Most people have only one career. Broward Circuit Judge Marcia Beach has had four.
She started law school at 40 when she was a Broward County commissioner.
It wasn’t a mid-life crisis. She said, “It was a mid-life opportunity.”
College was a decades-old dream.
“When I graduated from high school,” she said, “there were not the college scholarships available to women.”
Her dad was a welder; her mom a stay-at-home homemaker.
“They really didn’t have the funds to send me away at that time. We didn’t have community colleges,” Beach said. “So I did the next best thing. I married my high school sweetheart.”
She was 17. They had two daughters, but the marriage ended after a few years.
In her first career with the city of Tampa, she met her current husband of 43 years, Cecil Beach. When he became Florida state librarian, they moved to Tallahassee, and the judge became deeply involved in legislative advocacy for people with disabilities.
Her reasons were personal. One of her daughters has cerebral palsy.
“Shannon led me into advocacy,” she said. Beach had “always had a spot, a place in my heart and in my mind that cared about people who needed help and assistance.” Given the chance, it became her second career.
She helped start the state’s second foster grandparent program, which matched grandparents to children who needed support in the public school system and with institutionalized adults.
“I visited associations for retarded citizens, that’s what they were called back then, ARCs,” moved into a variety of leadership roles and “eventually was senior vice president of the Florida Association for Retarded Citizens and their legislative advocate.”
From 1975 to 1977 she successfully lobbied for passage of the Bill of Rights for institutionalized people with developmental disabilities and the Retardation and Prevention Community Services Act.
“Working with the Legislature on enactment of reform legislation was always a major part of what I consider my accomplishments in life,” she said.
In 1977, her husband was recruited to head Broward County’s libraries, and the judge-to-be began the transition to her third career, in politics. That same year, she became the first executive director of the county’s legislative delegation. In 1978, she became a legislative aide to U.S. Representative Edward Stack.
In 1980, she was elected to the Broward County Commission.
“I had a goal that we should set the land use policy, that we should include services for people with disabilities and elders, and I had a chance to put all of that kind of together as a member of the commission,” she said. “Those battles were not easy.”
Despite those successes, she still wanted to go to college. She started and finished her bachelor’s degree at Barry University while she was on the commission. Three years into her second term, Beach resigned to dedicate herself to law school. Again, the attraction was the desire to make a difference.
“I didn’t ever really want to do criminal law. I think it was the change advocacy that attracted me,” she said. “Lawyers in Tallahassee were the change agents and, even though I was successful as a lobbyist and I wasn’t a lawyer, I felt that attorneys were able to succeed in so many ways.”
She became an associate with Holland & Knight when she graduated, specializing in land use, zoning, environmental real property and governmental law. She left in 1992 to become executive director of the Advocacy Center for Persons with Disabilities Inc. and ended up as a special counsel in the state attorney general’s department of legal affairs before deciding to run for judge.
“It just seemed like a natural part of my legal growth,” Beach said. “I could see through the advocacy on behalf of people with disabilities that you could make a difference, that judges in special roles within the court system can participate in helping others change their lives.”
She immediately asked to be put in the dependency division.
“I really believed we could change the way we work implementing the foster care system,” she said. “I immediately began in my role in the dependency division looking at how we could bring in more funding for children who were in the dependency system for reuniting parents with their children when at all possible.”
Two years later she moved to drug court, where she’s been ever since. She insists helping the defendants helps society.
“If we can divert those individuals initially to what I would call the therapeutic court, and they accept the tools that they can learn, they stay out of the criminal justice system.”
Beach retires at the end of December. She said her goals are to continue advocating for people with disabilities and to check back in on foster grandparent programs.
“I’m not retiring from life,” she said. “Our lives are enriched when we help others.”