Broward Circuit Judge Michael L. Gates. Photo: Melanie Bell/ALM

Broward Circuit Judge Michael L. Gates is set to retire July 31.

Gates has been on the bench since January 2002, about a month after then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him to office.

He won re-election in 2016 for a six-year term that was due to end in 2023, but will leave office next month because of Florida’s mandatory retirement age for judges.

Thursday, Gates said he was considering a mediation practice after retirement, but had made no final decision on whether he’d open his own business or join a firm. He said he intends to travel and spend more time with his family.

Gates has served in almost every division in the Broward Circuit, except for probate court. He spent about six years in the criminal division and about nine handling civil litigation.

“I think Judge Gates is one of the outstanding people that’s worked here for many years,” Broward Chief Judge Jack Tuter said. “Most people don’t know because he’s very quiet and discreet. He doesn’t have much fanfare. He just comes in, does his job and leaves.”

But the quiet judge has a storied past—one that involves a Purple Heart and a Navy Cross for exceptional bravery.

“He’s a true military hero,” Tuter said. “I can’t say enough good things about Judge Gates. He’s just a wonderful human being.”

Gates isn’t talking about his time on the Broward bench or his tour in Vietnam. But in an interview with Carlos Harrison for the Daily Business Review in 2015, he shared a war-time experience that changed the course of his life.

“For some reason I had a feeling something was going to happen,” Gates told Harrison about the night in 1969 when he almost lost his life in a war far from home. “The hair on the back of my neck stood up.”

Gates was on a 31-foot river boat, spot-checking vessels traveling by that day to prevent enemy fighters from sneaking across, he told the DBR. He was holding a rope, waiting to tie the boat to a tree, when the enemy opened fire from shore. A bullet struck him in the lower back, just above his right hip.

“More fire hit the boat as they gunned the engine to race away. Despite his wound, Gates kept fighting. He grabbed a grenade launcher and lobbed rounds at the enemy until the firing from shore stopped,” Harrison wrote. “When things quieted down, they transferred Gates to a flat-topped troop transport. Suddenly, as he lay there, more fire came pouring in from the shore. This time, Gates grabbed an M16 and returned fire. Finally, they evacuated him by helicopter.”

Gates is 69. He leaves office this year under a provision in the Florida Constitution that requires state court judges to retire at 70.

The Judicial Nominating Commission for the Broward Circuit has issued a notice of judicial vacancy, seeking candidates to replace Gates.

Read more about Judge Michael Gates’ experience in Vietnam:

Judicial Profile: Vietnam Injury, Recovery Pushed Michael Gates Into Law