You can tell a lot about Judge Don. T. Hall just by looking at him - the neat white shirt and tie, the black judge's robes, the shiny dress cowboy boots.
As a rancher, county judge and president of the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo Association, Hall is a big part of the local community.
The south Florida native is in his fourth term as elected DeSoto County judge, making this his 19th year on the bench. He handles the county's criminal as well as civil cases, doing his part in the judicial system to protect the community and to help people when he can.
"(People) come back to you years later and tell you, 'I appreciate it,'" said Hall. "There was one young man I really had my doubts about," he recalled. That troubled youth ultimately joined the Marine Corps and is stationed in Japan. He came "out of the blue" one day and presented Hall with a medallion, telling him how much he appreciated what Hall had done for him, helping him to stay within the law and giving him an opportunity to succeed in life.
Through the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo Association, Hall has been able to benefit the community as well. The oldest rodeo association in the state, this organization was established in 1952, evolving from a group of American Legion Members who held their first rodeo in 1929, according to the group's web site.
"We are the oldest and the largest," said Hall of the Florida rodeo, which is held the second full weekend in March. Hall said the association is also the largest charitable organization in DeSoto county. It supports over 25 local groups including schools, 4-H clubs, the Boy Scouts, local firefighters, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Hospice of Southwest Florida, and the junior rodeo, according to the web site.
Hall comes from a family of lawyers and "generations of cattle folks." His grandfather Lewis Hall Sr, a lawyer from Ft. Lauderdale, used to come to DeSoto and Charlotte counties to quail hunt and camp out. Hall told the story of how his granddad was camping in DeSoto County one day, minding his own business. This was in the 1930s and early 1940s when there were no fences, and range riders would scout the area looking for cattle thieves.
When they spotted his grandfather "they thought maybe they had come upon one," Hall recounted. One rider decided to sit and wait, thinking perhaps the outriders would soon come back, and he could catch them all. He sat there for three days.
Finally after smelling all that cooking and being bitten up by mosquitoes, the range rider came up to Lewis and asked what he was doing.
"He said, 'I'm just a lawyer from Ft. Lauderdale, and one day I am going to buy this place," Hall finished with a grin.
Sure enough, his grandfather did as he had promised. He bought 40 acres of land on two parcels in DeSoto and Charlotte counties and hired that same range rider to be his foreman.
Hall's father, Lewis Hall Jr., also became an attorney and brought the family up to the ranch every weekend. His parents now live here full time and, at 89 years old, his dad still enjoys being on the ranch.
Hall himself moved to the property in 1973 after high school "because I knew this was where I wanted to be, no mistake it about it," he recalled. "I loved the outdoors. I loved the Florida landscape. I loved to hunt and fish, and I loved to ride in the flatwoods."
Hall studied animal science at Auburn University, then transferred to the University of Miami to complete a degree in business. With that education, he came back and ran the family ranch, named Tiger Bay Ranch, for 10 years. At that point in his life, Hall decided to follow in the footsteps of the generations before him and attend law school. He earned his law degree at St. Thomas University in Miami and became a prosecutor, then a clerk for a federal justice in Miami for a year.
"That was a really great experience," Hall said, revealing how he got to travel down to the Florida Keys to work on the Mel Fisher gold cases. Four hundred and fifty million dollars' worth of treasure was discovered by the legendary treasure hunter on July 20, 1985 in the warm waters off of Key West, according to www.melfisher.com.
"You could handle the gold pieces," marveled Hall, adding, "You were right there in the middle of it."
Hall eventually made it back to Arcadia in 1992 as a prosecutor in the state attorney's office. Back in the county he loved, Hall put his name in for judge and "was fortunate enough to be elected," he said.
These days Hall keeps busy with his duties at the over 100-year-old brick courthouse, his "second job" the rodeo association, and his family, wife and fellow attorney Cynthia Hall, ranch-loving 20-year-old son Parker (now studying at Florida State), and barrel-racing 17-year-old daughter Casey.
But the Tiger Bay Ranch gives him a chance to take his mind off of everything.
"My favorite thing is riding my horse," the judge said. "I get to go out and see the countryside. I always take a different route."
"What I would like to be known for most is I'm a good listener. Even if you don't prevail in court, at least I listened to you," said Hall.