The United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida was established in 1962. During its existence, numerous important civil rights and constitutional cases have been litigated in its courtrooms. Bill Sheppard and Betsy White have been fortunate to be in the forefront of much of this litigation. They recount their experiences in two articles recently published in The Florida Historical Quarterly,Vol. 92 (Fall 2013).
The first article, “Early Jail and Prison Conditions Litigation in the Middle District Court” is Mr. Sheppard’s recollection of his efforts to remedy the inhumane and unconstitutional conditions of confinement for pretrial detainees at the Duval County Jail. When Bill was appointed by the late Judge Scott to represent the plaintiff class of jail inmates, the conditions at the jail were beyond description. According to Bill, “Cells were often packed with inmates upwards of four times their living capacity, adequate medical care was scarce, vermin ran rampant through the halls, and fights, rapes, murders and suicides were commonplace.” Throughout his years of practice, Bill has fought to ensure the constitutional rights of all Florida’s citizens are protected.
The second article published in The Florida Historical Quarterly was authored by Mr. Sheppard and Ms. White and discusses their experiences litigating Doggett v. United States, 505 U.S. 647 (1992), one of the seminal cases upholding an accused’s right to a speedy arrest. The Doggett case originated in the Middle District of Florida. Bill and Betsy represented Mr. Doggett from his first appearance in court until the day the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor, resulting in the dismissal of all charges against Mr. Doggett.
One of Bill Sheppard’s strongest attributes is his tenacity. He simply refuses to give up or give in. In both cases discussed, Bill saw something he thought was wrong and he did not quit until he made it right. This attitude remains with Bill Sheppard to this day. As Betsy White says of Bill, “He doesn’t just talk about what should be done. He does it, often without reward or recognition, regardless of the personal or professional costs. It is an honor to have litigated these cases with Bill and I am excited to see what he has in store for us as we continue to litigate constitutional cases.”