Growing up in Plant City during the 1980’s, Ashley Moody’s life was surrounded by family, faith, community, and the town’s singular McDonald’s restaurant.
Who would have guessed that in 2006, the woman with a Master’s in Accounting from the University of Florida would go on to be the youngest circuit court judge in the entire state (besides Ashley herself)? Moody’s experience with the law is drawn from many wells — her first job as a business litigator, her time as a federal prosecutor, being the daughter and granddaughter of judges, and even the experiences of her husband, a federal agent.
On this episode, Moody discusses her vision for Florida as a safe, strong, and prosperous state. She also reflects on the role of Attorney General as the ‘guardian of justice,’ the ability of the attorney general to be proactive in shaping policy, and issues like the opioid crisis, elder abuse, and human trafficking.
Chris Cate: Welcome to the Fluent in Floridan podcast, featuring the Sunshine State’s brightest leaders, talking about the issues most important to the people of Florida and its millions of weekly visitors. I’m Chris Cate, and in this episode created by Salter Mitchell PR, Heidi Otway, the president of Salter Mitchell PR, talks to former Hillsborough circuit court judge, and current candidate for Attorney General, Ashley Moody. In their conversation they talk about Ashley’s influences, her work as a federal prosecutor, and about being elected the youngest judge in Florida in 2006. They also discuss Ashley’s run for Attorney General and the issues she’ll prioritize if elected. And you can hear it all, right now.
Heidi Otway: So Ashley, thank you so much for being on the show. We like to start our interviews by learning what motivated our guests before they became Florida leaders. So I know you grew up in Plant City. Can you share a little bit about what you enjoyed doing when you were growing up, and how your hometown has influenced you?
Ashley Moody: Well when I grew up in Plant City, there was only one McDonald’s if that gives you any sense of how big the town was when I grew up. So it was really a place that everybody looked out for one another. I couldn’t get away with anything because everyone watched out for everyone else’s kids and I would say that, really, Plant City and my upbringing there, probably has more than anything to do with who I am. It’s a small town, everyone there stresses the importance of family and faith and I just feel real fortunate to have grown up in such a special place.
Heidi Otway: Thank you. So what influenced you to go to the University of Florida?
Ashley Moody: Well, by generation, I am, I guess you could say, a triple-gator. My grandfather went to the University of Florida, my parents met at the University of Florida. My father was the editor of the yearbook and my mother was the homecoming queen. And so they met there. All of my siblings attended the University of Florida, so you could say that our family bleeds orange and blue. We are gators through and through.
Heidi Otway: That’s awesome. And then you went to law school at Stetson. Did you know when you were going to law school that you wanted to make a life in Florida?
Ashley Moody: Well you know, I went to the University of Florida Law School. I am actually … I got my degree in accounting, a Masters of Accounting and Law Degree from the University of Florida and then I got a LLM, a Masters of Law at Stetson University College of Law. And my family has been in Florida for a very long time. I’m a fifth generation Floridian. I love this state. It’s given a lot to my family and I, while I entertained the idea many times when I was growing up, living somewhere else, when it came down to it, and I was choosing a place I wanted to begin my professional career and raise a family, I couldn’t leave Florida. And so part of what drives me in seeking this role of Attorney General, is ensuring that our state is a safe, strong, prosperous state. It’s given me so much, my family so much, I would love to be a part of giving back to that.
Heidi Otway: Okay. So let’s go back to how you go to where you are right now. So in 2006, at the age of 31, early 30’s, you became what, a circuit court judge, making you one of the youngest judges in Florida. Tell us about that.
Ashley Moody: Well, at that point in my career, I had started practicing law at the law firm of Holland & Knight. I was a business litigator and then I became a federal prosecutor both in Jacksonville and Tampa. I prosecuted guns, drugs and fraud cases. And so when I became a judge in 2006, I had already had the experience of being in the civil side of the legal world, and, on the criminal side of things.
So when I became a judge, it was a natural transition. At the time I was the youngest judge in the state of Florida. So I knew that in order to be successful, I was going to have to work extra hard, do my homework, and make sure I was a prepared and efficient judge. And so, I spent over a decade on the bench. I loved every minute. I took very serious that a judge’s responsibility is to take chaos and reduce that to order in our civilized society. And I cherished that role and tried to every day, do that with honor and integrity and protect our community.
Heidi Otway: Was there a case during that time that you were on the bench that really kind of stood out for you? Something that you said, wow, this was really significant to my career, or to the state of Florida?
Ashley Moody: Well, you know, I handled tens of … thousands of cases as a prosecutor and judge and so many of them were important to the state of Florida in different ways. Some stick out in my mind as being particularly hard, emotionally to deal with. Of course, we expect our judges to make very hard decisions, apply the law to unique facts and circumstances. So some stick out in my mind as being very difficult cases to separate from emotionally.
We had an incident in Tampa that garnered national attention when we had a mother take the lives of her own children. And that case was initially assigned to me. And of course I am a mother and those cases are often times very difficult to handle as you learn more and more about alleged facts, and have to become more involved in a case. And so, I think one of the key responsibilities of a judge and an Attorney General for that matter, is to apply the law, enforce the law, removing yourself from having any personal bias, or personal influence on the case, and make blind decisions in accordance with the rule of law. And so, because I have been doing that for so long in my life as a prosecutor, as a lawyer, as a judge, I am prepared to lead as the top cop of this state, the chief law enforcement officer, the top prosecutor, and doing so without regard for anything but enforcing the law and keeping our community safe.
Heidi Otway: So Ashley, if you can tell me a little bit … it’s so interesting to hear you talk about your story and growing up in Florida. You touched on it a little bit early about what really inspired you to run for Florida’s attorney general. Can you tell me a little bit more about that and how your experiences and how your family, and how being a lifelong Floridian has influence and inspired you to run?
Ashley Moody: Well I grew up in a family of judges. My grandfather was a judge, I’m the daughter of a judge, and I am the wife of a law enforcement officer. So as you can imagine, being a former prosecutor and a judge myself, the idea of being the top law enforcement official in this state, really the guardian of justice within the state of Florida, that was something very attractive to me. As a judge if you’re doing your job right, you’re very limited in what you can do and say, rightfully so. As someone that is involved at the top of government in Florida, I would really be able to have more proactive role in the criminal justice system issues that we face as a state. And I was very ready to do that. Ready to move from the role of calling balls strikes and being more of a player in this game, using the experience that I’ve had along the course of my career, and certainly the perspective of passion that I’ve developed as a result.
And so when it came time to make the decision whether I would resign my position as judge to run to be attorney general, I talked about all of that with my husband, and he … I thought there might be a little more deliberation and discussion, but he, my husband, being a law enforcement officer, he understands the importance of having someone as the top cop in the state of Florida that has worked with law enforcement. And understands what they go through, not only professionally, having been a prosecutor, but also as a wife of a law enforcement officer. So he has been fully engaged, fully supportive, helping me at home and manage those responsibilities while I balance the statewide campaign because he knows what’s at stake for the state of Florida.
And like my husband, nearly 90% of Florida’s Sheriff’s, Democrat, Republican, Independent Sheriff’s have supported me because they understand that it’s important that our top prosecutor have prosecuted cases and lead investigations and I’m the only one in this race that has meaningful experience doing that.
Heidi Otway: So looking ahead at the future of Florida, what do you think is the most important issue that an attorney general can impact?
Ashley Moody: Certainly our criminal justice system and how policies play out in Florida. We are dealing with difficult issues in Florida that we’ve had a hard time getting our arms around. Whether that’s the Opioid epidemic, human trafficking, elder abuse … All of these things are on the rise, and it’s going to take someone who has a background working with law enforcement and prosecutors to develop successful strategies and prosecutions to deal with these issues.
And so, I believe that is what I bring to this role. I believe the next attorney general will have to start battling these on day one, and this is not a position where you can learn the job, on the job. We have to have someone in this role that can hit the ground running. And that is what I bring to this campaign. That is what I will do as soon as I am sworn in and I’m excited to get started.
Heidi Otway: So let me ask you about … you talked about your having to travel a lot and you have a supportive spouse who’s there to help you with the family. And when you’re running for office on the state wide level, you have to communicate with so many different people. Tell me about what has surprised you from leaving your local area to go meet with people across the state?
Ashley Moody: Well really, what has been surprising to me is there are, if you pay attention to different media outlets or the majority of stories in Florida, you would think everybody in Florida has one top issue, or two top issues, and they’re all concerned with the same top issues. But the range of what people are really advocating for and care about on a daily basis, changes with the communities that you are in. And I find that one of the things that has benefited me the most on this campaign trail has been interacting with what concerns people in Apalachicola, just as much as this helped me to learn what is influencing people in Key West.
And so I have grown, not only as someone who wants to take over in the role of the chief legal officer in the state of Florida, but as a person. I have developed an understanding and an empathy on some issues that I never would have had the opportunity to discuss because I’ve just been in working in one particular type of profession or in a community and so, just the vast range of issues and concerns to people across the state of Florida, has been surprising, insightful and valuable to me as a candidate.
Heidi Otway: So what were some of the concerns you heard from people in North Florida versus South Florida, versus Central Florida?
Ashley Moody: Well, some of them might be what you imagine. They’re issues and concerns that they’re dealing with on a daily basis and some, while it may be a generalized concern, it will vary on where you find yourself. So if you’re in Apalachicola, we might be talking about water supply issues and water issues. But when you head to South Florida, we’re still talking about water, but the issues may be unique. We’re dealing with red tide or we might be dealing with protecting the everglades. If you’re in St Pete Beach for example, you might be talking about the beach and how extremely important our natural resources are to our businesses there, and supporting our economy here in Florida. Supporting Tourism. And so, while there are general issues, they’re so unique to different communities, and I feel that the experience of traveling around the state, meeting with different people, has not only better prepared me to be a leader in this state, but it will make me more effective when I approach different issues as the attorney general.
Heidi Otway: So we talked about the things that you heard about from the state and from Florida residents. Can you tell Florida voters something about yourself that they may not know about.
Ashley Moody: Well I have been concerned throughout my legal career, whether that was when I was a lawyer or when I was a judge, with fairness of our process. That our legal system, and our justice system is about truth and justice. And it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s winning at all costs. And that the strength of our judicial system really hinges on people understanding that our process is fair. And not only understanding that, but they believe it is fair. And so throughout my career, I have been working on identifying issues in our system that can be strengthened, that can make our system as a whole work better, make it stronger. Whether that’s access to justice or ensuring that children coming into the court have appropriate attention and representation.
And so, many people think of me when I’m on the campaign trail – because the attorney general’s role often gets seen as the top prosecutor – and I am the only person running that has ever prosecuted a case running to be our top prosecutor. But throughout my career, I have demonstrated leadership and a willingness to work to make our system better and stronger, and more accessible and fair. And so my purpose in being the state’s top prosecutor, will be to ensure justice. That is really the fundamental underpinning of the strength of our state court system and our federal court system is justice. And I will always be committed to that as the guardian of our judicial system.
Heidi Otway: So, Ashley, earlier when you were talking about some of the concerns that people brought up, you mentioned water issues. Can you tell me what the role the attorney general could play in something like that when it comes to our precious resources?
Ashley Moody: Well, as you know, the attorney general will sit on Florida’s cabinet and really be a leader in making decisions that are important to Floridians and our resources throughout Florida. As you know I served as a judge for over a decade. I pride myself in making very thorough, deliberate, reasoned decisions after careful consideration of facts and I believe that I will bring that perspective and that experience with me to the bench. And certainly and more specifically in a role of attorney general, people want to know that if there are actors violating environmental regulations or laws, that the attorney general will within their power, within the power of the attorney general’s office, will fully investigate it and consider those and ensuring those that we are protecting Floridians and protecting our environment. And I’ve repeatedly talked about my commitment to doing that.
Heidi Otway: So Ashley, as I was looking back at your bio and all the things that you’ve accomplished, I’ve noticed that you spent a lot of time providing pro bono legal services and working with at risk children. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience and how it’s helped shape you into the person you are today?
Ashley Moody: Yes, and I talked a little bit about this before and I probably was a little more general. But in my past as a lawyer and as a judge, I have led organizations committed to pro bono efforts by lawyers which is ensuring that those that have less means, that are poor, have access to take grievances to our judicial system. That we are a system of the people, not just the wealthy. I believe that it’s fundamental to ensuring that maintaining a system of justice under a rule of law is successful. And historically you can see that this plays out. And I know that that’s one of the reasons that we have remained such a strong state and nation, because we place priority on ensuring justice. In fact, justice was one of the reasons we broke off and became our own nation. It was one of the founding principles, it’s right at the forefront of our constitution, our governing document.
And so I have served in various capacities over the course of my career in ensuring that access to court is provided and those people that may have been taken advantage of, have an ability to seek redress within our legal system. Whether it’s been by leading organizations, crafting new ways to ensure that or generating support from among our bar, our attorneys throughout the state of Florida, I’ve always felt great pride in leading that effort.
Heidi Otway: Well thank you Ashley for sharing that information with us and sharing your history and why you provided these pro bono services. We’re going to wrap up this interview, which has been very enlightening to me and I’m sure it will be to our listeners, but we always wrap up our show with four questions and these are kind of fun, so, let’s have some fun with it.
And the first question I want to ask you is, who is a Florida leader that you admire? It could be someone from Florida’s history, or someone still active in their work.
Ashley Moody: A Florida leader I admire, I would say one of those – I have met them – but I would say one of those is Sandra Mortham. She was one of the first statewide woman leaders, I can tell you there have been many challenging points along this campaign trail and she has been a great supporter and encourager and given me examples from here own journey to help me get through this. She also leads now an organization of women that are committed to ensuring we have good public service and public servants in office. And she has been just a great supporter of mine throughout this, so I’d have to say she would be one of those.
Heidi Otway: Great. And then what is something in Florida that deserves more attention?
Ashley Moody: We are losing people to drug overdose, specifically related to opioids at unprecedented rates. The rate at which we’re losing people to overdose deaths now, and that epidemic, we lose more people now than we did at the height of the AIDs epidemic. We’ve been talking about opioids for so long, my biggest fear is that we get fatigued in this area, but the facts remain, we lose more people now to overdose death than we do to car accidents and gun violence.
And so I have been talking about this from day one, on my campaign, saying that I will institute a statewide task force and working group to address this immediately upon taking office. And not just focusing on the criminal justice aspect of it. I was a former drug prosecutor, my husband’s a DEA agent. I am obviously aware of how we can make advances in this arena with law enforcement. But we can’t arrest our way out of this. And so I think it’s important that we focus on the addiction part of it, as well as education. And so, I’m committed to that. I think we need to be talking about it more. I’ve met so many people as I’ve gone around the state … you talk about issues and what people are feeling in their communities. I’ve had voters cry on my shoulder because they’ve lost immediate family members to this horrific epidemic. And so I’m committed to making a difference, making a dent. Effectively using our resources to do so and I’ll get started on day one.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, I think that’s a really good one that does need more attention. What is your favorite Florida location to visit?
Ashley Moody: I’ve been going to the Florida Panhandle since I was a baby. My grandparents are from the Panhandle. I love Panama City, our Panhandle beaches. So many of our larger cities get attention and I just have had some great experiences there, and the beauty, the natural beauty of our Panhandle beaches is, sometimes I can’t put that into words. You just have to go and visit and see it for yourself. So I would say the Panhandle’s one of my favorite places to visit.
Heidi Otway: Okay. Is there a particular beach in the Panhandle that’s at the top of your list?
Ashley Moody: Well I have to say Panama City Beach because that’s where I think, I’ve grown up going and visiting with my grandparents and I just love it.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, it’s beautiful over there. And finally, do you have a favorite sports team?
Ashley Moody: Well, I know it would not surprise you if I said the Florida Gators, but I almost feel like being a triple gator, both by generation and degree. But that’s a mostly given. We have also in my family become very big Tampa Bay Lightning fans. We are a lightning family. We love that Tampa has really evolved and become a hockey town, and that has really just taken hold in the last decade. You can just feel the energy and it’s hockey season, it’s starting, I would have to point out the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Heidi Otway: Yeah, I’d have to agree with you on that one. I’ve seen just the dynamic, excitement around that team. Between them and The Bucs, Tampa’s got a lot going on these days.
Ashley Moody: Yeah, we fly a Tampa Bay Lightning flag and a Buccaneers flag. We rotate them in and out during the sport season.
Heidi Otway: Great. Well Ashley, thank you so much for being a guest on our Fluent in Floridian podcast. We really appreciate your time.
Ashley Moody: Of course, great to be with you. Thank you for the opportunity.
Chris Cate: Thanks for listening to the Fluent in Floridian podcast. This show is executive produced by April Salter with additional support provided by Heidi Otway and the team at Salter Mitchel PR. If you need help telling your Florida story, Salter Mitchel PR has you covered by offering issues management, crisis communications, social media, advocacy and media relations assistance. You can learn more about Salter Mitchel PR at saltermitchelpr.com You can also learn more about the Fluent in Floridian podcast and listen to every episode of the show at fluentinfloridian.com or by searching for the show using your favorite podcast app. Have a great day.