Barbara Lagoa, the first Cuban-American woman to serve on Miami's appeals court, was named Wednesday morning to the Florida Supreme Court.
Newly sworn-in Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement in front of Miami's Freedom Tower, a symbol for Cuban immigrants arriving in South Florida. Lagoa, 52, will become the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court.
"Judge Lagoa's credentials are impeccable," DeSantis said in his first official act as governor.
It was DeSantis' first selection for Supreme Court justice in what is expected to be a conservative makeover of the state's highest court. The Republican governor will select two more candidates. He is replacing three retiring Supreme Court justices: Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who often sided on liberal issues and against the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Lagoa, joined by her husband and three young daughters, struck all the right notes in being appointed by a governor from Florida's Republican Party, which frequently attacks liberal-leaning judges as "activists" bent on thwarting the will of the lawmakers.
"I am particularly mindful of the fact that under our constitutional system it is for the Legislature, not the courts, to make the law. It is the role of judges to apply, not to alter, the work of the people's representatives," Lagoa said.
Lagoa was appointed to the Third District Court of Appeal in 2006 by then Gov. Jeb Bush. An author of more than 300 majority opinions, Lagoa was in line to be the chief justice of the local appeals court.
She is married to Paul Huck Jr., an attorney and the son of senior Miami federal judge Paul Huck Sr. She and her husband have three children. By law, one of the selections for the state Supreme Court must be from either Miami-Dade or Monroe counties.
As a private lawyer, Lagoa was part of the legal team that defended Elián González, the Cuban boy who was at the center of a controversial international custody dispute in 2000. She joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2003 before Bush appointed her to the bench.
Wednesday's introduction at the Freedom Tower was an emotional one for Lagoa — whose parents fled Cuba over five decades ago when Fidel Castro's Communist dictatorship took over — "especially since my father had to give up his dream of becoming a lawyer," she told the gathering.
Lagoa grew up in Hialeah, graduated from Florida International University and got her law degree at Columbia University, where she served as an associate editor of the Columbia Law Review.
Florida House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami, called the selection a "judicial home run."
"Today, one of Hialeah's own sits on the Florida Supreme Court," Oliva said. "And freedom is more secure because of it."
On the bench at the Third DCA, Lagoa has ruled on many noteworthy cases.
Last month, she authored the opinion that reversed the conviction of Adonis Losada, a former Univision comic actor who was sentenced to 153 years in prison for collecting child porn. Lagoa ruled that a Miami-Dade judge erred in not allowing Losada to defend himself at trial.
Also, she was one of three judges who allowed a Miami judge to close a courtroom to the public for a key hearing in a high-profile murder case. The Third DCA ruled that publicity surrounding the machete murder of a student in Homestead might unfairly sway jurors at a future trial, a ruling decried by advocates of press freedoms.
In other notable criminal cases, Lagoa authored opinions that reversed the conviction of a Hialeah killer because a court reporter accidentally erased the transcript of the trial, threw out the convictions of two defendants in the Miami International Airport "fuel farm" corruption case because a judge failed to give proper instructions to the jury, and upheld the conviction of a teenager who murdered a man during an armed robbery.
— David Ovalle wrote this story