Judge Barbara Lagoa, a rock-solid, rule-of-law conservative from Miami and the first Cuban-American woman to serve on the Third District Court of Appeal, is Gov. Ron DeSantis' first of three Supreme Court selections.
DeSantis, standing with Lagoa and Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez at the Freedom Tower on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami, made the announcement at 10 a.m. It was one of his first orders of business in office and one of his highest priorities.
She is the first Hispanic woman in history to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. Her appointment, replacing retiring Justice Fred Lewis, is effective immediately.
"Justice Lagoa’s proven commitment to upholding the rule of law, unparalleled legal career and vast experience on the appellate bench, distinguish her among the most qualified individuals to serve on our state's highest court," said DeSantis. "It is my pleasure and my privilege to appoint Barbara Lagoa to the Florida Supreme Court with full confidence she will serve our state with the utmost integrity."
Lagoa, 51, had the most appellate experience among the 11 justice nominees. In June 2006 Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to fill the Third DCA vacancy created by the retirement of Judge David Levy. Most recently, she was the chief justice-elect for the Third DCA.
Over her 12 years on the appellate bench, Justice Lagoa has heard more than 11,000 cases and issued more than 470 written opinions.
Before her appointment, she worked for three years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida. While a practicing lawyer, she was admitted to practice by the Florida Bar, the United States District Courts for the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. She was also a member of many local, state, and national professional groups, including the Dade County and American Bar Associations.
Prior to joining the bench, Lagoa practiced in both the civil and criminal arenas. Her civil practice focused on general and complex commercial litigation, particularly the areas of employment discrimination, business torts, securities litigation, construction litigation, and insurance coverage disputes. She worked at numerous prominent law firms in Miami, including Greenberg Traurig and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.
As a practicing attorney, she was one of a team of mostly pro-bono attorneys in 1999 who represented the American family of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez. Though her side won the case, in an event that captured world attention, President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno sent armed U.S. agents into the home, seizing the boy and ignoring the rule of law. They returned him to Cuba. Fox News analyst Dick Morris joked at the time that Hillary Clinton’s next book will be called “It Takes a SWAT Team.”
In 2003, Lagoa joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida as an assistant United States attorney, where she worked in the Civil, Major Crimes and Appellate sections. As an assistant United States attorney, she tried numerous criminal jury trials, including drug conspiracies and Hobbs Act violations. She also handled a significant number of appeals.
Lagoa was born and raised in Miami. She received her B.A. cum laude in 1989 from Florida International University, where she majored in English and was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society. She received her Juris Doctor from Columbia University in 1992, serving as an associate editor of the Columbia Law Review. Lagoa is fluent in English and Spanish.
Her civic and community activities include service on the Board of Directors for the YWCA of Greater Miami and Dade County, the Film Society of Miami, Kristi House, and the FIU Alumni Association. She was also a member of the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. She currently is a member of the Eugene P. Spellman and William Hoeveler Chapter of the American Inns of Court, the Junior League of Miami, and Fairchild Tropical Gardens.
Justice Lagoa has received numerous awards, including the “Outstanding Women of Color” award from the Black Law Student Association and the Caribbean Law Student Association at St. Thomas Law School. The award was presented for her outstanding contributions as a sitting judge on the Third DCA.
Upon learning of Lagoa's appointment, a delighted William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, issued this statement: "Governor DeSantis' appointment of Justice Lagoa as the 87th justice to the Florida Supreme Court is the first step towards fulfilling his promise to appoint judges who will interpret the law and not legislate from the bench.
"The Florida Justice Reform Institute, on behalf of the business community, has long called for judges who are textualists -- who will say what the law is, and not what they think it should be -- and who show deference to the Legislature as the rightful policymaking branch of government. Justice Lagoa brings these exact qualities and an impressive record to the Court at a critical time. The Florida Justice Reform Institute applauds Governor DeSantis' on his wise and thoughtful choice that will have a profoundly positive impact on Florida for a long time."
Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said this: “I appreciated the governor’s comments during his inauguration yesterday in which he stressed the proper role of the judiciary ... I share the governor’s concern that in recent years the power of the judicial branch has extended beyond its limited constitutional responsibility, in many cases eroding the authority of the legislative branch. I believe democracy is at its best when each branch of government exercises both authority and restraint at the appropriate time. That concept was certainly at the heart of comments we heard from the governor yesterday, and echoed again this morning with the appointment of Justice Lagoa. I offer my congratulations to Justice Lagoa (and to) ... Gov. DeSantis on his first Supreme Court appointment.”
Maria D. Garcia, president of the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA), congratulated Lagoa in a letter after the Miami announcement. "For the past 12 years, Judge Lagoa has served our community and judiciary as the first Cuban-American woman on the Third District Court of Appeal. CABA is very proud of all her accomplishments and her new role in the Florida Supreme Court. ... As a fellow daughter of Cuban exiles, I am excited that Governor DeSantis made such a wise choice for the Florida Supreme Court. Judge Lagoa has always set a bright example for the legal community and has an impeccable record as a jurist. ..."
Lagoa is married to Paul C. Huck, Jr., the former general counsel to Gov. Charlie Crist and a former South Florida Water Management District Governing Board member. He now is a partner at Jones Day in Miami.
The couple have three children.
Over half of the 11 nominees to the Florida Supreme Court hail from South Florida. The overrepresentation is in part because one of the open seats had to be filled with a nominee who lives in the Third appellate district, which includes Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.
Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince also have mandatorily retired, leaving DeSantis two more seats to fill.
A total of 6 of the 11 nominees are from South Florida. The three eligible for the Third DCA seat were John Daniel Couriel, Barbara Lagoa and Robert J. Luck. The other two at-large seats have no geographical restrictions.