TALLAHASSEE — For the first time, Gov. Charlie Crist has taken the unusual step of asking a panel that gives him Supreme Court recommendations to send more finalists so he can consider a more diverse pool for his third pick to the high court.
The Florida Supreme Court became less diverse when Justice Raoul Cantero of Miami became the first of four justices to announce resignations earlier this year. The court has seven seats. Two are women, and one of the women, Peggy Quince, is the court's only ethnic minority.
Crist has made two of his four appointments, but new Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston are not minorities.
On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission sent Crist five finalists, including Circuit Judges Jorge Labarga of West Palm Beach, a native of Cuba, and Gill Freeman of Miami, the only woman. No African-American candidates were nominated.
When asked about diversity of Supreme Court finalists on Tuesday, Crist said the nominating commission was "doing better. Almost there."
Then late Wednesday, Crist took the lone minority in the pool of Supreme Court candidates, Labarga, and appointed him to the Fourth District Court of Appeal in West Palm Beach.
That left Crist with one woman and three white men to consider for the state's highest court. The men include Circuit Judges Kevin Emas of Miami and Waddell Wallace III of Jacksonville (who have both been finalists before) and 5th District Court of Appeal Judge C. Alan Lawson of Daytona Beach.
"In order to increase the diversity of the pool of nominees, please reconvene," Crist wrote in a letter to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which has nine members. Crist chooses five on his own, and he appoints the other four from a list of recommendations from the Florida Bar.
Judicial nominating commissions can send the governor up to six finalists for each judicial opening, and Crist has asked for "supplemental" names. While the governor can ask judicial nominating commissions to reconsider, they don't have to do what the governor asks.
"They can come back and say: 'My list is my list,' " said Pensacola attorney Alan Bookman, a past Florida Bar president "Or they can say: 'Here are more names.' "
Last week, Crist asked the Fifth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission to reconsider the six names it sent him, asking for more diverse candidates. It pushed back, saying it had already sent him the best qualified candidates.
During his tenure, Gov. Jeb Bush also asked several judicial nominating commissions to reconsider and send him more names, and he was often turned down.
Times staff researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jennifer Liberto can be reached at email@example.com or (850)224-7263.