Jorge Labarga Selected Next Florida Chief Justice

, Daily Business Review


Jorge Labarga
Jorge Labarga

Justice Jorge Labarga, one of the swing votes on the Florida Supreme Court, has been selected by his colleagues as the next chief justice.

Labarga, 61, is the second Hispanic and Cuban-American appointed to the court and would be the first to serve as chief justice. He was unanimously elected by his colleagues to a two-year term starting July 1.

"I am so honored to serve in such an important position," the former Fourth District Court of Appeal and Palm Beach Circuit judge said. "I am deeply grateful for the trust of my colleagues and pledge to make sure our constitutional principles are enforced."

Among the chief justice's most important responsibilities include lobbying the Legislature and the governor for resources and defending the judicial branch's authority.

Labarga is among the least prolific credited authors of Supreme Court decisions. When he puts his name on an opinion, he has written primarily death penalty and contract law cases.

In 2013, he wrote the landmark case backing a law requiring state employees to contribute to their pensions for the first time. Three of the more liberal justices, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry, dissented in the 4-3 decision.

In another significant case last year, Labarga established limits to the economic loss rule. Over the years, trial courts expanded the rule to include losses from professional services, but Labarga—answering a question from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit—said the rule applied only to product liability cases. The most conservative justices—Ricky Polston and Charles Canady—dissented.

Labarga will succeed Polston to become the state's 56th chief justice.

Labarga came to Florida as an 11-year-old, four years after Fidel Castro took power. He earned his bachelor's degree in political science and law degree at the University of Florida.

In 1987, he joined the firm of Cone, Wagner, Nugent, Roth, Romano & Ericksen of West Palm Beach and specialized in personal injury trial work.

After serving as an assistant public defender and prosecutor, he took the circuit bench in 1996. Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to the Supreme Court in 2009.

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