County Commission approves request to rename courthouse for Judge Aikens
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
A letter sent to Leon County commissioners requesting renaming the courthouse for judge Augustus Aikens Jr. included just about every reason why the change should happen.
The sender, Second Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom, had an addendum last Tuesday when the commission unanimously agreed to the name change.
“Judicial values are modest; easy to say, hard to live up to,” Sjostrom told commissioners.
In an obvious reference to Aikens’ qualities, he added, “I can summarize the entire code of judicial conduct in four words: diligence, competence, integrity and humility.
“My reason for the letter is because … for the seven and a half years that I have been the chief judge, I’ve seen deep, deep into Judge Aikens’ commitment to those judicial values. Whatever you decide, I’m grateful for you giving him the honor and doing me the courtesy of this consideration.”
Sjostrom’s letter was sent to then commission chairman Bill Proctor in September.
“It was a great day. A wonderful day,” Proctor said after the vote. “It’s probably best understood by people who are the judiciary. This is not the naming of a community center or a community library. This is not the naming of a community park.”
Before the board voted unanimously to put Aikens’ name on the Leon County Courthouse, it was spelled out that the change can’t take place until the judge’s final term ends on Nov. 18, 2024. Aikens, the longest serving Leon County Judge, was first appointed by former Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997. He has since been elected four times, the most recent in 2018.
“I just want to express to you my sincere appreciation for this decision,” Aikens told commissioners, with family members at his side. “I know it was not easy. This is a building that is for the community and you want somebody that would embody all the principles that you think are important as a member of this community.”
Aikens said he wasn’t expecting Sjostrom to go as far as he did.
“When he suggested this, I was dumbfounded,” Aikens said. “Didn’t expect this but I believe and I’m truly humbled that he would think worthy enough of me to make this tremendous recommendation.”
The commission’s action comes four months after the Statewide Conference of County Judges named Aikens the “County Judge Who made a Difference.” It is the highest recognition of a Florida County Judge awarded by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court.
Aikens’ resume reads like a candidate up for judicial who is who honors. In his letter, Sjostrom wrote about Aikens establishing the County Veterans’ Treatment Court, which provides treatment to veterans and service members who suffer from service-related mental health and/or substance abuse issues.
Aikens had been the only presiding judge of the Leon County Veterans’ Treatment Court since its initiation in 2015.
Other notable achievements by Aikens include his 20 years as chairman of Leon County Canvassing Board, which ensures election integrity. Additionally, he has served as statewide president, vice president, treasurer and secretary of the Florida Conference of County Judges. Also, he was the education vice-chair for general interest subjects for the Conference of County Court Judges.
His work on the bench followed a 30-year military career.
In his appearance before the commission, Sjostrom said Aikens “has been an integral part of this community; and unsung hero.”
As much was said about Aikens by Commissioner Carolyn Cummings, an attorney, who made the motion for the name change. After getting a second from Commissioner Rick Minor, Cummings went on to recall how much she learned decades ago while working for Aikens at the Department of Management Services.
“He was a great role model,” Cummings said. “I truly believe I wouldn’t be sitting here, I wouldn’t have had a successful practice but for the influence of Judge Augustus Aikens. I believe that Judge Aikens merits the naming of this particular building in honor of him.”
Commissioners Brian Welch and David O’Keefe asked for a delay on the ultimate decision to allow community feedback on the request. That was denied but both commissioners said Aikens is worthy of the honor.
New board chairman Commissioner Nick Maddox said to Aikens following the vote: “Congratulation, Judge Aikens. We appreciate the service that you’ve given to Leon County.”
Later he said “this courthouse deserves a name like yours on it. I appreciate that.”