ORLANDO – Nurse
by profession, community activist by nature, Sharon Middleton will have much to
offer the Florida Bar
when she joins its board of governors at the Bar’s June 17 annual convention as a public member.
With a bachelor of science in nursing from Emory University and an master of science in health
education from Florida State University, as well as a strong family history of
ties to the profession, Middleton, a native of Jacksonville in Duval County and current resident of Ponte Vedra
Beach, comes to the role naturally with her combined legal and
As a health educator, Middleton specializes
in advocacy, care coordination, curriculum design, leadership development and
corporate wellness. Her focus has been on Florida’s aging population and
empowering senior citizens to maintain their independence and quality of life. Having identified access to justice as an issue she hopes to
address during her tenure, she
said that a majority of Floridians can’t afford proper help in the legal system.
assists a separate group called The Florida
Bar’s Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC); and from 2013 to 2015 she also served on the Unlicensed
Practice of Law Committee – an arm of the court established by the Florida Bar under
the direction of the state Supreme Court.
Florida attorney Bruce Blackwell, CEO and executive director of The Florida Bar
Foundation, strongly supports
her appointment. Often asked for references, Blackwell, himself
a longtime VIP, told the Florida Record
that when Middleton approached him for endorsement, his immediate response was
was no hesitation.
“The bottom line is that Sharon is this incredibly
wonderfully generous, nice person,” Blackwell told the Florida Record.
Middleton’s background and path appeared to point
her in this direction from the get-go. Not only were her parents role models
for involvement in the legal field, but other family members are lawyers as
well, Blackwell said.
Sharon’s father, the late Eddie Booth, was a
legendary criminal defense lawyer from Jacksonville from whom Sharon learned
much about Florida’s legal culture.
“Some years ago, Sharon’s dad and my firm
were in a high profile case in Orlando, and it is from that work that I got to
know Eddie Booth,” said Blackwell, a former trial lawyer. “I don’t think he ever lost
a case – he was that good a lawyer.”
Moreover, Middleton’s mother
Bonnie Booth served for eight years on the Judicial Qualifications Commission,
a group that evaluates those judges who overstep their bounds – or who aren’t
providing the best judgment, so to speak.
Bar Foundation and the Florida Bar Board
of Governors (BOG) are two distinct entities with somewhat overlapping
names. What is the relationship between the two factions?
“We came out of the bosom of the Bar,”
Blackwell explained. “We are the Florida Bar’s charitable arm; we are separate
but closely related by mission.”
Potential BOG public members are not actually selected by
higher-ups; instead, they self-nominate and undergo an application process. While BOG
attorney members include Florida’s most powerful lawyers, public members comprise people with strong reputations traditionally from diverse backgrounds.
“The kind of people that we’ve had go into
those positions include a variety,” Blackwell stated. “We had a police chief
from St. Petersburg most recently; we’ve had educators – deans of colleges sat on
the board of governors in the past – and bankers.”
it more or less
the holy grail of resume builders in the legal field,
Blackwell said, “It is – candidly – an exceedingly prestigious position because
there are only two of them. When they talk, the board listens – because they are not lawyers. And so it’s
a big deal.”
the Florida Supreme Court appoints one-third of the foundation members for
two-year terms, while the remaining two-thirds are appointed by the BOG itself.
“Quite frankly, all the finalists would be
wonderful,” he said. Other contenders this year were former investigative
reporter Judy Doyle from Orlando and St. Petersburg College professor
official activities are planned alongside Middleton’s swearing-in at the annual
convention slated for
June 15 through June 18 at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet
Creek in Disney Springs.
Among them are continuing education
seminars, quarterly meetings, and award dinners. Additionally, convention organizers will sponsor
moot court and trial competitions for law students, technology programs and a
The board of governors, president and
president-elect will be sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme
Court. The General Assembly will present several additional as yet unannounced awards,
and the Young Lawyers Division officers and board will take their oaths as
While the convention lasts Wednesday through Saturday, Middleton
will likely take her star turn that Friday morning. Speakers tend to include politically connected
Florida citizens; one year featured Julie Eisenhower, for example.
who are sworn in actually make remarks, but “it’s a huge deal,” said Blackwell.
And while board of governors attorney members pay their own convention
expenses, the Florida Bar covers all costs for the non-lawyer public members.
Walker, who serves as the Florida Bar’s Director
of Public Information & Bar Services stated that the BOG meets six times annually at
various locations statewide.
“The overall purpose is to have public involvement in the
organization,” Walker told the Florida Record. In addition to public members on this board, non-lawyer
members also sit on several other committees, she said.
Both Middleton and Lawrence Worley
Tyree – the other current nonpublic member – as well as Middleton’s predecessor, St.
Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, happened to serve on the
Citizens Advisory Committee prior to their appointments, although CAC service
is not actually an official prerequisite, said Walker.
of the governors change annually; two years is the term length for both attorneys and
public members, with no limits on the number of terms a public member can serve.
“We have a lot of phenomenal leaders in Orlando,” said Blackwell, adding that the board is strengthened is over its lifetime by the influx of rotating attorney members. “The
more people the better,” he said.
Middleton will be a full-fledged member of
the board, expected to attend all meetings and serve on committees within the
Bar. Her opinion will be valued, said Blackwell, and if she wishes to
promote some particular position, she can certainly do so.
Middleton inherits the reins from her mentor with a platform to address
an estimated 80 percent of Floridians’ needs, just as he once did. Whereas
Blackwell once sought to help the 80 percent who could not afford legal care, Middleton
aims to aid those who can’t afford health care.
both, the “other 80 percent” will have benefited greatly over the long term.