TALLAHASSEE — Today Peggy Quince becomes the new chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, a court that will look very different toward the end of her tenure late next year.
Later this summer, two justices will step down and two more will soon follow when they hit the mandatory retirement age by next year.
Quince, 60, will be the first African-American female chief justice. She was appointed to the bench in late 1998, becoming only the third woman ever to serve on the court.
Quince this week talked with the St. Petersburg Times about the challenges facing the court:
During your tenure running the court, you'll be dealing with four new people. What are your thoughts on the changes?
Well, when I started on this court, I had to deal with six new people. I didn't know the people already on the court. Justice (R. Fred) Lewis and I came on at the same time. So we had to deal with the culture of the court and learn how to deal collegially with the people already on the court. I see this really as the same thing. We just will have more people in a shorter period of time.
The departing justices have cited pay as a reason for leaving. Is this a concern of yours, in terms of attracting good lawyers?
It's a really difficult issue. I would say the vast majority of citizens think the amount of money that we make ($161,000 a year) is pretty good. But in the realm of the legal profession it's not a large salary.
What has been your most difficult decision on the Supreme Court?
I think every death penalty case is a difficult decision. Life or death is a difficult decision.
Was this a career you aspired to when you were younger?
I did not grow up wanting to be either a lawyer or a judge. I actually began my post-high school career thinking I would go to medical school. I was a zoology major in undergraduate school (on a scholarship at Howard University). But it was during that time that I became interested in the law. After completing undergraduate school, I decided to go to law school (Catholic University) instead of medical school.
Is there an area that you are looking to emphasize during your administration?
One thing of real interest to me right now concerns our young people who are aging out of foster care. We have a large number of them every year, and many of them are really not prepared to be on their own. Whatever methods we can find to really address the kind of issues they need to know about when they go out on their own. Simple things like signing a lease. … What do you look at if you're about to purchase a car? These young people haven't had the opportunity to address those issues living in foster care.