Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

The Florida Supreme Court

Jorge Labarga Jorge
Labarga, 61
Charles Canady Charles
Canady, 60
Richard Lewis Richard
Lewis, 66
Barbara Pariente Barbara
Pariente, 65
James Perry James
Perry, 70
Ricky Polston Ricky
Polston, 58
Peggy Quince Peggy
Quince, 66

Florida Supreme Court welcomes its first Cuban-American chief justice

Jorge Labarga, 61, came from Cuba in 1963 with his family and grew up in Pahokee.

Jorge Labarga, 61, came from Cuba in 1963 with his family and grew up in Pahokee.

TALLAHASSEE — In a standing-room-only ceremony steeped in ethnic pride, Jorge Labarga took the oath Monday as the 56th chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court.

Labarga, 61, is the first Cuban-American to hold the position.

Born in Cuba, he came to the U.S. with his family in 1963 and learned English as he grew up in rural Pahokee near Palm Beach County's sugar cane fields.

He studied law at the University of Florida, later working as a public defender and prosecutor. Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him to the circuit court in 1996, and former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2009.

"This is the way our judicial system should look," Labarga said from his new perch at the center of the court dais, extending his arms toward his six colleagues who include three white men, one white woman, an African-American man and an African-American woman.

Labarga is one of four justices appointed by Crist, now a Democrat considered likely to be Republican Gov. Rick Scott's opponent in November.

Scott was not at the ceremony. He has clashed with the Florida Bar, often rejecting its lists of nominees to serve on 26 nominating commissions that recommend finalists for vacant judgeships.

The immediate past president of the Florida Bar, Eugene Pettis of Fort Lauderdale, has been critical of the lack of diversity in judicial appointments under Scott and said in February that "the numbers are going backwards."

Labarga, voted to his new post by his colleagues, succeeds Justice Ricky Polston. For the next two years, he will be the top administrative officer of the court system and lead questioner in oral arguments before the seven-member court.

"I am so proud of you," said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who spoke of his own grandfather's pride at passing the Bar exam and getting his law license in Florida.

Labarga authored a widely quoted concurring opinion in a March decision involving Jose Godinez-Samperio, 26, of Largo, whose bid to practice law in Florida was stopped because he is not a U.S. citizen. Prodded by a unanimous Supreme Court, the Legislature passed a law allowing him to practice.

Labarga contrasted Godinez-Samperio's plight with his own situation, saying that because his family fled a "tyrannical Communist regime," they were welcomed "with open arms." But Godinez-Samperio, "who is perceived to be a defector from poverty, is viewed negatively because his family sought an opportunity for economic prosperity," he wrote.

Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford also spoke during the 75-minute ceremony. Four former chief justices attended: Harry Lee Anstead, Stephen Grimes, Major Harding and Parker Lee McDonald.

Justice Barbara Pariente, also from Palm Beach County, praised Labarga's work ethic, keen intellect and sense of humor.

Labarga joked about moving the Florida Bar headquarters to Palm Beach County and the room broke into laughter. "You legislators, don't laugh,'' he quipped. "You're next."

He said he wished his 96-year-old father could have been there, but he had to remain at home in West Palm Beach, with his 85-year-old wife.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, also a Cuban-American, opened a box and presented Labarga with a Cuban coffee maker and two bags of coffee. "This little machine works wonders for productivity," Cantero said.

In the court's rotunda, Labarga received congratulations from dozens of friends. He said he'll convene a statewide summit to address the growing problem many Americans face of affording access to the courts.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida Supreme Court welcomes its first Cuban-American chief justice 06/30/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 12:07am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Suspect arrested in fatal shooting of Virginia special agent

    Crime

    RICHMOND, Va. — A Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death.

    This image provided by the Virginia State Police shows law enforcement investigating the scene of a shooting early Saturday in Richmond, Va.   Special Agent Michael T. Walter, a Virginia State Police special agent died Saturday after being shot by a man sitting in a car in Richmond, police said. The shooting suspect fled on foot, sparking an overnight manhunt that ended with the man's arrest about an hour after the agent's death. Virginia State Police said in an emailed statement that Travis A. Ball of Richmond is being held without bond on charges that include malicious wounding and use of a firearm in the commission of a felony. (Virginia State Police via AP)
  2. Mayor Rick Kriseman says St. Petersburg mayoral election is about going forward, not back

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  3. Forecast: Lots of sunshine, low humidity to start Memorial Day weekend

    Weather

    The start of your long Memorial Day weekend is all sunshine this Saturday, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Rick Kearbey.

    WTSP seven-day forecast on May 27, 2017.
  4. For starters: Rays at Twins, looking for another with Odorizzi starting

    Blogs

    UPDATE, 11:01: No Dickerson today as the Rays go with seven right-handers.

    Here is the lineup:

  5. Global computer outage grounds British flights

    Airlines

    LONDON — British Airways canceled all flights from London's Heathrow and Gatwick airports Saturday as a global IT failure caused severe disruption for travelers on a busy holiday weekend.

    British Airways planes are parked at Heathrow Airport in January. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)