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Carlton: Judge abruptly quits — and is something big to come?

Hillsborough Circuit Judge 
Ashley Moody steps down on April 28.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody steps down on April 28.
Published Apr. 5, 2017

Like barbershops and beauty parlors, local courthouses are known hotbeds of gossip. Some of it even turns out to be true.

So when Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody — elected at age 31 in 2006 as the youngest judge in Florida — up and quit the bench the other day for no reason anyone could figure out, speculation started.

There was no whiff of scandal. And who in their right mind would give up the pretty-much-job-for-life of presiding over a courtroom? A gig that gets you respect, a robe, a lot of interesting cases and a great parking space?

Moody's three-sentence letter to the governor offered no clue as to why she is resigning "effective 11:59 p.m. Friday, April 28, 2017." It says only that she'll be "forever grateful" for the trust the citizens gave her.

So let's consider some other interesting things happening in the legal world around here.

Might Moody — notably a former federal prosecutor (and Strawberry Festival queen, as news stories like to mention) — have her eye on the job of U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida?

The desk chair over there in the chief prosecutor's office is probably still warm. Former occupant A. Lee Bentley III left it mere weeks ago, one of 46 U.S. attorneys across the country asked to resign by President Donald Trump's administration.

Moody told me this week that while her move may surprise some people, she decided this neither quickly nor lightly.

"I felt like it was time to serve our community and system of justice in different ways," she says.

System of justice, you say?

As a potential U.S. attorney, perhaps? She would neither confirm nor deny. But did I mention she is also a registered Republican?

Hers has not been a dull 11-year judgeship in criminal, civil and juvenile courts. She was nearly a decade younger than anyone else on the Hillsborough bench when she was elected in 2006. She's since become a mother who is married to a federal drug enforcement agent. She's the judge who ruled that Trevor Dooley did not have immunity under the "stand your ground" law when he shot and killed a man in a pointless dispute over whether a kid was allowed to skateboard in a neighborhood park.

Yes, stories have been known to bring up her reign as Strawberry Festival queen. But she's also been University of Florida Blue Key president, a student member of the state Board of Regents and assistant to the American Bar Association president. And here's one for you: As a lawyer at Holland & Knight, she twice was female champion in the firm's chicken wing eating contest, downing 46 wings one year. It's one of her favorite accolades.

By the way, this town will not lack for judicial Moodys. Her father is longtime federal judge James Moody Jr., and her brother James Moody III made the recent list of lawyers to be interviewed for two open circuit court seats.

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Maybe Ashley Moody wants to be one of those judges on TV? Or one more from the courthouse rumor mill: Might she be a candidate to replace Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi should the rumor about Bondi getting a D.C. job from Trump prove true?

"I see this as an opportunity going forward to serve in other capacities," is all Moody says, for now.

Contact Sue Carlton at