Career Paths: Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Wells
He’s a very busy man, and always has been. On a typical day, Florida Supreme Court Justice Charley Wells (right) arrives at the court at 6:30 a.m. to read his newspapers — the Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg Times and Orlando Sentinel — before the rush begins. Because once the court building comes alive, it’s non-stop until the day ends.
“If there are no oral arguments on a given day, I’ll probably have 15 jurisdictional decisions to consider,” Wells said. “After jurisdictional questions are decided, I work through cases trying to develop opinions.” Then there’s preparation for the Wednesday conferences, where the justices come together to discuss circulated opinions.Cases are assigned randomly, and oral arguments are heard in about half of them.
“I have three law clerks,” Wells said. “But I like to do a lot of my own research.”
A proud “Double-Gator” who has been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the University of Florida, Wells earned his bachelor’s in 1961 and law degree in 1964. As an undergraduate, he participated in UF’s homecoming and Florida Blue Key, and was elected to the UF Hall of Fame in 1961.
After graduation, Wells received one of the three highest bar exam scores in the state in 1965, and spoke at the induction ceremony at the Second District Court of Appeals. He practiced in his father’s firm in Orlando 1965-69, then spent a year as a trial lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department. In 1970, he returned to his father’s firm and remained there until 1976, when he formed his own Orlando firm, Wells, Gattis, Hallowes & Carpenter, P.A. He practiced there until 1994, when Governor Lawton Chiles appointed him to the Florida Supreme Court.
He became chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court in July 2000, a position that rotates among the justices every two years, and made history when presiding over cases that came before the court during Election 2000.
During his 28 years of private practice, Wells also found time for civic activities, including involvement in the Orlando Area Chamber of Commerce, Orlando Jaycees, Orange County YMCA, and Professional Division of the United Appeal of Orange County.
“Community involvement is very important,” Wells said.
He feels pro bono work is equally important, and spent 14 years working with the Orange County Legal Aid Society, serving on the Society’s Board of Trustees 1988-89. The society gave him its Award of Excellence in 1989 for outstanding pro bono service. He also volunteered for nine years in the Guardian Ad Litem Program, representing dependent and abused children in court proceedings.
Wells similarly served the legal profession. He participated in the Orange County Bar Association for years, and was president 1989-90. He also served on The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors.
He also manages to find time to give back to his alma mater, serving as president of the Orange County Chapter of UF’s Alumni Association and returns to Gainesville — along with his fellow justices — to judge the Justice Campbell Thornal Moot Court Final Four competition each fall.
Among other credentials, Wells has been a certified mediator in both state and federal courts and was admitted to practice by all Florida courts and several federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court.