Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday announced the appointment of Judge Laurel M. Lee as secretary of state, replacing Mike Ertel who stepped down from the position last week after “racially inappropriate” photos of him 14 years ago surfaced.
Lee is the wife of Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, whom DeSantis once considered as his running mate.
Laurel Lee has extensive judicial and legal experience and had been appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott to serve as a circuit court judge in Florida’s Thirteenth Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County, where she was subsequently unchallenged in her reelection.
“It is clear to me that Judge Lee’s background and experience make her an excellent choice to serve as secretary of state for Florida,” said DeSantis. “She is ready to handle the important elections administration duties and cultural responsibilities accorded to this position with a steady hand and good judgement.”
Lee learned the meaning of public service at a young age. Raised in a military family, Lee’s father is a veteran who served 31 years’ active service in the United States Air Force; her mother worked as a public school teacher for 30 years.
“I am humbled to serve the people of Florida as secretary of state, an important position with many responsibilities,” said Lee in a prepared statement. “I thank Governor DeSantis for allowing me the privilege to continue my public service in this new capacity.”
Lee presided in the Circuit Civil Division and the Civil Appellate Division of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit. In addition, she presided over the East County Civil Division and the Domestic Relations Division. She was a member of the Florida Supreme Court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Courts and the Florida Supreme Court’s Commission on Trial Court Performance and Accountability.
Prior to serving as a judge, Lee served as an assistant United States attorney in the Middle District of Florida, where she initiated and prosecuted a wide area of criminal offenses, including white collar and violent crime and the sexual exploitation of children. Before becoming a federal prosecutor, she worked as an assistant federal public defender in the Middle District Court of Florida and as a judicial law clerk to United States District Court Judge James S. Moody, Jr. She previously practiced law at Carlton, Fields, P.A. in Tampa.
In addition to her extensive legal and judicial experience, Lee has served her community in numerous capacities. Since 2016, she has served on the Pepin Academies Foundation Board, a K-12 charter school. From 2012-2013 she was president of the Board, and in 2017 was presented the “Peregrine Falcon Award” for distinguished service to the school.
Lee also serves on the board of directors for the Emergency Care Help Organization of Brandon and is a member of the Junior League of Tampa. From 2001-2004, she served as a volunteer lawyer for the Bay Area Legal Services Domestic Violence Assistance Project.