For first time in 20 years, black woman appointed to the bench in Hillsborough

After 10 years as a prosecutor, Judge Jessica Costello made history Thursday as the one of the youngest in the state and the first African-American female judge to be appointed by the governor in Hillsborough County in about 20 years.

She attended her investiture ceremony Thursday afternoon at the George Edgecomb courthouse where she was sworn in to serve the 13th Judicial Circuit in front of her with her family, friends and former classmates.

“When I think about being the first African American woman appointed in almost 20 years, appointed here in Hillsborough County, one of the things I think about is the legacy that I’m standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Costello.

She graduated from law school at Florida State University where she met her husband, then practiced law as a prosecutor in Jacksonville and Hillsborough County.

“I am the first lawyer in my family, and as of today the first judge in my family,” said Costello. “I come from a background that really focused on service and education.”

The road to Governor Ron DeSantis’ appointment took 10 years.

“I think the thing that I’m most nervous about is it’s one of the few times in a person’s life kind of like a wedding where you get the opportunity to express your gratitude to a room full of people who mean so much to you,” said Costello.

She said it’s been a daunting process, but she’s ready for the challenge.

“Both of my parents were the first generations in their families to attend college,” said Costello. “So, I think to the extent that I can inspire anybody to do something greater than what their past indicates or to push their family’s legacy forward, I hope to be able to do that.”

And she hopes to be known as a judge who is fair, impartial and helps people understand the court system.

“Even if my ruling isn’t what they want to hear or want to see, they know that they’ve had an opportunity to fully be heard in my courtroom,” said Costello.

Judge Costello will preside over county court, civil and domestic violence cases. She said her trial experiences will help guide her on the bench.