Belvin Perry Jr. is the most well-known judge in Florida, thanks to the controversial Casey Anthony trial. But Perry had made a reputation long before that trail started. Raised by a public school teacher and law enforcement officer, Perry attended Jones High School and got his law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in 1977. He worked in the Office of the State Attorney until 1989, when he became the first African-American to be elected to the circuit bench of the Ninth Circuit without first being appointed. He served nine terms as Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit then pursued his dream of becoming a personal injury attorney.
Here’s what he says:
Orlando-Rising: Your father, Belvin Perry Sr., was one of Orlando’s first two African-American police officers. What type of father was he and did he put a lot of pressure on you to succeed?
Belvin Perry Jr.: My father was dedicated to his wife and children. He was firm, but a very loving man. He said what he meant and meant what he said. He instilled in each of his children the values of education, hard work, honesty, integrity and giving back to the community. My father taught us all to aim high in life and be the best we could be, but he did not put any pressure on us.
OR: Early in your career, you were the lead prosecuting attorney in the case against the “Black Widow” Judy Buenoaño, who killed her husband and son. What did you learn during that case?
Perry: This case was a true awakening for me as to how evil a human being could be. When a person dies as a result of arsenic poisoning, they die a very agonizing and slow, painful death. It takes a pretty heartless and depraved person to poison another and watch that person die. But to kill your husband, your common-law husband and your son through the use of arsenic is a new level of evil. The evil I saw, in that case, was an evil that I have never seen before or after. She also attempted to kill her boyfriend, not once but twice. She was truly a very evil and heartless person.
OR: You are best known as the judge who presided over the Casey Anthony trial, you recently came up with a theory that the young mother used chloroform to kill her child. How did you reach that conclusion?
Perry: My conclusion is consistent with the evidence presented in the case. There were high levels of chloroform in the trunk of car, the searches of chloroform on the computer and the known use of chloroform to render a person unconscious support the conclusion. But no one will ever know how this wonderful child died, except her mother.
OR: You retired from the bench in 2014 and hours later took a job with the Morgan & Morgan law firm. Why did you continue working and what do you hope to accomplish in your newest job?
Perry: I had spent nearly 25 years as a judge and 11 years as an assistant state attorney. That is a total 36 years of public service. I believe in the Jim Brown school of thought; that is to go out on top and on your own terms. When I graduated from law school, I wanted to practice personal injury law, but fate would have it that I ended up in the Office of the State Attorney. John Morgan, who was a friend, offered me an opportunity of a lifetime to fulfill my dream of practicing personal injury law when I retired. Some people ask me why did I choose Morgan & Morgan, and the answer is simple. They are not only the best law firm, with the best lawyer; they have the added ingredient of really caring about their clients.
OR: Do you miss being a judge? Why or why not?
Perry: I enjoyed every moment I was a judge, some moments more than others. I gave everything that I had in being a judge and I left nothing on the table. I treasured the trust that the citizens of this great community gave me when they elected me judge. I don’t miss being a judge, but I sometimes miss the public service.