Meet the Humans of the Keys

Meet the Humans of the Keys

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trish Docherty Gibson, Key West


I grew up in central Pennsylvania. My parents were professors at Penn State; they were in the sciences, microbiology and biochemistry. I went into law and basically had a full scholarship at Penn state; I went to law school in Harrisburg, PA, but later transferred to the University of Miami so I could work for the Public Defender’s office. That’s how I ended up in south Florida.

During the first year or two that I was in Miami, I was working at the News Café from midnight until 8 A.M., I had 30 credits of law to finish, I was working at the Dade County Public Defender’s office, and I had to write a thesis for my school up north... I didn’t sleep at all! Believe it or not, I actually made more money as a waitress at the News Café than I made at the Public Defender’s office. I came down to Key West to talk with the Monroe County Public Defender and was hired on the spot. I was planning to move here on August 1st, but there was a hurricane which delayed me a couple of days, so I’ve been in the Keys for 22 years as of August 4th.

I came down initially with a boyfriend. But as most of those stories go, it didn’t work out. Interestingly enough, I met my husband, Barry, here in the Keys after I had been here for 3 or 4 years. He‘s from Pittsburg. Our families were 2 hours away from each other up north, and we met here in the Keys! He came down on vacation and never left. He also moved down with somebody, a girlfriend; same story…she didn’t stay and he did.

We live in Key West, although as the Chief Assistant to the Public Defender for 12 years, I work in all 3 offices in the county, Marathon, Plantation Key and Key West. As Chief Assistant, I have a full case load and I am also an administrator. I do all the death penalty cases, all the violent sex offender cases; I do civil cases and regular cases as well. So in addition to my normal duties defending my clients, I also travel up and down the Keys assisting and training my attorneys. In the Marathon office I do some of the bigger trials just because they are gaining experience as they assist me and they are learning that way. The Plantation Key office is very well trained so I don’t have to spend as much time there. I also go to Tallahassee to assist my boss, and I go to the budget meetings, for both state and county.

I love my job. It’s what I’ve always strived to do. I love trial work, I really do, but it’s been 21 years and I’m ready to take a little break from that. I’m ready to do primarily administrative work. I decided to run for Public Defender because it’s the natural progression. Being Chief Assistant is kind of the training ground for becoming Public Defender. I have worked my way up, knowing this was where I wanted to go. I would like to lead the Public Defender’s office for no less than 16 years, which would be 4 terms. At that time my daughter will be off at college.

Many people ask me, “How can you defend someone when you know they are guilty?” If I had a nickel for every time I’m asked that question, I could certainly retire. The answer is that I truly believe in the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution is so near and dear to me that when I actually went and saw it in DC, I got goosebumps looking at it. I believe that this country is at a pivotal point right now and I do not want to see any loss of rights by anybody. We have this living breathing document that was created so that our country could grow and so our people’s rights would be protected - the poor, the black, the gay, the straight, the white… you know, everyone. I so truly believe in it, it’s how I am able to do this job. Without it in the criminal justice world we might as well be a country like Iraq or Iran…where suspicion is enough for conviction. It is really important to me that our rights are protected; that everyone’s rights are protected. One thing that I think I’ve brought to the table in the last 21 years is that when dealing with the victims’ families I’m kind, I’m caring and I show them respect, so they don’t feel like the system is out to get them.

Juggling a busy career with having a family isn’t easy, but you can make it work. We have a daughter, Taylor; she’s 8 and is absolutely the most adorable thing in the world! I have a newfound respect for single parents. I’m able to make it work because I have a great husband who is willing to pick up the slack when I can’t do it. I don’t know how anyone could do it by themselves. I’ve sometimes worried if I’m doing the right thing, but I hope Taylor will one day respect the fact that her mother was able to have a successful career and have a family. Can you have it all? No, I guess not; some things have to suffer. But, I hope the example I’m giving her is worth any other areas that might lack due to my choices. She will know that she can do anything and still be a woman…she can even be President!

I think that I’m showing my daughter a whole new world that just two generations ago women didn’t know. I taught law at St. Leo’s University in Key West for 15 years, and I would bring her to class a lot of times because my husband was working, so she got to see her mom in front of a classroom, with people listening to her. I haven’t taken to her the courtroom yet because I deal with people that I don’t want her exposed to yet. But, one day I will certainly show her the courtroom.

I am incredibly proud of my daughter. She is such a wonderful child. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments…! But I am also proud of the fact that I have worked really, really hard to get where I am. I was lucky in a lot of ways. My college was completely paid for, and I did have help paying for my law school. But, I worked really hard; I worked through high school, I worked through college and law school. Now, I get up early and I work, I campaign, I’m a mom... I think that things come to those who work really hard and put effort into what they do. I hope that transfers to my daughter and that she’s not one of those people who just expect things to come to them; I want her to know she has to work for them. So, I’m very proud to be a mom, but I’m also proud that I’ve worked so hard to get to this point.

When I first moved to Key West from Miami, I literally said to myself, “What did I do?” It was a very foreign place to me; it was very odd! I had moved from Philly to Miami, and then to the Keys, and it was very different! For the first year I drove back to Miami almost every weekend. Interestingly enough, it was softball that got me into the community. You know, I had met lawyers through my work, but I just couldn’t break into the community. Then I joined the softball league and suddenly I got to know a lot of people.

I got a boat because the boating is amazing here! I love the neighborhoods; I love the way we all take care of each other. It’s the people of the Keys who keep me here. Every time we consider moving to the “real world” (air quotes!), friends who have done it say, “Don’t do it! You’re not going to find what you think you’re missing. You’re not going to find the people anywhere that you have there.” It’s important to me to raise my child in a place where people know and care about each other. There is an amazing amount of generosity in this community. Any tragedy, any illness, the community is there to help. It’s just what we do.

These last few years of campaigning and traveling up and down the Keys, I’ve gotten to know about lots of gems I didn’t even know existed. I love living in Key West, but I have really fallen in love with Islamorada. I told my husband that and he thought I was crazy. Then we recently spent a long weekend up there while my daughter was away, and he has seen the light. The people are so nice, the restaurants are wonderful, and it’s closer to the mainland. I don’t know that we will be moving up there any time soon, but I can see traveling up that way more often.

I think I’m a fun person, but I also think a lot of people don’t see that because of how seriously I take this job. But, I enjoy life, and I love the Keys. When we go boating, which hasn’t been often enough lately, my stress level goes down immediately! I love to watch my daughter and Dottie, our Jack Russell, play for hours. They just run around the house and swim and enjoy life. I really enjoy being home with my family. On the rare occasion that my husband and I do go out any more, we are always ready to go home early. Seriously, we have to force ourselves to stay out past 10 o’clock and that’s fine! I guess it is part of really growing up and becoming adults; I enjoy time at home with my family so much more than going out.

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