When retired First District Court of Appeals Judge, Judge Larry Glenn Smith, age 90, died on June 4 in Panama City, my mind went into a whirl as I reflected on just how long I had known the Honorable Judge and the many areas of activity in which I had known him.


When retired First District Court of Appeals Judge, Judge Larry Glenn Smith, age 90, died on June 4 in Panama City, my mind went into a whirl as I reflected on just how long I had known the Honorable Judge and the many areas of activity in which  I had known him.



A picture in my collection shows  him in a group of retired judges, possibly  20 years ago. My mind went  into deep thought of how I came to personally know all of those in the picture.   I want the article today to be a series of narratives with some history on each of the honorable gentlemen who  served untiringly in the justice system  in various levels of the court.



I first heard the name, Lawyer Larry Smith, when my oldest brother, James F. (Jim) Wells enrolled in Morrow Business College either in  early 1950s. I recall he  was taking a course in Business Law and  his teacher was a young practicing attorney, Larry Smith. Later Jim used the lawyer in a professional matter and the two have remained acquaintances down through the years. Larry Smith always referred to  my brother by his first name, James.



Larry Smith was born in Montgomery, Alabama August 6, 1924. The family came to Panama City in 1938 by way of Pensacola, after Larry’s father bought the Van Kleck Hardware and Lumber Co. from Mrs. Van Kleck. Larry worked as a teenager in that store.



After graduating from Bay High School in 1942, Larry Smith attended the University of Alabama before enlisting in the U. S. Navy. eventually serving as a Navy pilot, flying the Corsair fighter aircraft.  After World War II, he returned to the University of Alabama and courted his future wife, Emmalyn Murphee, whom he had met the previous summer on Panama City Beach.



They married on February 28, 1948 and moved to Gainesville, Florida where the groom enrolled in the University of Law School. Ironically, your writer was student at the University of Florida in my second semester as a freshmen, but the two of us never met.   In 1949, he began his law practice in Panama City. From 1953-1957, Larry worked for the law firm Mathis and Mathis. Again, I was in Panama City during those years as an employee of Sears, Roebuck and Company, but this aspiring young lawyer and I had no contact. Larry was next appointed as an Assistant States Attorney in the 14th Judicial Circuit working for J. Frank Adams, the elected States Attorney.  Neither did our paths cross during that time.



From 1958-60. the family moved to Tallahassee, while Larry served as Assistant to the Florida Supreme under Chief Justice Campbell Thornal. From 1960-64, the family lived in Orlando, when  Larry became a partner in the law firm of Baker, Baker and Smith.



Always wanting to return to Panama City, Larry had that opportunity to do so in 1964 and joined the firm of Isler and Welch, which later became  Isler, Welch, Smith , Higby, Bryant, Brown and Daniels. Although your writer was a probation officer in the Bay County Courthouse at that time, Larry Smith did no criminal court work, therefore I had  no  contact with him.



Judge Larry Smith was appointed Circuit Judge in the 14th Judicial Circuit in  1972, the same year my brother, Clyde B. Wells, was elected to the Circuit Bench in the First Circuit, serving in DeFuniak Springs. When Judge Smith was encountered, he always spoke kindly of my two brothers, Jim and Clyde.



Governor Bob Graham appointed Judge Larry Smith the First District Court of Appeals in 1979. I was in my third year as county judge of Washington County at the time. When a meeting of circuit and county court judges was hosted at the Northwest Florida Music Park in Chipley, Judge Larry Smith, and other fellow appeals court judges, would come to the



meetings at the facility owned by the  Wells family. It was through him that I got to meet Judge Douglas R. Shivers, a Chipley native, who was also serving as a justice on the First District Court of Appeals. Judge Shivers’ mother was Nella Reeves Wells Shivers who married Senator Olin G. Shivers. She still has kin in Washington County from the Chipley family of Wells.



Judge Larry Smith retired from the First District Court of Appeals and he and his family returned to Bay County.   Here he served as Senior Judge in the 14th Circuit Court, filling in where needed. This gave me opportunity to see and visit with him as my duties as county judge were often needed in Bay County. I also became friends, professionally, with his niece, Barbara Finch, who became an attorney and worked as an Assistant States Attorney in the local circuit, completing her career and retiring in Washington County where she had worked for  years.



The June 6, Panama City News-Herald carried an impressive obituary on the life  of Judge Larry Glenn Smith, a gentlemanly judge, whom I  knew and appreciated.



Next in the picture is retired Circuit Judge, Warren L. Fitzpatrick.  Of all the judges that I had contact with as a probation and parole officer for eleven years, Judge Fitzpatrick is most vivid in my memory. Maybe it is because I did more work in his court than for  other judges. He  enjoyed the fact that he and I shared the same birthday, August 24. He died on May 1, 1999, the same day as my father, Hugh Wells.  Both had lengthy hospitalization in Bay County, which gave me an opportunity to visit the judge’s family, most I knew personally. I have written of him extensively and of the openness he and I enjoyed although he was the judge and I the lowly probation officer.  He told me on one occasion when he confronted me with some unanswered question that he “thought too much of me to keep anything in his craw that was bothering him”!



Judge Larry Bodiford, third in the photograph, served both as county judge and circuit judge in Bay County before resigning and returning to private practice. He was extremely helpful to me in my early days as a judge. He knew of my acquaintance with his father,  J. C. Bodiford, who practiced criminal law during my earlier years in the court system in Bay County.



The fourth judge shown is Judge Warren H. Edwards, who died on May 6, 2015 in Jackson County. He was 98 years old. Judge Edwards retired as a Criminal Court of Record Judge in Orlando in 1972 and moved to Holmes County.  Upon the untimely death of county judge Louis Hutchinson in Holmes County,  Judge Edwards agreed to accept the governor’s appointed to fill out the unexpired term of Judge Hutchinson. He did not seek election to the office, but did fill in as Senior Judge when needed.



Fifth is Judge W. Fred Turner, who served as Circuit Judge upon being elected to the bench after a colorful and illustrious career as a criminal court defense attorney. His most noted case is  Gideon v. Wainwright case which went all the way to the United States Supreme Court for the decision that every defendant, unable to financially provide for his own defense lawyer, is eligible of court appointed representation. (See  Heritage of Washington County , page 112).



The  sixth Judge in the picture is Judge Mercer P. Spear, who capped his long and impressive career as an elected prosecutor and criminal and civil court trial lawyer, by accepting an appointment as Circuit Judge. I enjoyed a ‘speaking acquaintance’ with Judge Spear, both before and after his appointed to the judgeship. I recall the judges in the circuit labeling Judge Spear as the most analytical judge in the circuit. Clinton Foster, who later became a Circuit Judge, told me  that whenever he walked into Judge Spear’s chambers, he would observe the deep thought he seemed to be in as he gazed out the west window of his courthouse office.   “Perry, he seemed to be looking all the way to Texas each time I entered his office.”



It was my extreme pleasure and honor  to have known and worked along side  this group of distinguished and capable Honorable Judges, plus the many more with the same commitment to the legal profession.