TALLAHASSEE — At an emotional and humorous ceremony, Jorge Labarga was sworn in Monday as the 84th justice of the Florida Supreme Court and only its second Cuban-American member.
His investiture marks the completion of Gov. Charlie Crist's reshaping of the seven-member court with four new members in less than a year.
Labarga fled his native Cuba as a 10-year-old boy in 1963, and the family settled in Pahokee, where he quickly learned to speak English and went on to get his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of Florida.
He was a prosecutor and public defender in Palm Beach County before becoming a circuit judge in 1996, and he served a single day as a judge on the Fourth District Court of Appeal before Crist elevated him to the state's highest court, effective Jan. 6.
Friends repeatedly cited two of Labarga's' best-known traits: his dedication to the Gators and a loquaciousness that Justice Barbara Pariente described as his love of telling the same story "over and over and over again."
Labarga's wife, Zulma, and daughters Stephanie and Caroline attended the ceremony in the Supreme Court chambers. The new justice's voice broke and he began to cry when he mentioned his elderly parents, who live in South Florida but were unable to attend. "I knew this would happen," he said, as the crowd burst into applause. "They are here with me in spirit."