St. Thomas Law proudly announces the appointment of alumna Phoebee Francois ’94 to the Broward County Circuit Court for the 17th Judicial Circuit. Appointed by Governor Rick Scott in June 2018, her investiture ceremony was held on September 21 at the Broward County Courthouse.
Francois began her career as a prosecutor, working for the Seminole State Attorney’s Office from 1994 to 1995. She then became an Assistant Public Defender for the Broward County Public Defender’s Office where she served for nine years. After working in solo/private practice for five years handling criminal, family, immigration and employment law, she began her tenure as General Magistrate at the 17th Judicial Circuit Court.
Judge Francois’ rise to the bench was not an easy nor a quick one; but given her family history – her grandfather was a judge – and the fact that she grew up in Haiti listening to stories of lawlessness and citizens being ignorant of the law, it was almost inevitable. But inevitable was far from the ideal description of her path to a judicial appointment.
Judge Francois applied to the bench 15 times over the course of 13 years before finally receiving her appointment. Unparalleled focus and determination kept her motivated to keep applying after being denied year after year. Judge Francois was quick to note, however, that with every disappointment, she learned a lesson that she took into the next application process. Along the way, she also learned the importance of establishing and maintaining community and political connections. By the time her successful application was submitted, she was blown away by the amount of support she had from various constituents throughout her community.
“I couldn’t imagine not applying,” she stated in response to being asked what kept her going. “My goal was to be a judge. I knew my day would come, and I am happy to say that it did.”
She laughed as she recalled the afternoon she received that phone call from Governor Scott informing her of her appointment. She remembered thinking: “Oh my God, I cant believe it. This can’t be the Governor calling.” But the moment he introduced himself, she knew she had finally achieved that hard-earned goal.
Even though she decided she wanted to be a judge from a very young age, she said she truly fell in love with the law while attending St. Thomas Law. While a student at St. Thomas Law, Judge Francois took full advantage of all the opportunities that were afforded to her both inside and outside of the classroom. She was a member of the Black Law Students Association, Phi Alpha Delta, and was a member/coach of the Moot Court Team. She also connected with professors and fellow students who she proudly counts among her lifelong friends.
After graduating, and throughout her legal career, she has maintained her connection with St. Thomas, accepting our students as interns, working with professors, as a magistrate, to have students argue cases in front of her, and continuing to serve as a mentor.
Her roots in community continue to flourish and she remains active in a number of community service initiatives. She is a mentor to young members of the Haitian Lawyers Association, works with the Community Action Agency of Broward County Ad Litem program, serves on the board of the Community Action Center which serves the needs of the the Haitian community, and still finds the time to volunteer with Meals-on-Wheels and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Judge Francois’ story inspires us not only because of the clear perseverance she exercised, but also because it displays what anyone with big goals can accomplish as long as the lessons taught by disappointment are learned and appreciated.
The St. Thomas Law family wishes Judge Francois all the very best as she begins this new phase in her judicial career. We know she will serve the citizens of Broward County with honor.