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Felix Johnston Jr., who served as county judge in Monticello for more than a decade, has died at age 78.
Appointed to the judgeship in 1983 by then Florida Governor Bob Graham when Johnston was 42, he served as county judge until 1996, when he lost the election to Judge Bobby Plaines, who took office in January 1997. After leaving public office, Johnston returned to private practice locally.
A Jefferson County native whose parents founded what is now Johnston's Meat Market in the mid 1920s, Johnston graduated from FSU and the UF School of Law and joined the Florida Bar in 1966. He served as attorney for the Public Service Commission for a time and then went into private practice in Tallahassee, until being appointed judge in his hometown.
Johnston presided over the arraignment of the four defendants charged in the murder of the British tourist in 1993, a case that gained international media attention because it was the ninth tourist killed in Florida in less than a year and threatened the state's lucrative tourism industry. Johnston drew the ire of some members of the media that came here to cover the story, when he imposed a gag order on the press.
In court, Johnston was typically cordial, sometimes folksy, other times stern, but always fair. He presided over cases that ranged from the comic to the tragic. This reporter once did a story on a series of cases that Johnston handled in an afternoon, including one involving a cheap bottle of wine stolen from a convenience store, another involving a near-violent spat between two aging lovers who were often before the judge, and a contrite correctional officer who had driven recklessly across the county while transporting a juvenile to a detention facility in another county. Johnston patiently counseled the lovers, sternly admonished the wine thief, and threatened the correctional officer with jail if he ever acted so irresponsibly again.
None of the cases warranted coverage singly, but it was a slow news day, and strung together into a whole they may for a humorous piece, fashioned along the lines of a typical episode of Night Court, a popular television sitcom of the 80s that captured the wackiness of a Manhattan municipal court. Johnston appreciated the humor and took the story in stride good-naturedly, but he would ever warn others afterwards, “Beware slow news days.”
He was always a gentleman and a good sport.
A celebration of life gathering will be held in honor of Johnston 4 -7 p.m. Wednesday, May 8, at the Monticello Opera House.
See full obit here