As of June 30, Jorge Labarga stepped into his role as the first ever Cuban-American Florida Supreme Court chief justice. Arriving in Florida at the age of 11, Labarga knew an immediate appreciation for the “freedoms and rights that we have … and vowed to protect those rights.”
Justice Pariente is quoted as saying, “It has been a long, long journey from the sugar cane fields of Pahokee to the halls of the Supreme Court.”
Labarga became a double Gator, attaining his Bachelor of Arts as well as his Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. His friends and colleagues noted that he was industrious, taking nothing for granted, earning their respect. He began his career in 1979 as an assistant public defender, and later joined the West Palm Beach State Attorney’s office to hone his trial skills, which he would later use on the opposite side of the bench. He then headed to private practice as a successful personal injury attorney.
His passion for justice led him to return to public service to protect the rights of Florida’s citizens. In 1996, Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Labarga to the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit. In 2008, he was appointed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal by Gov. Charlie Crist, who later elevated him to a justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Now, he will serve as the chief justice on the highest court in the state of Florida.
Justice Labarga’s views on diversity:
“Our greatest strength lies in our diversity. Everyone brings a different life story and a different set of life lessons with them to the work they contribute toward our common welfare. We are strongest when we let the breadth of those stories and those lessons invigorate the debate about our present-day life and the future we build for ourselves and our children. No one set of people should ever be allowed to monopolize that debate. We are at our best when the people sitting at the table reflect the entire patchwork that makes up the American quilt.”
Reflecting on his life and career upon attaining the most respected and highest legal position in the entire state court system, Labarga has shared his thoughts:
“The most telling comments about the recent Passing of the Gavel ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court were from people thrilled to see that the judges of our highest court are a reflection of the diversity of the people of Florida. We look like them. They could see it instantly as they watched the ceremony live in our courtroom or live on television. A million words cannot convey the same full message as that picture. I am strongly committed to the idea that the legal profession of Florida and its judiciary should be representative of our population as a whole. Everyone wins when every group has a say.
“I think that if everyone was involved in some function in one way or another it would make our democracy a lot better, I think we have a responsibility to make sure that our democracy continues to work in the way it was intended to work and to change it for the better.”
Following in the footsteps of the last two Florida Supreme Court chief justices, whom he has worked closely with over the last four years, Justice Labarga plans to continue to tackle the issue of funding for the judicial system. Currently the budget allocates six tenths of one percent of Florida’s overall budget to the judicial system. It is the belief of the Florida Supreme Court justices that this allocation does not reflect the importance of the judicial branch of state government, and diminishes its capacity to handle its huge volume of cases. An underfunded judicial system cannot meet the needs of its citizens. Denise Rappaport Isaacs