Lee County Court Judge Archie B. Hayward is back on the ballot for the third time.
Hayward is running against prosecutor Lindsay Scott Garza in hopes of keeping his seat. Election day is Tuesday and early voting ends at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Lee, Collier and Hendry Counties. Charlotte County early voting ends at 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Hayward, a Lee County native, was appointed to the bench 14 years ago and reelected in 2010 and 2016.
He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.
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“I do love being a county judge because it gives me an opportunity to help people and to serve,” Hayward said.
That’s something Hayward has been doing since he was a kid.
He said his family didn’t have a lot of money growing up but he still helped his neighbors in need.
“My mom set me up for this because I thought we had invented Meals on Wheels. Because every Saturday or Sunday, when she was cooking, she’d like take this meal to Ms. So-and-so, take this meal to Mr. So-and-so,” Haward said. “My dad would drive and I would be the one running out, giving the meals. And so it was just part of what I grew up doing, being of service.”
Hayward said he is not surprised his upbringing led him to the Lee County Courthouse to serve his hometown.
“I look at the people that come before me as people that would like someone to assist them in a time in their life when they’re having a difficult time. And I can look back and see and listen to the facts and hear them when they are before me,” Hayward said. “Now, it’s a job that you’re never going to please everyone. And you have to make a decision. And I try to do that in a fair and impartial way every time.”
He credits a lengthy career in civil and criminal law for preparing him for the role.
Hayward worked as an assistant public defender and spent nearly a decade in private practice focusing on criminal law. He worked at Rural Legal Services as the managing attorney of the Senior Advocacy Program.
As a county court judge, he also served as a volunteer child support hearing office.
Off the clock, he served on boards of community agencies and nonprofits.
“They were looking for people who would be willing to serve, and I was, you know, so I was just very honored,” Hayward said.
He doesn’t have children of his own, but he helps out children in his community.
“I have kids that I can always send back to where they come from. I’ve been mentoring; I’m a mentor in the Take Stock in Children program,” Hayward said.
The Take Stock in Children program is a nonprofit that seeks break the cycle of poverty for low-income students by helping them be college ready, according to its website.
“I was just offered so many opportunities because I was willing, but because people saw that I wanted to do stuff as well. And with that, you know, it’s been a pleasure to be able to give back to the community,” Hayward said.
Under the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct, Hayward can’t weigh in on disputed legal or political issues like for instance, the suspension of Hillsborough County Judge Andrew Warren.
WINK News asked Hayward how his personal beliefs way on his job.
“That’s why your opinion does not matter,” Hayward said. “That’s what the rules say: this, the law, is not your opinion. The law is what the law is, and you have to follow the law. And then if you don’t, the appellate courts will then do it.”
The job isn’t easy.
“You want to do the right thing. All the judges want to be right. Everybody wants to get it right and sometimes it takes time to get that done,” Hayward said. “The judge’s perspective is to listen to all, sit back and listen, and understand.”
Hayward said he never stops learning. The pandemic changed the way cases were handled.
“Oh, my gosh, it was so different. And again, we were learning a new technology, and people were, and we still had to say, OK, you know, this is still court, you may be home, you may, and you have all kinds of things you’re seeing. And it’s like, that’s not what I’m used to seeing in court that we can’t have that here today. But it was good because people had access and access to justice,” Hayward said.
And the results were often rewarding.
“People will come up to me and say, hey, you were my judge, and tell me what they’re doing now. And that’s because the way I treat them,” Hayward said.
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