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Cuban-American added to list for state high court vacancy

A Miami Cuban-American who worked for Jeb Bush and George W. Bush has been added to the list of nominees to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court, in response to the governor's insistence that the list be more diverse.

Frank Jimenez, general counsel for the Navy, was added to the list Wednesday after a contentious, late-night meeting of the Judicial Nominating Commission in which members questioned Gov. Charlie Crist's motives and the fairness of the process.

Jimenez, a graduate of the University of Miami and Yale Law School, worked for the former governor as a deputy chief of staff, deputy general counsel and acting general counsel for nearly four years. He took a leave of absence from his duties to work for President Bush during the fight over Florida's election recount in 2000. He also was chief of staff to Sen. Mel Martinez when Martinez headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

He has not served as a judge. He applied for two previous vacancies on the court but didn't make the list of nominees.

For weeks, the legal community had been buzzing about a behind-the-scenes push for Jimenez, who declined comment Thursday.

Crist, asked about those who believe there was a "fix," responded: ''They're going to be surprised … those are prejudgments and they're premature."

During the JNC meeting, member Arturo Alvarez echoed some of the concerns in the legal community and suggested Crist wasn't too wedded to diversity.

"He's basically saying: Send me another Cuban-American," said Alvarez, a Coral Gables attorney.

Jimenez was criticized in 1999 when he proposed in an e-mail to other Jeb Bush staffers that they figure out a way to find more "ideologically compatible'' judicial nominees. Jimenez also worked for Bush when the Republican-led Legislature in 2001 shifted power to the governor and away from the Florida Bar in the selection of JNC members.

While some in the legal community — including Cuban-American Republicans — privately criticized the nominating process and worried Jimenez wasn't the most qualified, others said he would be an ideal justice.

Rebekah Poston, Jimenez's former boss at the law firm Steel Hector Davis in Miami, said that based on the work he did for her, Jimenez would be an excellent choice for the Supreme Court.

"He was a superb writer, superb researcher and his ethics were beyond reproach," she said.

Jimenez's political adversaries were also among the people who wrote to the nominating commission recommending him.

Harold Koh, dean of the Yale Law School and a critic of the current Bush administration, wrote: "We may agree about very few political issues, but he is utterly fair minded and reasonable, careful in his legal analysis, thorough in his research, committed in his argument and honest in his character."

Cuban-American added to list for state high court vacancy 12/19/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 22, 2008 12:27pm]
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