As perhaps at no other time in his career, Judge Terry P. Lewis sits in the eye of a political storm.
A quiet, laid-back jurist who sometimes does not wear his black robe when coming to the courtroom, Lewis will take center stage when he announces his decision on whether Florida’s secretary of state has to include recounted ballots in her final state presidential tally.
Republican Katherine Harris has said she does not have to include the ballots in the final count but Democrats say she has made an arbitrary, partisan decision favoring Gov. George W. Bush.
Lewis, 48, was appointed to the Leon County district court in 1998 by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles.
His friends and co-workers say he is independent in his rulings and has a reputation as a fair judge.
“It’s hard to put a position on politically where he stands,” said George Gynnn, a former law partner. “He likes people and he treats everybody equally.”
He has come up against the Republican establishment and the Bush family in Florida before.
In what is perhaps his biggest ruling prior to today’s decision, Lewis overturned a 1999 law requiring that parents of minors be notified 48 hours before their daughters have an abortion.
As part of his ruling he wrote, “not every minor comes from a Norman Rockwell family. Some have problems with abuse if their parents are consulted.”
A Native Floridian
The Florida native started his career as a civil lawyer. He received both bachelor’s and law degrees from Florida State University. He practiced civil and criminal law for 12 years before he was elected county judge.
He is known for his easy, laid-back style, and plays tennis and basketball with friends at his local Baptist church.
“We had some good match-ups when we play,” said friend Marty Stubblefield. “He works hard and plays hard.”
He is also a sort of literary figure in Tallahassee legal circles.
In 1997, he published a murder mystery novel, Conflict of Interest, about an alcoholic criminal defense lawyer. It took him five years to write the book, which sold several thousand hardcover copies before coming out in paperback.
“It’s a really good book. It’s similar to John Grisham-type novel. It’s caused a stir here in town because everyone’s trying to figure out who the characters are based on.”
While his friends may be biased, they say he is best qualified person to hand out a ruling that may ultimately determine the outcome of the 2000 Presidential election.
“I can’t think of a better person that’s qualified to make this decision,” said his tennis partner Emily Waugh.
ABCNEWS’ Good Morning America and The Associated Press contributed to this report.