Judge Tom Hedler credits his undergraduate education in religion for giving him the “analytical toolbox” to practice in a highly-specialized area of law: worker’s compensation.
Hedler, a 1997 Palm Beach Atlantic alumnus and successful attorney, rose to the position of judge of compensation claims for the State of Florida. Hedler was appointed to the bench by then-Gov. Rick Scott in 2016.
Such judges decide cases in which workers who are hurt on the job seek legally-prescribed benefits from their employers. Disputes arise over whether one’s injury qualifies for worker’s compensation; whether a person is entitled to medical benefits and, if so, which ones; and who is responsible for paying attorney’s fees.
Hedler said contrary to what one might expect, his religion degree transferred to law school “exceedingly well.”
Of his PBA professors, he said, “They challenged you to find your own thoughts instead of giving you theirs. That was an incredible foundation for me to go to law school and into this position as well.”
Hedler was living on his own, juggling a full course load and working more than 50 hours a week at First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach, now Family Church. He started in maintenance and eventually settled in as the church’s bookkeeper while he studied at PBA. A new Christian, he loved his religion courses and was a devoted student of the Bible. He decided to major to religion, not knowing where it would take him.
“I felt like God was in it, and I trusted in Him that He was going to direct my path,” Hedler said.
Eventually wanting to teach at the university level, Hedler thought a joint seminary and law degree would make him more competitive. A few weeks before he intended to move out-of-state to begin classes, he learned the seminary wouldn’t allow him to start because he hadn’t taken his Law School Admission Test (LSAT).
Instead, Hedler kept his job at the church and went to work as a legal assistant, handling real estate closings and litigation preparation for a West Palm Beach lawyer. During that time, he decided to attend Florida State University, where he “developed an attraction to the law.” He graduated from the College of Law in 2002.
It was by happenstance that Hedler ended up in the worker’s compensation law, but he intentionally built his career in it, he said.
“The focus on analysis appeals to me,” Hedler said. “I’m always looking for an intellectual challenge.”
Early on, Hedler knew he preferred litigation over more transactional aspects of law such as business or real estate. However, he also knew that circuit court attorneys have a reputation for falling victim to early burnout. After graduating from law school, Hedler fell into worker’s compensation at the law firm where he worked. The niche offered the best of both worlds: the opportunity to litigate and be present for his family.
Hedler is married to Amanda Hedler, a 2001 graduate of PBA’s music education program. The couple met at Family Church, where Tom worked and Amanda sang in the choir. Amanda is an elementary music teacher at The King’s Academy, and the couple have three children, ages 7 to 14. They attend Family Church Gardens.
Ascending to the role of a judge allowed Hedler to take a more objective approach to the law, he said.
“I view myself as judging issues and doing analysis, not judging people,” Hedler said. “From my perspective, the judge’s role is not to take who they believe and declare a winner. The judge’s role is to review and weigh all of the evidence submitted and make findings of fact and then apply those findings of fact using legal analysis to reach the correct legal outcome.”