The Florida Supreme Court has a front row seat at every opening session of the Florida Legislature. For decades, sitting on the floor in front of them and amidst the flowers, pomp, circumstance, Governor, Cabinet, Senators, and Representatives was Donn Dughi, like a timeless fixture, capturing it all through the lens of his camera. Donn got photos of the Justices on the front row like no one else.
Donn was born on July 9, 1932, in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire but was raised in St. Petersburg, Florida. Before becoming a star in photography, Donn was a star on the field, playing high school football and basketball. However, one year after starting at the University of Florida, he was drafted into the Korean War where he spent nine months in combat as a Marine rifleman. Once a Marine, always a Marine. After returning to the United States, Donn dreamed of writing a great American novel, which he pursued by enrolling in Florida State University’s creative writing program. After graduating from FSU, Donn accepted a position at WCTV, a Tallahassee television station. This marked the beginning of his career in photography.
Retired Florida Bar Executive Director Jack Harkness remembers seeing Donn when Jack worked as a young lawyer in the Old Capitol for Attorney General Earl Faircloth. The basement of the Old Capitol was used by the press, where the nightly Ray Starr Capitol Report and others originated. Jack remembers Donn as always at the ready with his camera, on the floor, literally, of the House of Representatives, in the Court rotunda, or anywhere in between.
Donn spent 30 years as a news photographer, 20 of which were spent as the photo chief of the Tallahassee Bureau of United Press International. It was Donn, with many others, in front of the Supreme Court building, as one ruling after another was issued in the 2000 election dispute between Al Gore and George W. Bush. Court spokesperson Craig Waters was at ground zero.
Craig remembered Donn from when they were both in the Capitol Press Corps, before Craig went on to law school. They were reunited as Craig became (and still is) the Public Information Officer for the Florida Supreme Court. Donn’s unique talents captured the Court and its members as they were daily on the world’s stage.
It was Donn on the upper level of the Court’s rotunda who captured the Justices as the late Justice E. Harris Drew was lying in state in 1978. It was Donn there with his camera as newly appointed Justice Rosemary Barkett was robed. It was he who captured the view of Justices attending the law schools to visit with future members of The Florida Bar.
And for those who have observed the government in Tallahassee for decades, it is enjoyable to identify the young leaders of government conversing with the young and older members of the Court, like Representatives Ralph Haben and Ron Richmond, Senator Ed Dunn, and Justices James Adkins, Joseph Hatchett, and Fred Karl. Donn captured the flavor and the spirit of the events and meetings he photographed.
Donn died at the age of 72 in 2005, but his work lives on. When the Historical Society recognized that Donn’s daughter, Leslie Dughi (Greenberg Traurig) had a collection of historical Supreme Court photos taken by Donn, the Historical Society requested that she donate her father’s photos to the Supreme Court’s archives.
Now, through the invaluable efforts of Leslie, the Florida Supreme Court archives holds his works related to the Court. She said this about donating them to the Court:
Florida Supreme Court Archivist Erik Robinson appreciates the generosity of the Dughi family: “Leslie Dughi’s willingness to share her father’s rich archive of Florida and Supreme Court history in photographs is a wonderful legacy that will only grow more useful and valuable with time.”