Emerson R. Thompson, Jr., the first black judge in Orange County and the first black judge to be appointed to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, whose jurisdiction includes Flagler County, will swear-in Rick Staly as Flagler County Sheriff on Jan. 3.
The sheriff-elect today invited the public to the 11 a.m. ceremony at the Sheriff’s Operations Center, 901 E. Moody Blvd. in Bunnell.
Thompson, a Jacksonville native, began his career in Orange County Court, where Staly got to know him professionally. Staly spent most of his career as a cop in Orange County, rising to undersheriff at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. He was Flagler County’s undersheriff for two years before resigning in 2014, then running for sheriff and winning the post in November.
“I’ve known Judge Thompson and his wife for professionally, not personally, probably 30, 35 years,” Staly said. “I was a young deputy sheriff when he had county court in orange County, so we kind of struck up a professional friendship during that time, and I didn’t always agree with his decisions on my traffic cases, but that was his role. We’ve remained acquaintances through his professional career and my professional career. I think he’s a very sharp jurist, so I reached out to him, and come to find out he actually has ties in Flagler County.”
Thompson is a friend of Dr. Morris Carter, after whom Dr. Carter Boulevard, which leads to the Flagler County Health Department, is named. Carter will be at the swearing-in. He remains the physician at the Flagler County jail. Other guests will include Sheriff Jim Manfre and possibly former Sheriff Don Fleming, which would make it the first time in memory that a new sheriff is sworn-in in the presence of his predecessor–or predecessors.
Staly will be formally awarding Manfre his credentials as a retired sheriff during the ceremony, which will be emceed by Bob Weber, the former sheriff’s commander who was in charge of the public information office until 2015.
The ceremony will be held in front of the operations center. It’ll start with an invocation by Jeanine Clontz,, Staly’s pastor at Flagler Becah United Methodist Church. Staly’s daughter Lauren Staly will lead the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by Staly’s daughter Diana Wolf singing the National Anthem. (Wolf has a degree in music from Rollins College and sings in a band.) The judge will conduct the swearing-in with a Bible Staly’s mother gave her son when he was 9. Staly’s mother, who is in her mid-90s, may attend the ceremony, health permitting.
Staly wrote his speech for the occasion over Christmas, and will deliver it after presenting Manfre his credentials. “The theme will be, we’re going to be tough on crime, we’re going to work together as a team, and then I’m going to announce some new initiatives that we’re going to do in the sheriff’s office,” he said, including ways to help inmates who don’t re-offend re-integrate life in the county.
Coastal Florida Police & Fire Pipes & Drums will play a piece, Pastor Charles Silano will offer the Benediction, and the Sheriff’s Office’s chaplain, Bruce Laurent, will bless the food–light hors d’oeuvres and refreshments in the training center.
For the past several weeks Staly has been working on his transition with a team. This week he completed his 350th meeting, including individual interviews with every employee at the sheriff’s office.
Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Thompson to the 5th District Court of Appeal in 1993. Thompson had been a county judge starting in 1976. He wrote one of his more notable decisions in 2005 when he upheld a lower court’s ruling requiring a Muslim woman, Sultaana Freeman, to unveil herself for her driver’s license photo. The requirement, he wrote, did not unduly burden her religious freedom. The previous year, he wrote a seminal opinion, ruling that a fetus is not a “person” under Florida law, and dealing a blow to then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s attempt to extend rights to the unborn. Thompson was previously nominated to the Florida Supreme Court and currently serves as a Senior Judge.
The 5th District Court takes appeals from courts in Flagler, Volusia, St. Johns, Putnam, Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard, Hernando, Marion, Citrus and Sumter counties.