Governor names Labarga to Florida Supreme Court
Published: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 7:21 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 2, 2009 at 7:21 p.m.
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Cuban-born lawyer Jorge Labarga to the Florida Supreme Court on Friday.
Labarga, 56, a state circuit judge who Crist appointed to an appellate court position just last month, was named to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Harry Lee Anstead. It was Crist's third appointment to the state's high court since late August.
Labarga has been a circuit judge since 1996 and was a public defender and prosecutor before that in a legal career that has spanned 28 years. During that time, Labarga has demonstrated "understanding and compassion for those involved in the court system," Crist said.
Labarga, who was among the nominees in both of Crist's earlier selections, earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. He said he was grateful for the opportunity.
"It is a great honor to serve the people of Florida in a position that will have lasting impact on our judicial system and on society," he said.
Labarga played a role during Florida's historic 2000 presidential recount, ruling Palm Beach County elections officials could not necessarily disregard irregular chads that had not been fully punched out on ballot cards.
The U.S. Supreme Court cut off the recount before it could be completed, handing Republican George W. Bush the Florida vote and the presidency by 537 votes over Democrat Al Gore.
A few weeks ago, it looked like Labarga was out of the mix for a job on the state's highest court. He was nominated as a candidate, but Crist passed him over to fill a vacancy created earlier this year by the resignation of the Supreme Court's only Hispanic member.
The governor instead appointed Justice Charles Canady, a former Republican congressman and state lawmaker.
The Republican governor then named Labarga, the only Hispanic among the five candidates put forward by the Judicial Nominating Commission, to an appellate court in December and eliminated him from Supreme Court contention.
Crist then asked the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to send him more names, noting it can offer up to six, to make the list more diverse. The panel then added Frank Jiminez, a politically connected Cuban-American lawyer from Miami.
Some lawyers, including dissenting members of the commission, complained Crist had politicized the nominating process. The governor then put Labarga back in the mix.
The other nominees included Jiminez, who worked for former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and for U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., when Martinez headed the Department of Housing and Urban Development; 5th District Court of Appeal Judge C. Alan Lawson of Daytona Beach; and circuit judges Kevin Emas of Miami, Waddell Wallace III of Jacksonville and Gill Freeman of Miami, the lone woman.
The upcoming retirement of Justice Charles Wells in March will give Crist an unprecedented opportunity to appoint a majority of the seven-member Supreme Court in his first term. The court currently has one black and two females justices.
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