November 2004

Catherine Parks: From the Hospital to the Courtroom

by John Fries

It’s not every day that you meet someone whose curriculum vitae includes such diverse credentials as trauma nurse in a major hospital, prominent partner in a respected law firm, successful litigator, active community volunteer, and judicial candidate endorsed by numerous organizations and media. However, Catherine B. (Cathy) Parks, does have those credentials—and more—on her C.V.

Parks, who grew up in the small town of Hamlet, North Carolina, has spent the past few decades on an interesting and eventful journey. Early on, she worked as a med-surg, trauma and intensive care nurse, and for the past 20 years, she’s been a practicing attorney. Since 2000, she’s been a partner in the Miami office of Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. Currently, she aspires to a position as a judge on the Bench of the Miami-Dade Circuit Court.

Her interest in health care began when Parks was in her teens and volunteering after school at the local hospital. "When I was 14 years old," she explained, "I was a candy striper at Hamlet Hospital. Later, I became a nursing assistant, and really enjoyed the opportunity to observe and help the nurses as they did their work."

That experience had a lasting influence on her. Following graduation from high school, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in 1976. Her first post-graduate job offer was a nursing position at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, where she worked for about a year. Then, in 1977, she moved to Florida and joined the nursing staff at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade County, where, over the next several years, she worked in the trauma and intensive care units.

"I really loved it," she said. I worked with very, very sick patients, many of whom were also young. It was great because I had the opportunity to watch them as they got better. Each day, a different tube would be removed until they were ready to return home."

While at Jackson Memorial, Parks was also asked to serve as an Instructor for first year students at the hospital’s nursing school. Then, when the school introduced a new course called "Legal Aspects of Nursing," she was recruited to teach that one as well. She found the topic so fascinating that she began to give serious thought to the possibility of working in the legal field full time. This led to her enrollment at the University of Miami School of Law.

It was a comfortable transition, and Parks took to it quickly—so quickly, in fact, that it only took her three years to earn a Juris Doctor degree. While there, she served as editor-in-chief of Res Ipsa Loquitor, the school’s award-winning newspaper, and was a member of the Bar & Gavel and Phi Alpha Delta. During law school, she also continued working as a nurse part-time, through an agency. This gave her the opportunity to work in nearly every hospital in Miami-Dade County.

After passing the Florida Bar in 1983, she joined Thornton, David & Murray, P.A. Over the next several years, she also worked at Lanza & O’Conner, P.A. and Blackwell & Walker, P.A. before joining Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer four years ago. Her areas of practice include insurance defense, mass tort litigation, medical malpractice and nursing home defense litigation, and she represents such high profile clients as hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers against some of the most prominent plaintiff’s attorneys in South Florida.

She said she chose to be a defense attorney because, "as a nurse, you can read between the lines and ferret out the truth. As a defense attorney, I can often see where patients (suing facilities and providers) have been non-compliant or where there is a valid medical reason for the problems that they experienced."

Interestingly, and as a testament to her health care roots, Parks continues to maintain her license as a nurse—although she hasn’t actively practiced for many years.

Working in a legal environment forces her to see things in different ways; for example, the omnipresent liability issues. "If I’m walking down the street and see a bump in the road," she said, "I’ll think to myself that the city should repair it."

There are a number of current challenges in health care in South Florida, said Parks. Among them: the physician and nursing shortages, lack of residency positions for new physicians, medical malpractice, and escalating health care costs for senior citizens. "My understanding is that, in five years, the cost of prescription medications will be equal to 50 percent of seniors’ income," she said.

Parks, a 17-year resident of Coral Gables, is very active in numerous professional and civic organizations, including the Coral Gables Rotary Club, League of Women Voters, Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Women’s Political Caucus, American Association of Nurse Attorneys and the American Association of University Women.

In 1999, Governor Jeb Bush appointed her to the Florida Local Advocacy Council, through which she joins other citizen volunteers, also appointed by the governor, to protect the rights of Floridians who are too disabled or frail to protect their own interests. She also participates in the annual AIDS Walk on Miami Beach, as well as other events, and is a certified Guardian Ad Litem, volunteering to assist the court system to ensure that children are being cared for properly within the legal system.

Speaking of children, Parks is mother to Dan and Michelle, both honor students at Ransom Everglades School. Dan was recently inducted into the National Honor Society.

Lately, Parks has been busy with her judicial campaign. Now that she has 20 years of experience as a practicing litigator, she believes that the time is right. "As a judge, you can’t make laws, only interpret them," she said. "You can also lend your credibility to certain organizations, and make suggestions that people will be likely to heed. I want to create liaisons between individuals working in the health care industry and the people who appear in court."

She said that she’s found inspiration in many other judges she’s known and observed through the years, including Circuit Court Chief Judge Joseph Farina. "He’s filled with wisdom and serves as a true role model to this community," she said.

When not working, volunteering or campaigning, Parks is an avid reader and music aficianado who loves to cook. She’s also an avid cyclist and traveler to other countries. Recently, she was thrilled to celebrate the 91st birthday of her father, Perry M. Parks.

The election is November 2, 2004. Catherine plans to make history by becoming the first nurse-attorney to serve on the Bench in South Florida.

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