After 6 tries, Scales gets the call

Now, he sits on the 3rd District Court of Appeals



I spotted Ed Scales walking down the street one afternoon. He was alone, striding purposefully, mumbling to himself. He was untroubled, his countenance clear, but he was clearly working something out.

I wondered — for just a moment — what he must be thinking. Then I remembered: Ed Scales is a lawyer. Lawyers represent clients and in so doing they must argue, plead, cajole and convince judges and juries to win their client’s case. Whether in a courtroom or in mediation — mediation is Scales’ law firm’s bread and butter — one must be prepared if one wants to win cases.

Scales, a friendly and engaging man, is used to debate and reasoned argument. The 47-year-old practiced the art of argument at law school at the University of Florida, from which he graduated in 1991; as a Key West commissioner debating city issues; as a member of the Florida Keys Community College Board of Trustees and as general counsel of the ubiquitous Historic Tours of America. In 2000, he opened his own practice, focusing on appellate litigation, commercial and real estate litigation, administrative law and mediation.

He took the right political steps statewide, too. The moderate Republican served on the Florida Commission on Ethics, on the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors, the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for Florida’s Southern District and was sworn in at the U.S. Supreme Court, giving him membership in the select club of American lawyers who are allowed to argue before the highest court in the nation.

And now, Scales — born in Birmingham, Ala., raised in Lakeland and “loving my life in Key West,” is the first person from Monroe County to be appointed to the Third District Court of Appeal in Miami.

It took more than courtroom time, public service positions and membership on the right state law boards to win the appointment from Gov. Rick Scott.

“I applied for it six times,” he told Konk Life this week. “I was nominated three times. I always wanted to sit on this court. When I got the call from the governor, I was ecstatic.”

As the newest judge, it’s back to college for Scales. He will learn the art of listening to arguments and maintaining objective body language and commentary from the bench.

“All new judges are required to attend two phases of Florida Judicial College,” he said. “First phase is in Orlando, the second phase is going to be in Tampa. They teach you every aspect of being a judge, how to act and not react on the bench. I’m not a trial judge, but an appellate judge. There are ramifications for saying the wrong thing.”

He’s also being schooled by his fellow Miami appellate judges.

“Then there’s the informal training where you bounce ideas off your colleagues,” he said. “I’ve been a civil litigator all my life, criminal, family law, now I’m trying to immerse myself in the substantive law.”

A criminal lawyer in circuit court might argue his client’s innocence in court. In Miami, Scales will listen to lawyers argue, for instance, that the jury that convicted their client in Key West was given improper instructions; or Scales might have to help rule on whether a piece of evidence should have been allowed in the original trial in district court. Appeals courts are in a way, referees, ruling on whether procedures in lower courts were followed correctly.

Because Key West and Monroe County politicians misbehave from time to time, Scales will quite likely have to remove himself in future cases. Former Schools Superintendent Randy Acevedo, Monique Acevedo and Nicholas Ferro (the latter convicted in the murder of Marques Butler); the Duck Tours case and other Key West cases have asked the higher court for rulings. That’s just the criminal cases. Civil cases also make their way to the appeals court.

“I represented the city of Key West for years, and Historic Tours of America. If any of my former clients bring a case to the appeals court, I will simply recuse myself from that case,” Scales said. “Or if someone I have a personal friendship or business relationship with comes up there, I will recuse myself. That’s the great thing about having 10 judges. It’s not a hardship.”

Scales said he cherishes his time as a lawyer in the Keys. His argument in Neumont vs. Monroe County before the Florida Supreme Court gives city and county commissions the right to change ordinances between the first and second readings. In short, his argument, which the court accepted, gives local government more flexibility and the public a stronger voice in its affairs.

“There are dozens of people who taught me the profession and helped me along,” Scales said. “Rather than name someone specifically, I’d say that practicing with lawyers in Monroe County and with the judges in the 16th Circuit here, I gained something from every case I had, every trial I was involved in, with every mediation I had. It was all a learning experience.”


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