Judge Ruth Becker-Painter

Judge Ruth Becker-Painter

Judge Ruth Becker-Painter graduated from Smith College with a degree in Microbiology – perhaps an unlikely background for a career in law.

“One could have a background as a Renaissance person and still go to law school,” she said.

During the height of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, Becker-Painter was in a Boston laboratory studying the leukemia virus in mice. Her transcripts lacked the math and physics requirements that would put her on a track to medical school.

“The last math class I had taken was Algebra II,” she laughed.

News stories about chemical warfare sparked a passion in the young microbiologist, and she decided to pursue a career in the legal field. After graduating from Temple University School of Law, Becker-Painter had a friend in Palm Beach County heading up the Florida Migrant Services program.

The socioeconomic dichotomy of wealthy Palm Beach residents and Haitian sugar cane cutters in Belle Glade made for an interesting introduction into the Florida Rural Legal Service System. She compares it to Caesar Chavez’s farm worker movements in California during Reagan’s first term as president.

Amidst her work in the legal systems of Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, she and a friend drove to Looe Key for a weekend of diving and dining in the Keys. It wasn’t long before she accepted a position as assistant public defender in Key West. In 1990, she was serving as the chief assistant public defender when she was elected to the county court. She’s been reelected every four years since without any opposition. 

After she began presiding over Adult drug court in 1995, Becker-Painter incorporated her love for running – she’s run eight marathons to date, including the New York, Boston, Marine Corps and Inaugural Disney World Marathon –her medical background and her passion for social involvement into a creative sentencing for drug court defendants. Since 1997, at the conclusion of monthly Friday morning drug court hearings, Becker-Painter and the defendants make their way to the 7-Mile Bridge to exercise. Though she can’t force them to run alongside her, they must “move” whether it be on a bike or on a skateboard. Most, she said, simply walk. Becker-Painter points to studies that prove exercise produces endorphins, a natural chemical produced in the human body that makes us feel good. She’s aiming to combat the culture of drinking and drug use so prevalent in the Keys with an exercise and healthy life style program.

“I’m a firm believer in preventative measures,” Becker-Painter said. “Some judges are not as comfortable being directly involved, but I like to take a more holistic approach.”

All the judges currently active in drug courts in Monroe County, she said, are more socially involved instead of just “umpiring” as some judges in larger jurisdictions may do.

Her career highlight, however, was in her days as a public defender in South Florida. She was representing a young man charged with murder, and after filing a motion to dismiss his case and go to a jury trial, the defendant was quickly found not guilty. She brought several character witnesses to the trial who attested to the victim’s “nasty” character, and the jury recessed for only five minutes to find in favor of the defendant who acted in self-defense.

Her tone turns stern when she remembers the prosecution of a man whom she said is currently serving his third life sentence for a crime, and “deserves every minute of it.”

She quickly softens as she reflects on her biggest personal highlight, the day she met her husband, Jim. On Jan. 14, 1996, she was with a friend at a party to celebrate the National Football League playoffs. A mutual friend introduced them, and they’ve been together every day since.

The couple resides on Cudjoe Key, but spend their weekends in Key West aboard their Sea Ray, Monique. After 24 ½ years in the Keys, Becker-Painter says the best part of being a “local” is easy to see.

“All you have to do is look out your window and look at your calendar.”

“One could have a background as a Renaissance person and still go to law school,” she said.

During the height of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s, Becker-Painter was in a Boston laboratory studying the leukemia virus in mice. Her transcripts lacked the math and physics requirements that would put her on a track to medical school.

“The last math class I had taken was Algebra II,” she laughed.

News stories about chemical warfare sparked a passion in the young microbiologist, and she decided to pursue a career in the legal field. After graduating from Temple University School of Law, Becker-Painter had a friend in Palm Beach County heading up the Florida Migrant Services program.

The socioeconomic dichotomy of wealthy Palm Beach residents and Haitian sugar cane cutters in Belle Glade made for an interesting introduction into the Florida Rural Legal Service System. She compares it to Caesar Chavez’s farm worker movements in California during Reagan’s first term as president.

Amidst her work in the legal systems of Palm Beach and St. Lucie counties, she and a friend drove to Looe Key for a weekend of diving and dining in the Keys. It wasn’t long before she accepted a position as assistant public defender in Key West. In 1990, she was serving as the chief assistant public defender when she was elected to the county court. She’s been reelected every four years since without any opposition. 

After she began presiding over Adult drug court in 1995, Becker-Painter incorporated her love for running – she’s run eight marathons to date, including the New York, Boston, Marine Corps and Inaugural Disney World Marathon –her medical background and her passion for social involvement into a creative sentencing for drug court defendants. Since 1997, at the conclusion of monthly Friday morning drug court hearings, Becker-Painter and the defendants make their way to the 7-Mile Bridge to exercise. Though she can’t force them to run alongside her, they must “move” whether it be on a bike or on a skateboard. Most, she said, simply walk. Becker-Painter points to studies that prove exercise produces endorphins, a natural chemical produced in the human body that makes us feel good. She’s aiming to combat the culture of drinking and drug use so prevalent in the Keys with an exercise and healthy life style program.

“I’m a firm believer in preventative measures,” Becker-Painter said. “Some judges are not as comfortable being directly involved, but I like to take a more holistic approach.”

All the judges currently active in drug courts in Monroe County, she said, are more socially involved instead of just “umpiring” as some judges in larger jurisdictions may do.

Her career highlight, however, was in her days as a public defender in South Florida. She was representing a young man charged with murder, and after filing a motion to dismiss his case and go to a jury trial, the defendant was quickly found not guilty. She brought several character witnesses to the trial who attested to the victim’s “nasty” character, and the jury recessed for only five minutes to find in favor of the defendant who acted in self-defense.

Her tone turns stern when she remembers the prosecution of a man whom she said is currently serving his third life sentence for a crime, and “deserves every minute of it.”

She quickly softens as she reflects on her biggest personal highlight, the day she met her husband, Jim. On Jan. 14, 1996, she was with a friend at a party to celebrate the National Football League playoffs. A mutual friend introduced them, and they’ve been together every day since.

The couple resides on Cudjoe Key, but spend their weekends in Key West aboard their Sea Ray, Monique. After 24 ½ years in the Keys, Becker-Painter says the best part of being a “local” is easy to see.

“All you have to do is look out your window and look at your calendar.”

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