Judge retiring after 18 years on bench, string of high profile trials

Published: Jun. 30, 2020 at 9:06 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - A circuit judge who has presided over some of Leon County’s biggest cases is retiring after 18 years on the bench.

Tuesday was James Hankinson’s last day on the job.

Hankinson has presided over many high profile cases, including the murder trials of Gary Hilton, Henry Segura, Denise Williams and most recently, the three defendants accused of killing FSU law professor Dan Markel.

Hankinson says he had hoped to finish that case before retiring, but COVID-19 put Katherine Magbanua’s re-trial on hold.

“That’s disappointing that I couldn’t bring it to finality one way or the other,” Judge Hankinson said. “I kind of feel like I’m leaving unfinished work,” he said. “It would have felt good to get it resolved one way or the other.”

The Markel case and several others brought national media to Tallahassee. Some of the cases were streamed live gavel to gavel.

“In my career, I’ve been involved in my share of high-pressure proceedings,” Hankinson said. “I just try to keep it on an even keel, don’t get too tied up in the hoopla and deal with it one day at a time.”

Hankinson served as both a state and federal prosecutor before being named to the circuit court bench in 2002.

“I will miss the courtroom setting. I’ve been involved in the courtroom since June 1978, when I tried my first criminal case,” he said. “I get asked a lot what is my most memorable case and truthfully, they’re all serious, they’re all significant.”

Hankinson is described by both prosecutors and defense attorneys as a tough judge. He says he prefers the word “demanding.”

Hankinson’s retirement was effective at 5 p.m. Tuesday. He’s looking forward to spending more time with his family, especially his seven grandchildren.

The governor has already named a replacement. J. Layne Smith begins his tenure as a circuit judge Wednesday, July 1st, but court administrators tell us Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll will be taking over Hankinson’s felony division docket.

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