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Celebrating Osceola County’s Legal Heritage

As you arrive at the Osceola County Courthouse in downtown Kissimmee, the first thing many folks notice are the three-foot block letters that were placed there in December 2021 – the day the courthouse was dedicated as the Judge Jon B. Morgan Courthouse. Those who knew Judge Morgan knew he worked in Osceola County for four decades, first as a prosecutor, then as a county judge, and finally as a circuit judge with a laid-back old Florida attitude. But beyond his aw-shucks persona, his colleagues and scores of attorneys would come to know him as focused, intelligent, approachable, practical, and prepared. It is fair to debate as to whether his admirable attributes were a product of Osceola County legal practice washing over him, or whether he infused those qualities into Osceola legal practice. As I walk into his namesake courthouse every morning, it is possible to feel how different, diverse, and rewarding practicing law in the southern half of the Ninth Judicial Circuit can be.

In 1973 the Florida Constitution was revised to create the Ninth Judicial Circuit in its current form which encompasses Orange and Osceola Counties. Orange County remains the business and legal hub of our Circuit with its imposing Orange County Courthouse, major large law firms, and the headquarters of the Orange County Bar Association and numerous diverse bar organizations. But legal firms large and small would be remiss if they did not incorporate a visit to Osceola County into their practices.

The sheer scale of Osceola County is impressive. At 1500 square miles, it is 50% larger than Orange County by land area and is the sixth largest county in Florida. At last count, the population of Osceola County was over 420,000 residents with a population growth nearly doubling every decade since 1990. Hispanic residents comprise over half of all who call Osceola County home. To the south and east, the dozens of huge working cattle ranches and vast wildlife management areas that extend to the horizon serve as continuing examples of Osceola County’s former main economic drivers.

In 2001, recognizing the exploding growth in population and business, county and city leaders built a modern courthouse commensurate with Osceola County’s advancements. The Historic Courthouse was preserved, keeping true to its 1890’s roots. From the courtyard one can see both Osceola County’s past and the present modern center of Osceola County legal life. 

I have worked at both Orange and Osceola courthouses. To me, life feels just a little more down-home Florida in Osceola County. The judicial and legal communities are smaller than our main hub in Orange, and that translates to a more collegial feeling with our colleagues and the attorneys with whom we work on a daily basis. Our robust Osceola County Bar Association works hand in hand with the various bar associations and our friends at the Orange County Bar Association to bring our legal community together for education and fellowship. Our community partners at Osceola County and the City of Kissimmee tirelessly provide us with facilities and resources to remain modern and effective.  

Courthouse life in Osceola is as diverse as it is interesting. Alligator sightings on Lake Tohopekaliga are a daily occurrence as you come or go from our free parking lot or garage. The SunRail train vibrates our coffee mugs and reminds us hourly of the convenient public transportation available for our attorneys, litigants, judges, and staff. A P-51 WW2 fighter plane’s low pass over the courthouse as our friends at Stallion 51 set up to land at the Kissimmee Airport to our west is a common sight. The Silver Spurs Rodeo in the summer and Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall are fixtures on our social calendars.

For our legal community, our fourteen judges serve three circuit felony/juvenile divisions, two county criminal divisions, two circuit civil/probate divisions, two county civil divisions, three domestic DR/DV divisions, one dependency division, and our problem-solving courts.  As the administrative judge, with the assistance of Judges Tanya Wilson and Hal Epperson, I have the pleasure of working with each division. It is a great source of pride for every judge to be physically present, on time, prepared and accessible to you. Our support staff and courthouse administration are the most diligent and responsive folks I have ever worked with. Our court clerks, security team, courtroom deputies, and interpreter staff are all absolute pros.

The plaque you will see when you visit the Judge Jon B. Morgan Osceola County Courthouse reads “He was known for his patience on the bench, generous spirit, and abiding integrity”. Judge Morgan’s legacy, and our daily efforts to follow his lead, resonate in the walls of our courtrooms. If you have not practiced in Osceola County, let me invite you to take a case or client and spend some time with us. I suspect you too will experience the laid-back community feel, the generosity of our legal professionals’ time and talents, and the integrity of legal process you and your clients deserve.  Bienvenidos and Howdy Y’all. We’ll see you soon.

The Honorable Keith A. Carsten is the Administrative Judge for the Osceola County Circuit and County Courts. He was appointed to the bench in 2013 and has been an OCBA member since 1997.

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