Judge Edward H. Merrigan, Jr. (Melanie Bell)
Now a full colonel, a graduate of the U.S. Army War College and a decorated veteran of the war in Iraq, Broward Circuit Judge Edward Merrigan seems the perfect pick to preside over the county’s Veteran’s Court.
Chief Judge Peter Weinstein thought so.
When it was starting in 2012, Merrigan said Weinstein told him almost a dozen Broward County judges are veterans, but “You outrank us all.”
It’s been a learning experience, Merrigan said. Even though he has led combat patrols, watched incoming rockets explode and had nine of his men wounded in battle, he said he’s learned a lot about PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other war-related issues on the bench.
“I’m by no means an expert, but I’ve certainly been exposed to a lot of the different things that affect people and their behaviors, and the availability of treatment for these people,” he said. “And it’s kind of opened my mind to alternative resolutions and treatment of people. The goal here is to integrate the folks who are going through Veterans Court back into society.”
Unlike most, Merrigan came to the military late—years after he had graduated from law school and had been working as an attorney.
He was born in Washington, D.C., but when he was 12 Merrigan moved to Fort Lauderdale, where his dad became chief of surgery at Holy Cross Hospital. Merrigan played offensive tackle on the Cardinal Gibbons High School football team, then went off to Lenoir-Rhyne College in Hickory, N.C., where he separated his shoulder in his freshman year. He quit football, got a bachelor’s in business, then went to Cumberland School of Law in Alabama for his J.D. Then he went to Emory University to get an LL.M. in tax law.
“I wanted to work for the IRS,” he said. “But they had a hiring freeze on.”
He wound up back in his hometown, working as an associate at a commercial litigation firm. Three years later, he moved to Barnett Bank, as vice president and corporate counsel.
“When I was a lawyer I think I tried cases in, like, 33 of the 67 counties in Florida,” he said.
He started with Barnett the year of Hurricane Andrew, 1992. One of the bank’s cases led to him talking with the National Guard. It sparked a desire, and in 1994 he was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the JAG Corps, U.S. Army Reserve.
He did that for six years. Eventually, though, he said, “I figured if I was going to be a soldier two days a month, you know, I’m a lawyer the other 28 days, I wanted to do something different.”
He asked for a transfer and went into civil affairs, where troops rebuild infrastructure and serve as “kind of conduits between the ground maneuver guys and the local populace.” He wound up spending nearly a year in Iraq, he said, “helping the city of Baghdad get back on its feet.”
That involved working with the police and fire departments, local schools and hospitals, and city hall. It also meant leading combat patrols. He earned a combat action badge, and a Bronze Star for meritorious service for duties as a battalion executive officer.
When he returned, he became managing attorney for the Fort Lauderdale office of a Jacksonville commercial litigation firm, but he started thinking about the next step in his career. He put his name in for a nomination to the bench. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to County Court in 2009.
Five years later, this past March he took the bench in Circuit Court.
He said his years of experience as a lawyer have influenced his courtroom style.
“I think I’m pretty pragmatic, for the most part,” he said. Which means he doesn’t prevent lawyers from emailing or texting in court, and issues with scheduling. “I understand the lawyers in front of me have other courtrooms to be in and they have clients they have to meet with. … I understand the realities of technology and modern-day practice.”
Nonetheless, he said: “I like it quiet and orderly, so I can listen to the arguments. The big thing is that people want to be heard. They want you to hear their argument and I want to give them the opportunity to hear their argument.”
And, while “professionalism and civility are huge,” he said, “for the most part lawyers come prepared and make good arguments for their clients, so that makes things easy for me as a judge.”
He also continues to serve in the military. In November, he was promoted to colonel. Then, last month, he received his masters in strategic studies from the war college.
“It was something I wanted to do. It’s the highest level of military education,” he said. And, for a military history buff, the chance for briefings by top military commanders and tours of historic battle sites led by top strategists, was a dream come true. “It’s just been very, very interesting.”
Born: 1962, Washington, D.C.
Education: U.S. Army War College, M.S.S. (CQ), 2014; Emory University School of Law, LL.M., 1989; Cumberland School of Law, J.D., 1988; Lenoir-Rhyne College, B.A., 1984.
Experience: Broward Circuit Judge, 2014-present; Broward County Judge, 2009-2014; Managing attorney, Fort Lauderdale, Hiday & Ricke, 2005-2009; Associate, McConnahhey, Duffy, Coonrod, Pope and Weaver, 2002-2005; Vice president, corporate counsel, Barnett Bank, 1992-2002; Associate, Houston and Shahady, 1989-1992.