TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday that he's "moderately encouraged" by a slate of five state Supreme Court finalists that includes a woman and a Hispanic man after he had asked for nominees who reflect Florida's diversity.
Crist also said he's still considering his options for an appointment to the all-white 5th District Court of Appeal after the nominating commission for that court refused to send him any black nominees.
The governor said he hasn't yet had a chance to review the candidates recommended Monday night by the Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission to replace Justice Harry Lee Anstead, 71, who is retiring next month.
They include Circuit Judges Jorge Labarga of West Palm Beach, a native of Cuba, and Gill Freeman of Miami, the only woman on the list. No blacks were nominated.
The seven-member Supreme Court currently has one black and two female justices, but none of Hispanic heritage.
The other nominees, all non-Hispanic white males, are 5th District Court of Appeal Judge C. Alan Lawson of Daytona Beach and Circuit Judges Kevin Emas of Miami and Waddell Wallace III of Jacksonville.
Crist passed up an opportunity to appoint a Hispanic to the first of two other Supreme Court seats he has filled this year. Two Hispanics, including Labarga, had been nominated to replace Florida's first Hispanic justice, Raoul Cantero, who resigned so he could return to his hometown, Miami. The Republican governor instead appointed Justice Charles Canady, who as a GOP congressman helped prosecute then-President Bill Clinton at his 1999 Senate impeachment trial. Canady also is a former state legislator and appellate judge.
In a subsequent letter to the nominating commission, Crist wrote that "our state's judges should reflect the racial, gender and geographic diversity of the people that they serve."
Crist has 60 days to make an appointment. If he does not, the list of nominees will expire, and the commission will try again.
Last week, Crist asked the 5th District Court of Appeal Nominating Commission to reconsider the six names it sent him, noting it included no blacks. The commission declined to revise the slate, the chairman writing Crist that those were the six most qualified candidates for a vacancy on the 10-member court.
"I'm trying to consider what appropriate options I might be able to take, among them either to choose from the existing names or let the time lapse and just reopen the whole nominating process in that particular circuit, which I might do," Crist said.