Local Obituaries

Miami-Dade circuit judge, children’s advocate William Gladstone dies at 85

Judge William Gladstone was a Miami Herald Charles Whited Spirit of Excellence honoree in 1991. The Miami-Dade circuit judge was a crusader for youth in Florida and worked with Sen. Bob Graham as a special adviser for children’s issues.
Judge William Gladstone was a Miami Herald Charles Whited Spirit of Excellence honoree in 1991. The Miami-Dade circuit judge was a crusader for youth in Florida and worked with Sen. Bob Graham as a special adviser for children’s issues. Miami Herald file

Update: Services have been set for Judge Gladstone at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at Temple Beth El, 333 SW Fourth Ave., Boca Raton. A short reception at the temple will follow.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge William Gladstone often called himself “a social worker with a judge’s title.”

To retired Miami Herald publisher and nationally known child advocate David Lawrence Jr., Gladstone was a legend.

“Here’s a man who simply loved his work and gave it his all. Who never tolerated children being treated poorly. Who truly fulfills the definition of ‘legend,’ ” said Lawrence Jr.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham tapped the retired family/juvenile division circuit judge as his special adviser on children’s issues in 1982. He said Gladstone’s most lasting legacy will be “the standard of excellence he set in everything he pursued.”

Lawrence’s predecessor Dick Capen, in a 1990 Miami Herald editorial, praised Gladstone as “the consummate advocate for dependent children.”

Gladstone, who died at 85 in Delray Beach on Saturday morning, accepted the accolades with grace. “The answer is, first, love. But equally important is respect. Treat little people like people,” the father of three sons said of his philosophy in a 1991 Miami Herald article.

Children’s crusader

Gladstone opened many of his public speeches with a query, “Do we as a nation love our children?” He saw his role as a fighter, a crusader for children. Restless, tenacious, he often found himself cast in the role of a frustrated missionary when it came to children’s rights. Rocky against Apollo Creed. Outmatched, but often triumphant.

“It’s like being a boxer, and your opponent is a bowl of jelly,” Gladstone once mused with Capen about his profession. “You can’t win.” But the 1955 Yale School Law graduate, who saw some 400 cases a week while seated on the juvenile court bench from 1973 to 1993, won many victories.

“He transformed a system, starting in Dade County, but eventually going to the nation, to change the juvenile court from a cold institution acting like an umpire dispensing guilt and innocence to young people to a warm-hearted manager concerned with each child being developed to their full potential,” Graham said.

Gladstone’s ingenuity often took advantage of South Florida’s distinct environment, at land and at sea.

Creative solutions

“He was extremely creative in things like the Dade Marine Institute, where children who have come in contact with the law, instead of being sent to jail, learned about all things marine — skills that will, in many cases, become a lifetime employment,” Graham said. “He was instrumental in our wilderness camp, which was another idea for young Floridians who got into more serious difficulties, for rehabilitation by working in, and understanding, the Everglades and other parts of Florida.”

The Dade Marine Institute on Virginia Key that Gladstone championed taught children with misdemeanor and felony convictions about boats, scuba diving and marine science. In 1992, the institute named a new, two-story, $800,000 building the William E. Gladstone Campus.

More than three-quarters of the institute’s graduates, in an eight-year period through the 1992 building dedication, avoided further skirmishes with the law again — a rate three times better than the average for similar programs nationally, according to the institute.

“Most of the young people who pass through this building are going to use it as the foundation for a successful life,” Gladstone, a founding judge of the Dade County Guardian Ad Litem Program and founding member of Parent Resource Center of Dade County, said at the dedication ceremony. “They're going to gain self-respect and a respect for others.”

Tough love

Two years later, Gladstone teamed with Graham for Swamp Camp at Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades. Children under 18, convicted of serious felonies like armed robbery and rape, were sent to live in a rustic camp with counselors for periods of a year. There, the young convicts labored to preserve the state park. The program was patterned after the Florida Environment Institute (dubbed Last Chance Ranch), a smaller camp Gladstone and Graham, then Florida’s governor, created in the early 1980s in the northern Everglades in Venus.

Escapes at both camps were rare. “The security is provided by alligators and snakes. They’ve got all sorts of vile creatures there,” Gladstone said in a 1994 Miami Herald article.

Gladstone’s initiatives led to many honors. In 1994, the Gladstone Center for Girls, operated by CHARLEE, was opened on Sunset Drive in South Miami to care for sexually and physically abused girls.

In April 2015, The Judge Seymour Gelber & Judge William E. Gladstone Miami-Dade Children's Courthouse opened its 14-story, $110 million building at 155 NW Third St. in Miami. The building was named for the two venerated judges who worked with children and families.

Role as judge

Gladstone, born in Birmingham, Ala., on May 1, 1930, used his position to fight for increased funding to treat mentally and emotionally scarred children and to properly pay the salaries of social workers.

“I feel clearly that the time has come and passed that we must start revising our laws to take into account the rights and feelings of children, as opposed to treating them like property, chattels who have no rights,” Gladstone told the Herald in 1993.

He eschewed corporal punishment in schools, noting that such punishment was prohibited in prisons. Disagreed with a state law that permitted 16- and 17-year minors to be tried as adults on felony charges. And publicly excoriated Florida for failing its youth with an overloaded, under-staffed system for child welfare.

Gladstone wouldn’t let himself off easily, either. When Lazaro Figueroa, 3, was found battered and dead in a thicket of bushes in Miami Beach in November 1990, Gladstone, tears streaming as he sat on his bench, expressed anger, disappointment and grief. “This case is my failure, too,” he opined. “We all failed. Somehow this child was killed, and he was killed by every person in this state.”

For this reason, and others, the Herald, in honoring Gladstone with its Charles Whited Spirit of Excellence Award in 1991, called the judge “Miami’s conscience on juvenile affairs.”

The legacy of what he accomplished will be permanent.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham on Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Bill Gladstone.

Gladstone is survived by his wife Marilynn; sons Calvin, Lee and Adam; and grandchildren Alison, Jennifer and William. Services will be held at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 9, at Temple Beth El, 333 SW Fourth Ave., Boca Raton. A short reception at the temple will follow.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen