The Strong Arm of the Law
As a hearing officer for the 10th Judicial Circuit Court, State of Florida she rules the courtroom with a firm hand and sound judgment. As a nationally ranked power lifter she breaks records with ease. Proving that women have a seat on the bench, both in the courtroom and the weight room, Joanna Conner (BA 86) has become a force to be reckoned with.
A native of Oxford, Conner attended the University of Mississippi from 1982 to 1986. A Carrier Scholar, she recalls fond memories of her time at Ole Miss.
“The thing I really enjoyed were all the people I met through the honors program,” said Conner. “You could really be challenged in those small classes.”
Conner, upon her Ole Miss graduation, attended the University of South Carolina to pursue a master’s degree in English. During the summer between graduating from Ole Miss and starting graduate school Conner was pulled for jury duty and landed a spot on two juries. It was that public service that sparked her interest in attending law school.
“Sitting on those two juries I thought, ‘you know this is kind of fascinating’,” says Conner. “It seemed like a good idea.”
So following her graduation from USC, Conner began law school at Stetson University College in St. Petersburg, Fla., receiving her JD in 1991.
Though the initial job search would prove difficult, Conner would eventually navigate the judicial ranks with ease. She got a job doing trial and appellate work in child support, and after four years she moved to the public defender’s office. Four years later she was hired as a child-support hearing officer for the 10th Judicial Circuit Court of the State of Florida.
“I spend all day hearing child support and paternity cases,” said Conner. “It could be paternity asking for a DNA test, setting up child support, modifying child support, enforcing child support.”
As Conner continued to build a career in the service of others, she also made time for herself. In 2000, Conner underwent gastric bypass surgery due to health concerns.
“I weighed a little over 300 pounds, and I was diabetic,” she said. “I thought I have to do something.”
Following her recovery Conner decided it was time to get into the gym. Having never worked out before, she solicited the help of a personal trainer who also happened to be a power lifter. Though she is not what she would describe as a natural “athlete” Conner found she could push her weight around in the gym as well.
“One day he said, ‘You know you’re strong,’ said Conner. “I hadn’t even realized it. I was just doing what I could.”
Conner began training and competing as a power lifter, focusing on squats, bench press and dead lifts. She has been nationally ranked for several years. In her last competition in June of 2005 Conner squatted 534 pounds, bench pressed 253 pounds, and dead lifted 424 pounds.
“All of those lifts were personal bests,” said Conner. “And I was always drug free.”
Though strength is a factor, Conner is quick to admit that power lifting is mostly mental.
“It’s shown me what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it,” she said.
That philosophy extends beyond the weight room and into her career and life. The world of judicial work can be daunting to some but Conner has fearlessly taken her seat on the bench.
“The same way I go lift, I apply it to the job,” said Conner. “The next step would be to be a judge.”
Though she maintains a commanding presence in the workplace, Conner shows a softer side at home. When not working or lifting she enjoys spending time with her husband of 10 years, Robert, and their three cocker spaniels Sandy, Abby and Bailey.
As much as she has accomplished, Conner still gives credit to Ole Miss for preparing her for the future.
“The quality of the teachers, the honors program, you can’t get anything better than that,” said Conner. “I felt really prepared when I left Ole Miss.”