasco's top assistant state attorneys, eight years part time and three years full time, he said. Attorneys can no longer split their time between the State Attorney's Office and a private practice.
Webb developed a reputation on the bench for being demanding of attorneys and "not putting up with a lot of baloney," he said.
"Because, of course, I'd heard it all before. In fact, I'd said it all before, so I would know what pitch was coming next," he said. "So, yes, there are members of the bar who probably don't care for me. I can live with that."
While law wasn't how he planned to help people as a kid, the field afforded Webb a chance to make an impact no matter what role he was in.
In private practice, he said, he only represented people in legitimate cases. As a state prosecutor, he tried hard to ensure that the public was represented just as well as the defendant.
"The state wasn't paying nearly what the defendant was paying for the lawyer, but I always felt the people were getting more than their money's worth for the prosecution of criminal cases," he said.
"As a judge, particularly in Unified Family Court, with the dependency cases, as well as criminal cases, the opportunity is often present to make a substantial difference in people's lives," Webb said in his office during his last week in a robe.
That's why he overloaded New Year's Eve, his last day of work, with foster parent adoptions.
"If they can finalize the adoptions before the end of the year, there are tax advantages for them," he said. "So if I can do a little something to help them out, I want to do that for them."
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His wife, of course, told him he just wanted to go out with a bang.
But it often was a thankless job. Webb said he received death threats for his work with the Unified Family Court, and he carried a gun with him to work, sometimes even into the courtroom.
"And I have no love of firearms," he said. "I've viewed it as a necessity."
For Webb, the timing was just right to retire. He said he didn't realize how much time his job took up until his wife, a former nurse who reinvented herself as a professor, retired last year from the University of South Florida. Even when he was at home, he said, his mind was often elsewhere, thinking about cases.
"I really love my wife and my family, and I really do want to spend more time with them," Webb said. "That's all there is to it."
He has no long-term plans other than to become a senior judge, taking the bench in special circumstances. He will enjoy the 2013 Porsche 911 S convertible his wife recently bought him as a retirement gift. He and his wife have talked about starting a coffee shop or a garden nursery, but, he said, "it's just talk."
Looking back on his career, Webb said he thinks he was successful.
"There are few things more satisfying than when you see a parent rectify a bad situation, know that it's going to have some longevity, and that the child can go back to the mother, or the father, or a combination, safely," he said. "I think that's what I've tried to do."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or email@example.com. Follow @josh_solomon15.