Judge Set High Standard 


Saturday June 21, 2003

Judge set high standard

Wilkie Ferguson was the first African American to be appointed a Judge of Industrial Claims (JIC) in Florida. 

The year was 1973. I began to represent injured workers in compensation claims before him in 1974. His term as a JIC was too short, as was his life. He took the time to learn a complicated area of law.

Ferguson was fair, learned and respected. He had a perfect judicial temperament.

I considered him a friend -- not in the usual sense, but as lawyers, as members of the Bar, as people with concern for others. We shared those thing as friends share other things. 

Ferguson got tough cases.

He later was appointed to Circuit Court. Since he was assigned to the criminal decision and he knew that I had been a criminal prosecutor, he called upon me to defend accused felons who needed counsel when conflicts arose. I thanked him for his confidence in me. I appreciated his courtroom's atmosphere. You always knew that the judge was in charge. 

Somehow he seemed to be assigned the tough, high profile cases. Was it blind assignment or were the powers-that-be testing him? It didn't matter. He always handled himself with dignity and humility. If he made a ruling of which he was unsure, he would research the subject until he was sure. Not many judges would do that. 

While a JIC he attended functions of the Friends of 440, which fostered cooperation among judges, lawyers, doctors, adjusters and rehabilitation providers in the workers' compensation community. After he went to the circuit bench, he never missed an opportunity to come to our annual banquets as an honored guest who could deliver the best invocation imaginable. 

Next it was on to the appellate bench, where Ferguson distinguished himself again. It was no surprise that this humble, caring man would champion the causes of the disabled. He still came to the 440 functions. He kept in touch.

He served last on the federal bench. He still found the time to attend 440 functions. 

I regret that he will no longer lend his intelligence and wisdom to the law. I regret that I didn't get to say goodbye. And I join many others who knew and respected him in hoping that he will rest in peace, that his family will know how special he was and that they will rejoice in his accomplishments. 

We are adjourned. 

Mark L. Zientz

9130 S. Dadeland Blvd.

Suite 1619

Miami, Fl. 33156