It’s 82 degrees outside, and Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Rex Barbas is rushing to get robed into his uniform of the day. Attorneys are chatting with each other in the lobby. Child counselors, volunteers and parents are keeping the children in some semblance of order.
Judge Barbas relieves another judge in a quiet chamber and then sits in a large chair, front and center of the room, with cameras focused on him.
No, this is not a scene from a typical hot day in a family law courtroom at the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa. It was a hot December day at the Hillsborough County Bar Association’s Chester H. Ferguson Law Center.
With the calmer atmosphere and no loud Christmas music, about 150 special-needs children and adults got their Santa (judges in Santa outfits) experience in assigned blocks of time with no long lines.
I thank the nonprofit Lawyers Autism Awareness Foundation that came up with an alternative to put a little joy back into the hectic holidays with their “Sensory Friendly Santa” event, because for children with autism, a normal mall visit to see Santa can be downright unbearable.