Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sharon Hamilton, Tavernier



I was born in Miami Florida and raised with my brother by our hard working, divorced mother who is my hero. She taught me a strong work ethic and that there is nothing I could not accomplish with hard work. My mother worked in Miami as an administrative assistant at the Copa Cabana. She worked with Cab Callaway, Sammy Davis, Jr. and many notable people; her stories are fascinating. She would later own a children's clothing store in the Hollywood Mall, which I believe was the first inside air conditioned mall in Florida. As young children my brother and I modeled for her store, and it turned out to be a rewarding experience I will always treasure with my brother.

I attended school in Miami, later Fort Lauderdale and graduated from Flagler College in 1985. In the fall of 1985 I started Nova University Law School in Fort Lauderdale. That's where I met my husband Michael Crimella who was a fellow student. What a great time! And, with a lot of hard work we both graduated in 1988 and took the Florida Bar Exam that same year.

Mike and I were married on May 20, 1989, one of the happiest days of my life. We both knew we wanted to live in the Florida Keys. We decided the big city and big money were not what was important to us, but a natural small town quality of life was and the Keys were the fit for us. We honeymooned in the Bahamas for a few days, but returned to the Keys because Mike had a job interview. Mike was hired as an Assistant State Attorney and we moved to the beautiful Florida Keys on June 1st, making our dreams come true.

We decided to move to Key Colony Beach in Marathon. I had not even had time to think about a job, having just planned a wedding and only being married for 10 days! Mike and I both ended up working in Marathon, he at the State Attorney's office and I worked for attorney John Conlin. Later, we both became partners with the law firm of Cunningham, Miller, Heffernan, Crimella, Hamilton & Wolfe.

Life was great and we decided to build our own home in Marathon. We did almost all of the work ourselves and my husband challenged me to tackle the electric job. I can tell you, I was intimidated at first, but up to the challenge. Thank goodness Kelly Electric was there to oversee my work. It was a great challenge that served me well later on when we built another home in the Bahamas; proof that my almost 92-year-old mother's teachings of “there is nothing you cannot do if you put your mind to it” were true. Of course no work in the Keys goes without an inspection. On the day of the first electric inspection, I had court in the morning in Plantation Key and came home to finish one more minor thing before Walter Jenkins, the inspector, came by the house. I climbed the ladder in my pencil skirt and had just finished when the inspector knocked on the door. He completed his inspection and, I am happy to say, he pulled out a failed inspection notice from his shirt pocket and said, “I guess I don’t need this.” (As a lawyer warning, climbing a ladder in a pencil skirt is not recommended. But at least I took off my heels!)

It was in my early years in Marathon that I began my pursuit of the protection of abused, abandoned and neglected children. Over my almost 30 years in Monroe County, I have dedicated my time to the vulnerable children in our community. I have served as the Chief Judge designee on the Community Based Care Alliance Board for the abused, abandoned and neglected children of Monroe County and the 16th Circuit Juvenile Justice Advisory Boards. The Guardian Ad Litem program submitted my name for an award for community advocacy and I received this honor from the Florida Supreme Court. I cannot think of a more honorable way to use your valuable time than to be a volunteer Guardian Ad Litem or work for the protection of these vulnerable children. It has always been my honor to work with these dedicated people.

Mike and I left our partnership in the Cunningham law firm and sold our house after learning that he had a heart condition that was unsuccessfully treated. He has had four operations that were not successful. We decided to travel in our sailboat while his health was still good and enjoyed cruising and building our home in the Bahamas. Mike and I have crossed the Gulf Stream hundreds of times having wonderful smooth crossings and some pretty rough crossings. You learn really quickly to respect Mother Nature and travel by plane if the weather does not look good for boating.

Because of Mike’s heart condition, he’s on a blood thinner. On our ten year anniversary we were heading to the Bahamas from the Keys. We were maybe half-way there, out of sight of land and were preparing to make the crossing and starting to put up the sails. I was turning into the wind and he was back by the winch, when I heard him yell. I looked back and he was holding his hand. I said, “Is it bad?” He said “Yes.” I said, “How bad? Is it call the Coast Guard bad?” He said “No.” I said “Bad enough for me to turn around and go back?” And he said yes. His finger had gotten caught in the winch, and it took a chunk of his ring finger. They had to cut his wedding ring off at Mariners and we joked about it, hoping it wasn’t an omen! With him being on a blood thinner he was bleeding freely. So I turned the boat around, got the sails down, and went through the shipping channel by myself! He was inside using a tourniquet which I didn’t know. He told me later that he didn’t want me freaking out. I called some friends and they met us with a nurse friend. We took him to Mariners. He ended up having surgery to reform his finger, but it was ok. I took the sailboat back to Marathon with some friends, and sure enough there was his finger tip, stuck in the winch. When I told him later, he said, “You should have put it on a hook and trolled with it!”

And, it wasn’t an omen; we’ve been married for 27 years! Of course, with 2 lawyers in the house, nobody wins an argument. But we don’t really argue. We enjoy bouncing things off each other and we’re a team. Everybody gets upset at their spouse, partner, child, parent, anyone in your family, about little things. Like them not putting their toothbrush away, just little things. Sometimes you can’t help feeling that feeling of frustration or even momentary anger. When that happens, I try to stop and ask myself, “If he wasn’t here tomorrow, would it really matter that the toothbrush was not put away?” And then I put it in perspective and let it go.

In 2005, I returned to work for the Monroe County court system and we moved back to Keys, this time to Tavernier. We now live on our sailboat in a beautiful marina. I never really intended to live on a boat this long, but marriage is about compromise. It makes him happy, and I’m good with it. We have volunteered for Reef Relief and mapping out coral for the Nature Conservancy. We love the water, we love to have fun and we love to help preserve the environment. Over the last 30 years I have volunteered for many organizations like Zonta and BPW in Marathon and I have recently volunteered for Bay Jam, Islamorada Bacon Fest, Islamorada Seafood Fest and the Elks Children Programs.

Over the last 11 years I have continued my dedication to the abused, abandoned and neglected children, as well as overseeing the family self-help program, the domestic violence case management program and the judicial case management programs for all types of cases throughout the county. As a result of my broad experience in virtually every type of legal case in Monroe County since 1989, (then) Chief Judge Richard Payne appointed me to serve as a General Magistrate. I served in this quasi-judicial capacity for over 10 years, presiding over trials and motions of all types and making recommendations to almost every judge in our circuit, including Judges, Taylor, Slaton, Audlin, Becker, Garcia and Ptomey. My jobs over the years have had me driving up and down the entire Keys. Back before cell phones and smart phones, I always kept a yo-yo fishing reel and a lure in the car. If I got stuck in traffic, I could always fish off a bridge!

I have a reputation for being a little bit clumsy even though I am athletic and played tennis in high school and college. My husband Mike reminded me of a couple of funny stories about my clumsiness. One is when the 16th Circuit was having a breakfast at the Women’s Club in Key West and the Chief Justice from the Florida Supreme Court attended. I had a plate of food and was speaking with my friend Jane when I tripped on the carpet, and my plate went flying, of course, all over the Chief Justice! She was very gracious and I, of course, was mortified. The second story is about a conference Raquel Galvan, as Judge Taylor’s Judicial Assistant, and I attended in Tallahassee. As part of the conference, they gave us a tour of the Florida Supreme Court Building. Raquel and I were on the second floor, coming down the stairwell, when I slipped and my shoe went flying off and hit the wall in front of me. I grabbed the rail and picked up my shoe, but suddenly every security officer in the building was heading for the stairwell door to make sure everything was okay. I guess my shoe hitting the wall had echoed and made a loud noise in the building! The moral of these stories is that good friends never let you forget your clumsiness because it makes everyone laugh.

I think it all comes down to treating people the way you would want to be treated. I truly believe that if you live by this rule, your integrity and compassion will come shining through. No matter what you are doing in life, if you stop for a minute and think “Is this how I would want to be treated?” it can only be good. And, I don’t think about regrets. You learn in life. You learn from mistakes. You can’t go back and change things in the past so you learn from them, and I love leaning. Life is an adventure. You’ve just got to enjoy the moments.

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