Jay Gordon Shuler takes oath as new county judge

With his upraised right hand fluttering gently with emotion, and his left hand on a Bible held by his three daughters, Apalachicola attorney J. Gordon Shuler swore an oath Tuesday afternoon before a packed courtroom audience to become the county judge.

“I give you my full commitment to do my very best,” Shuler said, in concluding his remarks at the investiture ceremony.

The new judge spoke following the administration of the oath by Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who is on assignment at the Franklin County courthouse. The judge who made that assignment last year, Chief Judge of the 2nd Judicial Circuit Jonathan Sjostrom, conducted the ceremony from the courtroom’s bench.

“It’s not about J. Gordon Shuler, it’s about the county,” said Shuler in his remarks thanking many of the people with whom he has worked, both as an attorney and as part of last year’s election.

“We have a beautiful place here, we have unique people,” he said.

Shuler noted that his grandfather, Jay A. Shuler, a former state senator and county attorney, had 55 years legal experience, and his father, Alfred O. Shuler, also former county attorney, had 29 years legal experience when, not long out of the Florida State University law school, Gordon Shuler joined them 31 years ago in the family’s law firm.

“I feel everything I’ve been through has prepared me,” he said.

In his thank-yous, Shuler made special mention of Pastor William Plazarin, retired from the First Baptist Church of Apalachicola, where Shuler attends, as well as the students from the First Baptist Christian School, who were in attendance at the ceremony.

Following a call to order by Sheriff A.J. Smith, and an opening of the ceremony by Sjostrom, Plazarin offered the invocation, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Charles Elliott, the county’s veterans service officer.

Seated in the jury box were an array of robed justices, all of whom Sjostrom introduced to the audience, as well as the many local officials on hand.

Elected officials included State Attorney Jack Campbell, retired Liberty County Clerk of Courts Robert Hill, Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson, Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper, Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley, County Commissioners William Massey, Smokey Parrish, and Bert Boldt, retired Commissioner Cheryl Sanders, and Apalachicola City Commissioner Jimmy Elliott.

Judges on hand included retired 2nd Circuit Judges James Shelfer, William Gary, and Terry Lewis, current Circuit Judges J. Lee Marsh, David Frank, Francis Allman, and Dodson; Liberty County Judge Ken Hosford; Leon County Judges Ron Flury and J. Layne Smith, Wakulla County Judge Jill Walker, assistant Public Defender Nina Moody, and retired Leon County Judge Donald Modesitt, who recalled serving as assistant state attorney in 1973 when Eldon McLeod was the county judge in Apalachicola.

Also, of course, on hand was outgoing Franklin County Judge Van Russell, who in his remarks recalled how both his great-grandfather, and Hosford’s, walked back home to Liberty County following their service in the Civil War, and how Jay Shuler would later move from Liberty to Franklin in the early 20th century.

Russell talked of knowing Jay Shuler in his later years, and of being friendly with Alfred Shuler, noting his ability to evoke a dry, well-timed wit to defuse situations.

“You have a notable heritage that comes with legal expertise,” Russell said, joking that, with all due respect, he had seen Gordon Shuler enter his courtroom as a defense attorney looking “like a Baptist holding four aces.”

Russell shared with Shuler a 1988 article he had saved called “How to be a good judge,” and encouraged him to write down his thoughts and review them before issuing a tough decision.

In his remarks, Sjostrom has cited modesty, diligence, competency and integrity, on a foundation of humility, as being the basis for being a good judge.

“A judge does not exercise personal power, they exercise lawful authority,” said Sjostrom. “They are defined and constrained by law.”

He also, with a wink and a smile, cautioned Shuler’s supporters during the election not to ask the new judge for favors. “Judge Shuler can’t help you with your traffic tickets,” he said, noting that everything must be “on the record in open court.”

In her remarks, Johnson noted that Shuler’s great-grandfather W. P. Dodd, had served as clerk of court from 1918 to 1951, a period of 33 years.

“Your ancestors are looking down and smiling,” she said. “This is a family with a history that was and remains honorable.”

Russell presented Shuler with a gavel, evoking that “may this gavel; serve you well and may your wield it wisely.”

Grant Slayden, trial court administrator for the judicial circuit, presented Shuler with the engraved Bible upon which he would take his oath. Eric Milles, president of the Tallahassee Bar Association, presented him with his robes, which daughters Kayla, Krystal and Kelsey then placed on their father.

In his remarks before the end of the ceremony, Sjostrom also introduced a member of the Shuler family, cousin Brigham, who had served as bailiff in Liberty County for many years.

Following the oath and Shuler’s remarks, Plazarin led everyone in The Lord’s Prayer as part of his benediction.

The ceremony was followed by a reception outside the courtroom, hosted by the Shuler family and friends.