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Becoming Suzette Moore

How she went from living in her car to taking on Goliaths in court

Published in 2019 Florida Super Lawyers magazine

At 21, life was not going Suzette Moore’s way. A divorced mom, she had gotten a GED and left school at 16, after which she spent a couple of years wandering, living off and on in her car and working at places like Pizza Hut.

Now she was back at home with her parents, caring for her baby and struggling to pay the bills.

The welfare office, she felt, was the worst. “Sitting there, having to check all the boxes on those forms, waiting for the case worker. It was miserable,” she recalls. “And at the grocery store, paying with food stamps—it’s embarrassing.”

But the experience did two things: It spurred her to go to school, starting at Hillsborough Community College in 1994; ending with Stetson Law School. It also taught her to empathize with people who would eventually become her clients.

“They are folks who are up against some big corporation and don’t have money to fund big lawsuits,” says Moore, who recently opened a solo practice, S. Moore Law, in Lakeland. “They’re far out-funded by the other side.”

Moore, 47, focuses on plaintiff’s personal injury and family law, though she spent 15 years practicing intellectual property at Tampa firms.

She’s battled Reed Elsevier, now RELX, a multinational corporate group; and the Tampa Bay Rays. Both settled amicably, though details are confidential. Currently, she’s taking on SunTrust.

Back in grade school, though, she was, by her own admission, a mediocre student, though her parents and teachers believed she was gifted.

“Teachers told me that I had great potential, but that I needed to apply myself,” she says. She later found out she had ADHD.

“Being a chubby, unathletic, asthmatic, clumsy dork,” as she labels her childhood self, didn’t help.

Things worsened when her parents moved from an Ohio farm village where her family had lived for generations to Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Her new school was old and surrounded by a 6-foot-tall chain-link fence topped by barbed wire. School officials spoke with accents she couldn’t understand. She saw wording like “used to could” on a test and wasn’t sure what it meant.

“Educationally, things went somewhat downhill from there,” Moore deadpans. The funny-talking outsider was bullied. Things got so bad, her parents sent her to a now-defunct Heritage Academy run by televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Religious studies? Moore doesn’t remember much of that. Nor other studies.

“We did have a ton of fun,” she recalls. “Our gym classes were held at the youth center, where they had roller-skating, video games and pool tables. We spent time riding the trams around the PTL [Praise the Lord] property, filling the audience at the Bakkers’ Jim and Tammy Show, and hanging out at the PTL water park.”

When she returned to public school in ninth grade, her work suffered as a result of her time at Heritage. “By the time I reached 10th grade, I had fallen so behind that I lost all hope,” she says. “Both of my parents worked, there was no real structure at home, and I simply just gave up.”

She left school but got her GED. Then in 1988, the family moved to Tampa, living temporarily in a tiny motel room until a house was built. Moore was done. She began wandering around in her car for awhile, showering at campgrounds and sleeping in her car. She married a guy she describes as “as aimless as I was,” got divorced, and at age 21 did a serious assessment: With few options for supporting her daughter, she needed an education.

“When you have nothing else to do, you roll the dice,” she says. Moore enrolled at Hillsborough Community College, then transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa and earned a degree in chemistry. After working temp jobs at chemical companies—including one in Lakeland where she met her current husband—she realized she would rather work with people than in a lab.

She thought about med school, but didn’t want to spend all her daughter’s childhood in school.

Her neighbor, an intellectual property attorney, gave her the idea of going to law school. She took the patent bar while still attending Stetson University College of Law, passed the bar in 2003, then started her career in Tampa.

In the Tampa Bay Rays case, Moore’s clients—a writer and a friend of his who had worked for NASA—developed a way for authors to “sign” e-books. Deciding the technology could work for authenticated signatures on baseball cards, they approached the Rays. Negotiations broke down and the Rays later announced the launch of a company offering digital cards with authenticated signatures on iPads.

Life is full for Moore. She has her solo practice in Lakeland and her family life—husband Harold Moore; two daughters, three stepchildren, and a pair of dogs. Her mom also lives with them at the moment.

Her practice is full of challenges, and she likes it that way. Playing David to a corporate Goliath energizes her. Her current case against SunTrust involves an alleged threat by her client to blow up a SunTrust bank in Polk County.

“He supposedly made this threat in the middle of the bank lobby, screaming and yelling and acting like a madman,” she says, “but there was only one solitary person who allegedly heard it.”

Before she got the case, the man pleaded guilty to trespassing, she says, to get out of jail. That was unfortunate, she says: “A guilty plea provides some unique challenges.” But she isn’t giving up.

“Those are the kinds of cases that just compel me,” she says. “Those are the things that make it worthwhile to be a lawyer.”

Moore also finds purpose in the difficult path that brought her to where she is.

“At end of my life, I think the only thing I’d regret is not taking more risks,” she says. “I figure a lot of people who do the right thing in the proper sequence miss some things along the way.”

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