BARTOW — The Florida Supreme Court accepted Circuit Judge Neil Roddenbery’s involuntary retirement Friday, and that has left a vacancy on the bench in the three-county Tenth Judicial Circuit.
Roddenbery, 63, who was appointed to the bench 15 years ago and has never been opposed in re-election, was forced to retire after he was diagnosed with cognitive impairment caused by a variant of Alzheimer’s disease. His current six-year term would have expired in January.
Two weeks ago, Lakeland lawyer Torea Spohr was elected without opposition to Roddenbery’s post, but her term won’t begin until January.
In the meantime, the position will remain vacant until that time, Chief Judge Ellen Masters said Tuesday. She has reassigned Circuit Judge Catherine Combee, who had been handling civil cases, to cover Roddenbery’s docket. Masters said the remaining judges in the civil division, coupled with senior judges who step in when there’s an overload, can manage the civil caseload.
“It’s easier to resolve the vacancy in the general civil division than in family,” she said.
On March 30, Masters had notified the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission about Roddenbery’s diagnosis, which had been confirmed earlier in the month. She requested that the Supreme Court declare him involuntarily retired, and she included a letter from him agreeing to her request. Roddenbery also waived his right to a probable cause hearing before the state Supreme Court.
On April 6, the commission submitted a recommendation to the Supreme Court that Roddenbery be involuntarily retired, according to Supreme Court documents. The commission had voted that probable cause existed supporting a ruling Roddenbery was permanently disabled and incapable of performing his duties as a judge.
A former police officer and longtime Lakeland resident, Roddenbery had developed a reputation among those in the legal community as a respected jurist who took care in rendering rulings. Masters described him in her letter as a well-loved and respected judge of the Tenth Judicial Circuit.
Suzie Schottelkotte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-533-9070. Follow her on Twitter @southpolkscene.