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Florida Judge Makes History

Quince_2008_2 On Friday, Peggy A. Quince was sworn in as chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, becoming the first black woman to lead that state's court system -- or any branch of government in Florida. This is not her first time making history. Fifteen years ago, she became the first black woman appointed to a Florida district court of appeal. "One of the ways you give back to your community is by being there and being visible," Quince said after her swearing in. "Young people find it's not all about whether you are a rap star or a baseball player or any of those kinds of careers. But there are also other careers available that can make a difference."

The 60-year-old jurist was raised in Virginia by her father, a longshoreman, and attended segregated schools growing up. She graduated from Howard University in 1970 and then attended law school at Catholic University. Her first legal job was in Washington, D.C., as a rent-control hearing officer. In 1977, she went into private practice in Norfolk, Va., and then moved to Florida a year later, opening an office in Bradenton. In 1980, she joined the state Attorney General's Office, handling appeals in the Criminal Division and eventually becoming Tampa bureau chief. Gov. Lawton Chiles named her to the 2nd District Court of Appeal in 1993. In 1998, Chiles and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush named her to the Supreme Court.

An editorial in the St. Petersburg Times says that Justice Quince will face difficult challenges during her two-year term as chief.

Praised for her quick mind and engaging personality during a ceremony Friday, she takes the gavel at a time when the court is on the verge of remarkable turnover and faces considerable challenges. Two of the seven justices are resigning, and two more will reach mandatory retirement age during her two-year term. The chief justice also acts as the chief administrative officer of the judicial system, and Quince takes charge in an era when the Legislature has to be constantly prodded to adequately fund the judicial branch. The work of outgoing Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis, who will remain on the court, in pressing for social services and aid for the mentally ill also will have to continue.

Already, she has created a task force to compile oral and written histories of black lawyers in Florida, says another report. In comments at her swearing in, former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth praised her for breaking through the dual glass ceilings of race and gender, adding, "You bring to the center chair not only wisdom and integrity but a big heart."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on June 30, 2008 at 01:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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