As a Casey Anthony hearing broke for lunch Wednesday, Chief Judge Belvin Perry walked across his courtroom and up to a podium facing not the witness stand or the bench, but television cameras.
In minutes, Perry went from assessing arcane testimony about human decomposition to discussing statewide court finances to providing the press with measured answers about a fiscal crisis averted — his mind shifting, one gear to the next, like a high-performance clutch.
How does one man juggle the demands of a nationally observed murder case with a court budget crisis and a year of personal loss?
"Put it this way: I virtually have no life," Perry said. "Between this, between going to Tallahassee and my administrative responsibilities in running the third largest circuit in the state of Florida, I stay pretty busy."
When they wrote the job description for Chief Judge of the Ninth Judicial Circuit, Belvin Perry Jr. couldn't have anticipated all this:
The loss of two dear colleagues within a 15-month span. A leadership role with the Florida Innocence Commission. A seat on the state Trial Court Budget Commission trying to preserve court funding. An onslaught by courthouse activists looking to undermine one of his administrative orders.
Those are just some issues Perry deals with when he's not hearing the Casey Anthony murder case. Next month, when that trial begins, everyone will see how Perry presides over the high-profile case in an era of information and immediacy.
What they won't see is a man who rattles easily.
Same rules for everyone
Last month, when Anthony's defense team filed a motion accusing him of bias in a ruling, Perry showed no outward anger or resentment. The next day he addressed the motion — denying the request for a rehearing and ignoring the bias claim.
Perry cannot talk about the Anthony case now, but during an interview last week, he expounded on his life, his work ethic and his personal code as a jurist.
"As a lawyer, the only thing I ever wanted was a judge that was consistent, that followed the law and that made everyone play by the same rules," he said. "That has always been my philosophy."
Perry is known to be tough but fair and a stickler for details, legal procedure and timeliness. Some of this may be attributed to the demands of his parents.
"From washing dishes to doing household chores, everybody had things to do, and it was inspected," he said. "And if it did not meet the standards of my mom and dad, you had to do it over and over until it was nearly perfect."
Ask William J. Sheaffer, the prominent criminal defense attorney and local television analyst in the Anthony case, if Perry can handle so many jobs and the pressure inherent in a case like this. His answer is unequivocal: "Absolutely."
"Everything that's happened before in Judge Perry's career and personal life has led to the handling of this case," Sheaffer said. "Nothing's killed him yet and it has made him … a lot stronger."
From segregation to the bench
Belvin Perry's story arc is well documented. His father, Belvin Perry Sr., was one of Orlando's first black police officers, joining the force in 1951.
Perry graduated from Jones High School, where his sister is now the principal.
Casey Anthony trial: Judge Belvin Perry faces media glare
Chief Judge Belvin Perry Jr. has been a respected jurist in Central Florida for decades; he's about to get a lot of attention as the judge in the Casey Anthony trial
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