Ad­vo­cate led fight for trans­parency

Bar­bara Petersen, a lead­ing pro­tec­tor of open gov­ern­ment in Florida, is re­tir­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - LOCAL & STATE - By An­gela DiMichele

Bar­bara Petersen never felt her path in life was de­fined. She had to whit­tle the force she would be­come.

She pur­sued the arts early on de­spite her father’s ob­jec­tions; she was too smart to be an artist, he ar­gued. But her stub­born­ness pre­vailed. She didn’t want to grind away at a 9-to-5 job and left col­lege with a mo­saic of de­grees: pot­tery, weav­ing, an­thro­pol­ogy, Span­ish. She was a good pot­ter, but at 37, Petersen piv­oted. She an­nounced she would take the LSAT and en­roll in law school.

“What in the world is wrong with you?” asked her hus­band, award-win­ning au­thor and jour­nal­ist Bob Sha­cochis. “Why the hell do you want to go to law school?”

Petersen knew ex­actly why, though she never had any in­ten­tion of be­com­ing a lawyer.

She wanted the kind of philo­soph­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion that law school pro­vided. She wanted to be able to think like a le­gal ex­pert; sieve through a doc­u­ment to find ev­ery truth and lie and ques­tion each word and its mean­ing.

Three years later, she grad­u­ated from Florida State Univer­sity, though the thought of tak­ing the Bar exam led her into a frenzy of break­ing dishes one morn­ing. Sha­cochis bought a plane ticket to Ar­gentina and didn’t re­turn to the cou­ple’s home un­til Petersen had sat for the exam.

She passed the Bar, with the high­est pos­si­ble score. Still, Petersen has only set foot in a court­room once. She was never in­ter­ested in de­fend­ing any­one be­fore a judge or jury. She wanted to be­come a de­fender of the law it­self.

And she did, ris­ing to be­come one of the na­tion’s top pro­tec­tors of open gov­ern­ment and a staunch ad­vo­cate of First Amend­ment rights in Florida.

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