Citrus County judge to take over Marion County felony docket

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Posted May 13, 2021 | By Beth Whitehead, Special to the Ocala Gazette

Circuit Judge Peter Brigham will transfer to Marion County, where he was an assistant state attorney for years, and will take over the county’s adult felony docket.

Peter Brigham [Submitted]

Brigham will take over the seat of Circuit Judge Edward Scott, who announced he would retire on June 30 earlier this year.

Scott, 69, is the second judge to announce their retirement this year. County Judge Sarah Ritterhoff Williams announced in January that she would retire on May 14. Her replacement has not been announced. A judicial nominating commission in early April sent the Governor’s office four nominees to fill the seat.

Citrus and Marion are both in the Fifth Judicial Circuit, as are Hernando, Lake and Sumter counties.

Brigham served as an assistant state attorney with the Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, which he joined in 2002. In 2017, then Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to the Fifth Judicial Circuit as a judge. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and his law degree from the University of Florida in 1994.

“I was a prosecutor for a total of about 21 years,” he said. “I never thought I was going to be a judge quite frankly—I thought I would be a trial attorney for my whole career in some capacity or another.” 

Then Brigham became the training attorney for Fifth Circuit where he ensured the professional development of attorneys necessary to remain licensed in Florida.

“I started doing a lot of legal research and teaching people about the law and training them on procedures and that sort of thing, and I started to view things differently than a prosecutor… and started viewing it more as how the law is actually applied,”

With his outlook shifting, he got his chance to apply for a spot on the bench after Judge Richard Tombrink Jr. retired. Brigham got the spot and split his time between Hernando County and Citrus counties.

He currently presides over dependency and juvenile court in Citrus and has previously handled non-jury civil cases, foreclosures, domestic violence injunctions, truancy court and protection orders.

Transferring from Citrus to Marion is like coming home for Brigham.

“It’s where I grew up professionally as an attorney,” he said, “and I know a lot of people there.”

Due to COVID-19, many court hearings, particularly civil cases, have moved to video conferences instead of face-to-face interactions. With him moving to the felony docket in Marion County, Brigham expects to be conducting far more in-person proceedings. The greatest challenge Brigham anticipates is the backlog of cases brought on by the pandemic.

Due to the pandemic, the Florida Supreme Court suspended jury trials, grand juries and speedy trial rules. In Marion County, jury trials restarted in March, after nearly a yearlong suspension.  

“There are a lot of people whose cases have been lingering in criminal court,” Brigham said, adding it will take time to get through the backlog.

As the courts work through the backed-up cases, Brigham wants to be particularly careful to give everyone “a fair experience however the outcome is and do it under the time constraints of the next year, year and a half, of trying to get these backlogs sorted out.”

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