SARASOTA, Fla. (Jan. 25, 2018) – The interaction with students. The guest speakers, including colleagues from court. The lessons even he learned while instructing students.
Manatee County Court Judge Douglas K. Henderson says he’ll miss all that and more after retiring from a part-time teaching job he had held at USF Sarasota-Manatee since 1978, just three years after the satellite campus was founded.
Perhaps the longest-serving instructor in USFSM’s history, Judge Henderson made teaching a regular feature of his weekly schedule until Nov. 13, when the 66-year-old addressed students for the last time. He said he’ll serve as a judge for another year or two before retiring altogether.
“Mondays already feel a bit empty,” he said. “I’m sure going to miss the drive to campus and being with the students.”
Judge Henderson joined USFSM when USF criminal justice professor Dr. Manuel “Manny” Vega relocated to Sarasota-Manatee from the Tampa campus and asked him to squeeze in a part-time, three-hour teaching session. Back then, USFSM functioned as a night college for working students and shared classroom space with New College. Henderson, who was just starting his legal career, agreed and quickly fell in love with the job.
It turns out, he said, the sessions helped him to become a better lawyer.
“I learned a lot from the preparation of the lectures, but I also learned a lot from the students when they asked questions and voiced their opinions. Many times they made me consider things I’d never thought of or had a different perspective on,” he said.
“I liked their enthusiasm for the law, their passion,” he added. “It reminded me of what I was like when I first got my degree.”
Judge Henderson didn’t start professional life as an attorney but a probation officer after earning a bachelor’s degree in 1973 and master’s degree three years later, both in criminal justice from USF.
As he mingled with judges, public defenders and prosecutors during the course of his duties, his interest in the law deepened to where he thought about pursuing a law degree, which he did at the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Returning in 1981, he landed a job as a prosecutor at the State Attorney’s Office of the 12th Judicial Circuit and was soon back at USFSM as well, teaching introduction to courts, substantive criminal law, and criminal rights and procedure. In 1994, he was elected to the bench, where he’s remained ever since.
“USFSM and its students have indeed been fortunate to have someone teaching with Judge Henderson’s wealth of experience,” she said. “His classes have been special, and student course evaluations over the years reflect the fact that students realized and appreciated the privilege of learning from him.”
The judge admits the classes took a bite out of his schedule – one year saw him traveling an hour each way to USFSM’s former satellite campus in North Port – but nonetheless he looked forward to the sessions: “It was a bit of a drive from the court house, but the students were great.”
In addition to bringing guest speakers into the classroom, including many colleagues, he enjoyed hashing out the law’s finer points with students and gathering their overall impressions of the legal system.
He frequently instructed students to attend courtroom sessions and write about their “takeaways,” from whether they thought justice was fairly meted out to how the proceedings differed from their notions beforehand.
“The observational reports from the students were always interesting,” he said. “I loved reading them. One thing they learned: It’s not the same as television and the movies.”
The judge witnessed many changes over the years, not just in the courtroom but in the classroom as well. Early on, most of his students were male – police officers and sheriff’s deputies looking to complete their degrees – but over time more female students signed up, including aspiring lawyers and judges.
Among them was a future colleague: 12th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Debra Johnes Riva.
After hearing of his retirement from USFSM, Judge Riva said: “Judge Henderson was one of my favorite professors. He made the study of law exciting. It’s fair to say that Judge Henderson’s class reaffirmed my desire to become a trial lawyer and I will always be grateful to him for his positive influence on my future.”
Judge Henderson said he knows more former students who went on to successful legal careers, and while he has stepped away from teaching, he hasn’t retired from other diversions that fill his schedule, including three local bands that have him playing gigs every month. The judge plays guitar and bass guitar.
“Teaching has been a part of my life for so long that my family and friends can’t believe I’m really doing this, but I know it’s time as I look ahead to my future,” he said. “Still, I’m already missing those Mondays in the classroom.”
For more on USFSM’s undergraduate criminology program, visit usfsm.edu/programs/criminology.