Like many local attorneys who have practiced for more than a few years, Adair Newman remembers the old Duval County Courthouse along the St. Johns River — most who practiced there have a story or two about the facility and its “charm.”

One of Newman’s memories was the décor within a place the public didn’t usually see.

“I can still remember the lawyer’s lounge, which had pictures of all the different groups of lawyers who practiced over the years,” said Newman.

But one quality of the scenes from yesteryear stood out.

“The pictures were almost always men,” she said.

That was then, however.

The closing of that worn and tired courthouse from days gone by paved the way for a newer, more modern facility. Thankfully, the legal landscape — particularly at the State Attorney’s Office — has modernized, too, in the past few decades.

Of the 110-plus prosecutors in the office, women now outnumber men by just under a 3:1 ratio. Female division chiefs outpace their male counterparts by more than double. And, for the first time, the office has a female chief assistant — Newman.

It was a fact the longtime prosecutor didn’t realize until January 2024, when she and Mark Caliel were appointed chief assistants.

“Obviously, I have been around a long time, and it really shows a change in the office when I first started,” she said. “There were not a lot of women in higher supervisory roles … and the fact I didn’t notice or acknowledge shows how much things have really changed over the years as it seems perfectly normal and natural now.”

Her “long time” started just after graduating from Florida State University College of Law in 2001. The day Florida Bar results came out, she received a call from now-Judge Mark Borello, who was on the hiring committee for the office.  Yes, she had passed, and yes, she accepted the offer to come to Jacksonville.

But was that always the plan?

“No,” she quickly responded in a matter-of-fact tone. When she started school, she didn’t plan on being a prosecutor — or an attorney — at all.

As an undergrad at Providence College in Rhode Island, Newman’s studies were geared toward medical school — until junior year when she was slated to take organic chemistry.

The class itself was not a deterrent, but the late-night labs gave her second thoughts. She swapped majors, graduated from Providence, then headed south for law school. She went to FSU for the warmer weather and (what she thought) was close proximity to the beach.

“My geography was a little off on that,” she said.

Eventually, though, she headed east to Jacksonville (and the beach) to begin her professional career. By that time, she knew she wanted to be a prosecutor. Specifically, after devoting time to the Children’s Advocacy Center at FSU and Guardian ad Litem, she knew she wanted to eventually work in prosecutions of those who hurt children.

She began in County Court under now-Judge John Guy, who was an interim director. Her colleague in the division was State Rep. Sam Garrison, then a new assistant state attorney, too.

After her first trial (a domestic battery) she received a congratulatory note from Elizabeth Senterfitt, the Special Victims Unit director who later went on to become a judge. Newman said she considered her a mentor.

“I was kind of in awe of her when I first started,” she said.

Before long, Newman was bumped up to the Circuit Court line under a new division chief: Mark Caliel, who was also named chief assistant in January 2024.

“Our careers have crossed many times,” she said.

Back then, she tried her first felony case with Caliel. She later lost a heart-wrenching case involving the death of a child.  And even later, it was Caliel who talked to her about returning to the office after she briefly left for private practice.

“My heart was always in prosecution,” she said.

In the new role, Newman has oversight of County Court, the Special Victims Unit, Juvenile Division, and Clay and Nassau counties.

The newest challenges, she said, are twofold.

First, the many (many) additional meetings she now has on her calendar (she credits her longtime assistant, Josie, for keeping those appointments — and her — in check).

And second, the need to constantly monitor and adjust to the Fourth Circuit’s changes — and, indeed, there are changes all around.

The Duval County Courthouse and State Attorney’s Office shifted from the river to near the heart of Downtown.

Technology has improved by leaps and bounds.

And the facilities — and those who practice within — are more far more contemporary, a positive shift that should be reflected in the next waves of pictures adorning the walls.

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