Remember Judge Vocelle?

Practitioners in today's Florida workers' compensation have become accustomed to judges transferring about the state. Just in recent history, we have seen Judge Remsnyder transfer from St. Petersburg to Melbourne, Judge Pitts from Jacksonville to Orlando, and Judge Rosen from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg. It is nothing out of the ordinary.

Anecdotally, I am told that the practice was started many years ago. In 1985, Charles Vocelle was appointed to serve in Miami. In 1986, he requested that Chief Judge Shirley Walker transfer him to Lakeland. When she acquiesced to that, the practice became known as a “Vocelle Transfer.” It was not really a new procedure.

Judge Charles Hurt’s transfer from Lakeland to Orlando in 1986 actually created the Lakeland vacancy that Judge Vocelle would fill. Despite this, there are several old Legends around today that remember the “Vocelle Transfer” as an event and an innovation. Perhaps the distance between Lakeland and Orlando is just not sufficient to stick in the memory?

Judge Vocelle replaced Charles Hurt in Lakeland. Judge Hurt served in Orlando thereafter until retiring in 1995. Many will remember Judge Vocelle for the courtroom he built in Lakeland. When that office moved into its current location, he paid to have a courtroom constructed in the premises, complete with bench and witness stand. There are some exceptional hearing facilities in Florida today, but only Lakeland had a genuine courtroom, courtesy of the judge that wanted it that way.

Some will remember his persona. Some will remember some gracious courtesy, perceived slight, grand victory, or troubling defeat in Lakeland during Judge Vocelle’s tenure. When the OJCC transitioned to secured facilities, and each district was assigned Florida State Troopers, there were occasions when the Lakeland trooper would sit in the back of the courtroom during hearings, much as a bailiff does in circuit court. Many will have fond and indelible memories of Charles Vocelle.

Judge Vocelle was born in Georgia back in 1923 and grew up in Vero Beach. He attended the University of Florida and served in the United States Marines in World War II. After the war, he graduated from University of Miami Law School and practiced in Miami from 1950 to 1960. He then moved to Lake City where he practiced until he was appointed Judge of Industrial Claims in Miami.

A year later, he successfully made the “Vocelle Transfer” to Lakeland where he served as Deputy Commissioner and then Judge of Compensation Claims until 1998.

Judge Vocelle passed November 3, 2014 at the admirable age of 91. He was part of the fabric of Florida workers’ compensation. His passing made me think of Veteran’s Day next week. I am thankful for this Marine and so many like him who defended the freedoms we all enjoy today. It is troubling that we perhaps all fail to acknowledge and appreciate their service more frequently. If you are a veteran of whatever description or tenure, thank you for your service.

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