Make us your home page

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 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

  1. Rays rally comes up short, freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays showed a little bit of offense on Saturday, but that wasn't enough to change the results that are becoming ridiculously routine, the 7-6 loss to Seattle the 12th in their last 15 games and 21st of their last 30.

    Rays first baseman Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth inning.
  2. 'Free speech rally' cut short after massive counterprotest


    BOSTON — Thousands of demonstrators chanting anti-Nazi slogans converged Saturday on downtown Boston in a boisterous repudiation of white nationalism, dwarfing a small group of conservatives who cut short their planned "free speech rally" a week after a gathering of hate groups led to bloodshed in Virginia.

    Thousands of people march against a “free speech rally” planned Saturday in Boston. About 40,000 people were in attendance.
  3. Police pull unconscious New Port Richey man from SUV in Cotee River


    NEW PORT RICHEY — Police rescued an unconscious driver whose sport utility vehicle plunged into the Cotee River on Saturday.

  4. Analysis: Bannon is out, but his agenda may live on


    WASHINGTON — In his West Wing office, Stephen Bannon kept a chart listing trade actions — on China, steel and autos — that the Trump White House planned to roll out, week by week, through the fall. Now that Bannon, the president's chief strategist, has been pushed out, the question is whether his …

    Steve Bannon thinks he could be more effective influencing policy from outside the White House.
  5. Trump to skip Kennedy Center Honors awards program


    BRIDGEWATER, N.J. — Acknowledging that he has become a "political distraction," President Donald Trump has decided to skip the festivities surrounding the annual Kennedy Center Honors arts awards later this year, the White House announced Saturday amid the continuing fallout over Trump's stance on last weekend's …