Church and State
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's mission from God to eliminate obscenity knows no bounds
Published: February 24, 2011
Judd, a strict Baptist, envisions himself as one of the few willing to take on the burden of battling obscenity, which he believes endangers children and breeds crime. His detractors, however, see him as an egomaniac and a religious zealot who uses his power to punish thought crimes and impose his moral standards upon others.
"I have no problem with Sheriff Judd expressing his opinions about what he thinks the law ought to be," says commercial litagation attorney Kemp Brinson, who runs Polk Law Blog (polklawblog.com), a watchdog blog that keeps tabs on legal issues in the county. "The problem I have is when he asserts or pretends the law is what he wants it to be, when it isn't."
Before Polk County was a product of Grady Judd, Grady Judd was a product of Polk County. He was born and raised in Lakeland, a quiet city of nearly 100,000 that opens its city commission meetings with invocations to "the holy name of Jesus Christ." (The practice is currently the subject of a lawsuit by the Atheists of Florida, filed in July of last year.)
"We were raised in church," Judd says. "Every time the church doors opened, I was there."
Judd's mother was a homemaker who volunteered her time as a Sunday school teacher. His father was a blue-collar worker who also took on the role of music director at Crystal Lake Baptist Church. Judd's parents ensured that neither Grady nor his younger sister, Lee Ann, ever missed a sermon. "My kids probably thought there was a law that you had to go to church on Sunday," Judd's father, Grady Sr., says.
Judd's father regards the chain of events that brought him to Florida as "divine intervention." He was raised in rural Sparta, Tenn., and seeing no future in tending to the family farm after his father died, he hitchhiked to Florida when he was 20 years old. He wasn't sure what he'd find there, but he knew he had an uncle somewhere in Lakeland. Judd Sr. found that uncle and took a job in his window-washing business. He earned $25 a week, most of which he sent back to his mother and six younger siblings. While washing the windows of the Golden Key gift shop downtown, he met the woman who would eventually become his wife. In 1952, a year after arriving in Lakeland, he found work as a mechanic at the Tomlinson Cadillac dealership, where he stayed for the next 46 years.
Grady Curtis Judd Jr., future sheriff of Polk County, was born in March 1954, and as a boy, he idolized his father. "He would have followed me in my tracks wherever I went," Judd Sr. says. "So I always tried to make the right tracks so he would go in the right direction."
The young Judd also admired police officers. As a child he would wail on a blow-up punching bag while wearing cowboy boots and a hand-stitched police uniform; as a teen, he absorbed the police drama Adam-12 and asked the local barber to give him "the Pete Malloy." (Today, he regards a hypothetical blend of Andy Griffith and Marshal Matt Dillon from Gunsmoke as "the perfect sheriff.")
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