This woman will become Manatee-Sarasota’s first female chief judge this summer

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The 12th Judicial Circuit Court will have a new chief judge this summer — and for the first time the circuit will be led by a woman.

Circuit Judge Kimberly C. Bonner was unanimously elected last week as the next chief judge for the upcoming term that begins July 1.

Bonner, 52, was first appointed to the county bench in 2002. Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the circuit bench in 2013 to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of former Circuit Judge Rick DeFuria.

The Pepperdine School of Law graduate began her legal career in 1990 as an Assistant State Attorney in Sarasota. She went on to practice with Dickenson & Gibbons, as a staff attorney for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and served as in-house counsel for Allstate Insurance.

Circuit Judge Charles Williams will remain chief judge until the new term begins.

Bonner was very pleased that her colleagues had such confidence in her, she said on Thursday. While being the first woman to hold the position was not something she anticipated, it has been something she has been working towards.

“It’s interesting that those milestones are still noteworthy,” Bonner said.

While she has no plans to make any major changes, Bonner says she will continue to focus her efforts on on-going projects such as the the planned new courthouse for south Sarasota County. For Bonner it is very exciting to be part of the building planning process.

“We have been talking about this since I was a lawyer in the ‘90’s and is coming to fruition now,” she said.

Security is another area of concern that Bonner has been focused on and will continue to do so, she said, as chair of the courthouse security committee. Joining circuits across the state, courthouse security practices are being reviewed to make sure they are aligned with best practices.

Another area of concern has been and will be the juvenile dependency court, according to Bonner.

While dependency judges statewide are feeling the strain, her biggest concern is for Manatee County, which has seen some of the highest number of child removals. But the answer is not just more court staff or judges, because there are so many other agencies involved, she acknowledged, that don’t have enough staff either to keep up with the case load.

“But once you get involved in those cases and see how important they are, and the lives you are affecting, it’s something you can’t just throw up your hands,” Bonner said. “Its a big concern of mine.”

Jessica De Leon has been covering crime, courts and law enforcement for the Bradenton Herald since 2013. She has won numerous awards for her coverage including the Florida Press Club’s Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting in 2016 for her coverage into the death of 11-year-old Janiya Thomas.