Brevard County Judge
Brevard County Judge Michelle Naberhaus practiced law for 16 years before being appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the judiciary. Locally, she practiced with the law firms of Gray Robinson, P.A. and Dean Mead, P.A., in addition to managing her own firm for years and is widely respected as a civil litigation attorney focused in the areas of probate litigation, trust litigation, and guardianship litigation.
She said she chose law after being mentored by a colleague who applied for a judicial vacancy. “She and I shared a lot of the same values and professional goals.” Naberhaus graduated from the University of Florida Law School in 2000 and began practicing in Melbourne soon afterwards.
Through her appointment to the bench, Naberhaus began to understand that serving as a judge is about much more than having
the privilege to rule on the law. “As a judge, you are serving the public and the legal profession, as a whole. This appealed to me at every level, and I am truly honored that I now have the opportunity to serve,” she said.
Serving at the county court level she added, “A judge has the ability to make a difference in the life of a person who has made a mistake. The people who come into my courtroom have committed misdemeanor offenses. As a judge, I can often times talk to people about the mistakes they have made, and try to find ways to help them address the consequences head-on and discuss how not to make the same mistake again.” And incrementally, that step by step approach is how lives turn around and destinies are redirected: “If I can look back at my day and feel like I have helped at least one person, that makes me very happy.”
Naberhaus is clear about what being a woman brings to her profession: “I believe that I have the ability to communicate with people in a way that they feel they are being heard. During the years I practiced law, I handled certain cases that had very difficult family dynamics. I had clients tell me that, despite the difficult circumstances in the case, they felt that I listened to them and advocated for them to the best of my abilities. I think that having compassion for people and their situations is important, but to understand a person’s situation, you have to take the time to listen. I believe this is also important in my present position; when a person comes into my courtroom, he or she wants to know that they are being heard,andIalwaystrytobemindfulofthat.”
Naberhaus rules another court, as well. “As a mother of five, I have been passionate over the years about empowering women to realize their potential. A part of this is the result of having personally dealt with the societal expectation that a woman with a big family cannot have career goals or be successful in business. Although no one ever intentionally set out to send that message to me, it was always something that was present beneath the surface. Having practiced law for 16 years, I’ve had numerous young ladies speak to me about what it is like to practice law as a female. More often than not, the subject of having children comes up. I always try to emphasize that they have to make a personal decision as to what will be best for them and their family. However, if they wish to continue with their career, there are ways to plan for that. You may have to think outside of the box from time to time to make a situation work for you, but there are certainly options.”
On the subject of mentors, Naberhaus said, “My first mentor was Elizabeth Metzger, the judge I mentioned previously. She is presently serving as the Chief Judge of the 19th Judicial Circuit of Florida. Another mentor, for different reasons, is Claudia Jones. Claudia is the managing partner of Dean Mead, P.A., and I practiced with her at the law firm until I assumed the position of Brevard County Judge this past January. She strikes an amazing balance of business acumen with understanding of people, and she has been one of my biggest supporters. I was truly honored to have both of these impressive women speak at my investiture in January. Another true mentor to me over the past few years is Beth Gitlin. I first came to know Beth when she took over as the executive director of the Women’s Business Center, (now known as weVENTURE), at Florida Institute of Technology. Beth is one of the humblest and most genuine people that I know, and I admire her passion to support other women in their ventures while she quietly stands in the background cheering with a big smile on her face.
Now a mentor herself, the judge serves in that very same IGNITE 360® Program through weVENTURE. “This is a wonderful program that helps business owners examine their business plans and operations for the purpose of taking their businesses to the next level. A part of the mentoring was to identify existing issues and how to address them, but another part was to provide mentees with the support needed to help them understand that they can be successful in their business,” she added.
Those mistakes allowed me to reassess, pick myself up, and try again. There is also a certain sense of humility that comes with having to admit to a mistake, and there is a real opportunity for personal growth if a person is open to it.”