Ethiopian-American Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson re-elected after opponent drops out over coronavirus crisis

By Jeff Burlew | Tallahassee Democrat

The first Ethiopian-American Judge in America, Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson of Leon County, has been automatically reelected after her lone opponent dropped out, saying the coronavirus crisis made it too difficult to proceed.

Stephen M. James, a Tallahassee attorney who filed to run in February, notified the Supervisor of Elections Office on Friday — about an hour before qualifying ended — that he was exiting the race.

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“Please consider this letter as formal notice of my withdrawal from the candidacy for Leon County judge, Seat 5,” he wrote. “Unfortunately, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic proved difficult to overcome by the qualifying deadline.”

Nina Ashenafi-Richardson

James would have had to collect 2,132 voter signatures or pay a $6,072 fee to qualify for the race and appear on the ballot. Ashenafi Richardson paid the fee.null

Ashenafi Richardson’s husband, Tallahassee City Commissioner Curtis Richardson, congratulated her in a Facebook post.

“She wants to thank all of those who supported her in her short-lived campaign,” he said. “She looks forward to continuing to serve the citizens of Leon County and ensuring equal justice for all who enter her courtroom.”

County judges serve six year terms and handle misdemeanor, small claims and traffic cases, among others. According to her online bio, Ashenafi Richardson was first elected to the bench in 2008. 

Ashenafi-Richardson, who is the first Ethiopian-born person to serve as a judge in the United States, also was the first African-American elected president of the Tallahassee Women Lawyers and the Tallahassee Bar Association. She is immediate past-president of the William H. Stafford American Inn of Court.

During her term as president of the Tallahassee Women Lawyers, the organization provided legal assistance through programs such as Law School for Laymen and Living Will workshops. TWL also offered legal counseling to battered women and their children, and mentorship programs for local students.null

With the Tallahassee Bar Association, Ashenafi-Richardson is a regular leader in a diversity symposium, aimed at high school students in Leon County. The students visit the courts and enjoy a lunch at which they meet local leaders.

Dr. Marci Marano Beckis, right, is presented with a plaque by Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, left, and Nancy Miller, center, during the 2014 Trailblazer awards during Women's History Month.
Dr. Marci Marano Beckis, right, is presented with a plaque by Nina Ashenafi-Richardson, left, and Nancy Miller, center, during the 2014 Trailblazer awards during Women’s History Month.

Ashenafi-Richardson came to the United States from Ethiopia as a young child. Her father was director of the Center for African-American Culture at Florida State University, the same university where Ashenafi-Richardson later would earn her law degree. In 2001, before she was elected to the bench, Ashenafi-Richardson received The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award for the 2nd Judicial Circuit.

Read from source | Tallahassee Democrat