Jamie R. Grosshans didn’t set out to be on the Florida Supreme Court, but it’s not surprising that she has joined the state’s highest court as its newest justice, according to her friend, Fifth District Court of Appeal Judge Meredith Sasso.
Speaking at a packed Supreme Court at Grosshans’ ceremonial investiture November 17, Sasso said, “What Jamie did is she thought about what was important to her and she let that lead her. My advice to ambitious law students would be if you want to be like Justice Grosshans, first figure out what you believe in and then pursue what you’re passionate about and pursue it with integrity….
“Jamie was always the type of person who, as one of her friends described, wanted to make sure the world works the way it should.”
As Chief Justice Charles Canady noted in opening the session, Grosshans was actually appointed to the court on September 14, 2020, by Gov. Ron DeSantis and has served since. But the ceremonial festivities to honor her being the 91st justice in the court’s 175-year history were delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But that didn’t make the session, by turns, any less joyful and solemn as friends, DeSantis, and others praised Grosshans and talked about her journey from growing up in the small Mississippi town of Brookhaven, through the University of Mississippi law school, becoming an assistant state attorney in Orlando, running her own small firm, service as a county judge and on the Fifth DCA, and then to the Supreme Court.
Sasso said that Grosshans brings the right approach to her new job as well as every phase of her legal career.
“She believes that everybody who comes into this courtroom, everybody who goes into any courtroom, should get equal justice under the law and fair treatment, not because no one is special as some people say, but because everyone is special. Everyone is made in the image of their Creator…,” Sasso said. “She is committed to the Constitution not because she is a history buff or she is committed to old things, it’s because she knows that despite its imperfections, our structure of government is the best way to ensure human flourishing and to honor the work and dignity of every person.”
Longtime friend Charbel Barakat said Grosshans is the kind of friend that he and his wife could call, when their first child was nearly due, to help them pick out a car seat and stroller. He also said with her love of old books, the rare book room at the Supreme Court could be renamed “Jamie’s Happy Place.”
Barakat also recounted coincidences related to when Grosshans met her husband, Joshua. The event was a 2004 Federalist Society cookout held at the home of Ted Olson, who had just retired as U.S. Department of Justice solicitor general.
By chance, Barakat was also at the cookout and may have briefly talked with Grosshans, although he didn’t become friends with her and Joshua until years later in Orlando. But he said when Grosshans showed him a picture of her and her future husband taken at the event, he recognized in the background Jesse Panuccio, a member of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which nominated Grosshans to the court.
It was like Panuccio, who was unknown to any of the three at the time, was “giving his blessing to this union like some kind of Federalist holy man,” Barakat joked.
In a more serious vein, he added, “Jamie’s life is defined by a dedication to servant leadership. Whether it’s her time in the Orange County State Attorney’s Office, as the founder of a successful family and criminal law office in Winter Garden, as an adjunct professor at Valencia College, or a guardian ad litem, her professional life has always been about taking on the tough challenges, standing up for average Floridians in the most difficult times and first and foremost to leave her clients better off than they were before.”
DeSantis, appearing remotely because he was accompanying his wife to a breast cancer treatment, praised Grosshans as the kind of judge who will interpret and apply the Constitution and laws, and not “legislate from the bench.”
“She has also displayed the courage of her convictions, sometimes making the rulings that are the right rulings, that are the rulings that the Constitution commands or that the law commands and aren’t always the most popular,” Gov. DeSantis went on to say. “She has shown the ability and the fortitude to do what is right.”
Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez, who acted for DeSantis in presenting Grosshan’s credentials to the court, said the justice was picked “because of her unparalleled legal career, because of her vast experience and more importantly, as Gov. DeSantis said, because of her proven commitment to upholding the law.”
Justice Alan Lawson, who administered the oath to Grosshans, praised her as the court’s “newest and youngest and most graceful and most considerate, most charming, most elegant [justice]; an exceptional jurist, a dedicated student of the law, a devoted wife, mother, daughter, and true and faithful friend… and giving her best daily in all of these diverse endeavors.”
He also stressed the importance of the oath, saying the Constitution depends on people keeping their word as the foundation for securing the blessings of liberty. And that’s why, Lawson added, the Constitution “declares that every legislator, all executive, all judicial officers both of the United States and of every single state ‘shall be bound by an oath or affirmation to support this Constitution.’”
Bar President Michael Tanner continued the Bar tradition of presenting a Bible or appropriate religious book to each new justice in hopes “it will be a reminder daily of the oath you are about to take, and it will be an ongoing source of strength and faith.”
He added: “There are no better words for a person in a position of high responsibility … than these words in the fourth chapter of Proverbs, where the writer is expressing God’s commitment to support the faithful, by declaring, ‘I will guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you across great paths and when you walk your steps will not be hampered and when you run, you will not stumble.’”
Grosshans, speaking at the end of the ceremony, thanked family, friends, fellow lawyers and judges, former law professors, and others who played a role in shaping her life. She recalled as a girl she was a bookworm who spent hours at the library where her closest friends were “Agatha Christie and J.R.R. Tolkien.”
From them, Grosshans said, she learned not only to appreciate a good story but that it takes a whole cast of characters to make the plot memorable.
“There are no coincidences in a beautifully written book. Everyone plays their part in bringing the story home,” she said.
And in her case that includes those friends, family, and colleagues who all played a part in her career.
Grosshans concluded by citing the Founding Fathers, who in creating the Constitution, “did understand the vital importance of separate but equal branches of government, adherence to the structural Constitution, and separation of powers spelled out in both the state and federal constitutions is necessary to guarantee our individual liberties and personal freedoms…. I am proud to be part of Florida’s story as the fifth woman to sit on this court. I promise to exercise judgment, never force our will, and to uphold the rule of law fairly and equally as I serve the people of this amazing state.”
Justice Grosshans was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court on September 14, 2020, by DeSantis. Previously she was appointed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 2018 by Gov. Rick Scott. Prior to her appointment to the appellate court, she served as an Orange County court judge, where she presided over criminal and civil matters.
Justice Grosshans was raised in Brookhaven, Mississippi, and graduated cum laude from the University of Mississippi School of Law. During law school, she clerked for the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Mississippi. Following admittance to The Florida Bar, she served as a Ninth Circuit assistant state attorney in both the misdemeanor and felony divisions where she tried numerous criminal jury trials.
Justice Grosshans later entered private practice and founded her own law firm where she focused on family law and criminal defense matters for nearly 10 years. During this time she also served as an adjunct professor at Valencia College where she taught hospitality law for the Hospitality and Tourism Management Program. She also frequently volunteered as a guardian ad litem with the Orange County Legal Aid Society. Justice Grosshans has served on state court system advisory committees and has been involved in numerous activities with The Florida Bar and other legal organizations.
Grosshans regularly speaks to lawyers and law students on topics such as challenges in the practice of law, the role of judges, professionalism and respect in the legal profession, criminal law, and family law. As part of that, she was recently a guest on the Bar’s Henry Latimer Center for Professionalism’s Never Contemplated podcast on the topic, “Always Be Willing to Serve.”
Grosshans and her husband, Joshua, have three children, Avery, Jack, and Alice.