Judge Mizelle Spotlight, continued
Judge Mizelle made her way back to Florida to attend the University of Florida Levin College of Law, where she earned a law degree in 2012 and graduated first in her class. During law school, she interned for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Orlando and later as a summer associate at a Miami law firm. She also worked as a certified legal intern for the State Attorney’s Office in Bradford County.
It was UF Professor Dennis Calfee and the late Professor Michael Seigel who pushed Judge Mizelle to apply for federal clerkships. Judge Mizelle readily confesses that this was not her plan; she was set on becoming a federal prosecutor and was not sure what a clerkship entailed but trusted the advice of her mentors. This sparked an enviable run of four distinguished federal clerkships. She clerked for U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. in Tampa and now-Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. She later clerked for Judge Gregory G. Katsas of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
When Judge Mizelle applied for what is, arguably, the chance of a lifetime clerking for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, it was those UF professors, among many others, who again supported Judge Mizelle’s dreams. In a remarkable display of commitment, Professor Seigel had foreshadowed Judge Mizelle’s success and wrote a letter of recommendation for his former student and research assistant before his passing, knowing that she intended to apply one day for a Supreme Court clerkship. Professor Siegal’s letter of recommendation, Judge Mizelle later learned, was influential to her receiving a clerkship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. In fact, she made history as the first UF alumnus to be a clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Mizelle left that clerkship with Justice Thomas with a breadth of knowledge and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, stating that it was both the hardest, yet most enjoyable, work she had ever done. With a smile, she notes Justice Thomas’s infectious laugh and incredible work ethic and recalls some of Justice Thomas’s mantras, from his grandfather who would say, “Old Man Can’t is dead—I helped bury him,” to “you can give out, but you can’t give up.”
Judge Mizelle also set out to fulfill her dream of becoming a federal prosecutor. After her clerkship with Chief Judge Pryor, she worked as a federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, where she prosecuted white collar crimes and led grand jury investigations of multi-million-dollar tax shelters and fraudulent schemes. She recalls one case where she secured a conviction against the defendant, a former IRS revenue agent, for tax evasion. “It was an interesting case because the defendant used his knowledge of the tax code to avoid paying taxes for decades through funneling income through nominee bank accounts and filing false forms with the IRS,” Judge Mizelle said. As she recounted various prosecutions, her enthusiasm for seeking justice was evident.
She also served as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia, where she prosecuted the largest sex trafficking case in that district’s history. The defendants trafficked over 50 women across multiple states. “There were so many victims,” she recalls, “each with their own story. One young lady even overdosed on Fentanyl while being forced to work for the lead defendant.” After years of government service, Judge Mizelle joined Jones Day in their Issues and Appeals practice before her nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
When asked what advice she has for young lawyers, she focuses on the things most important to her success. Judge Mizelle mentions the value of being flexible because sometimes the unplanned path is the most rewarding. She also notes the importance of choosing who you are working for rather than what you are working on. Most importantly, stay faithful and committed to pursuing excellence. Judge Mizelle’s commitment to her alma mater has been recognized by her appointment to the University of Florida Law Center Association Board of Trustees. She also hopes to remain connected to UF by teaching a condensed course as an adjunct professor.
It is undeniable that Judge Mizelle has had distinguished mentors; however, it was a high school teacher and track and cross-country coach, Mr. Michael Musick, who inspired her from an early age to mentally and physically stretch herself. She is visibly filled with joy as she recalls Mr. Musick encouraging her every step of her career and faithfully cheering on his students’ success. Mr. Musick, who passed earlier this year, was instrumental in Judge Mizelle’s success and his memory is undoubtedly honored by his former student.
Her experience as a federal prosecutor, as well as having the privilege of clerking for several extraordinary jurists, has informed Judge Mizelle’s approach to the federal bench. She is anchored by her commitment to be fair and even-handed. She spoke often about the responsibility that comes with being an Article III judge and is humbled by the duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.
Judge Mizelle and her husband, Chad Mizelle, who is also a native of Polk County, have made Tampa their home again. Although she is still driving her old Toyota, much has changed for her. Yet one thing is for certain: Judge Mizelle is set on establishing herself as a principled jurist. She is wholeheartedly committed to her work and making sure parties before her are fully heard.
Whether it is ruling on a motion to dismiss or choosing the perfect carpet for her chambers, Judge Mizelle is steadfast on making the right decision.