Longtime Lee County judge resigns in support of racial injustice movement

Published: September 15, 2020 5:42 PM EDT
Updated: September 16, 2020 9:37 AM EDT

A judge of four decades in Southwest Florida is stepping away from the bench to be a voice of change.

Judge Hugh Starnes recently said he is hanging up his robe so he can stand with a movement he believes in.

Starnes knows a lot about defining moments. With 42 years on the bench, he has created lots of them for lots of people. His own came three weeks ago when the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play a basketball game.

“Basically, they were saying the necessity of playing a playoff game pales in significance to the things going on in society,” Starnes said. “The whole thing, I said, ‘Damn, I’m with them.’”

But a judge must be neutral and isn’t allowed to have his own voice, so 79-year-old Starnes decided to resign from his role as a judge, a sudden change to his safe life.

“It caught ’em by surprise,” Starnes said. “Nobody expected it. I wasn’t expecting it.”

Judge Starnes, now just “Hugh,” knows not everyone is going to like what he’s going to say from now on.

“I can understand you have very powerful feelings,” Starnes said. “I hope you’ll respect that so do I.”

Starnes isn’t a judge anymore, but in his defining moment, he’s got a few things he didn’t have before.

“I also gained, I realized, a little bit of self-respect for myself, that I stood up. I gave up something, but I feel like I can stand tall.”

Starnes said he has been thinking a lot about how he can contribute. He hopes his years of listening, learning and mediating might start those around him on the path to understanding one another.