Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Quince to be Florida's first African-American female chief justice

Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince asks a question of an attorney during oral arguments for two "false light" cases Thursday, March 6, 2008 in Tallahassee, Fla.

By Jim Ash
FLORIDA CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF

At a heady time when an African American and a woman are serious contenders for the White House, Florida is marking its own milestone.

The state Supreme Court is about to have its first African-American female chief justice.

Justice Peggy Quince, known for a quick mind and probing questions on the bench, and an engaging personality off, was elected by her six fellow justices for the rotating, two-year post, the court announced Friday. Her term begins July 1.

"It is an honor and a privilege being a member of the Court and serving with outstanding Florida public servants," Quince said in a written statement. "I thank my colleagues for their trust in me and look forward to serving the people of this state in this new capacity."

Justice Barbara Pariente, the only other woman serving on the Supreme Court, called Quince, "the epitome of a great colleague and outstanding jurist."

"And now she will make history by becoming the first African-American woman to lead the third branch of government," Pariente said.

Quince, 60, is a native of Norfolk, Va., and the daughter of a longshoreman. She was attending segregated schools when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the groundbreaking decision Brown vs. Board of Education.

Her professional career began with an undergraduate degree in zoology from Howard University in 1970 and a law degree from the Catholic University of America in 1975. She has been a government lawyer, prosecuting death-penalty cases as an assistant attorney general and served a five-year stretch as Tampa bureau chief for that office.

She was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in 1993, becoming the first African-American woman appointed to any of the state's five lower appellate courts.

Her shared 1998 appointment to the Supreme Court, coming as the Democratic administration of the late Gov. Lawton Chiles was winding down and that of Republican Jeb Bush was ramping up, says a lot about her reputation for impartiality, says veteran Tallahassee attorney Ron Meyer.

"Justice Quince has distinguished herself as an outstanding jurist and this is a testament to that," Meyer said. "I'm just pleased as punch that the state is getting its first African American woman chief justice. The justices couldn't have made a better choice."

Meyer argued and won one of the court's most controversial cases since Quince came to the bench. In January 2006, Quince sided with the majority in the 5-2 decision in Bush vs. Holmes that struck down Bush's private school voucher program.

But Quince is hard to categorize as a traditional liberal, attorneys say.

"When you argue to the court, you're never sure which side she is going to come down on," said South Florida appellate lawyer Bruce Rogow. "She asks questions about issues that interest her, not ones that reveal a point of view. That's wonderful."

Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Snurkowski, director of the criminal appellant division, appears frequently before Quince in death-penalty cases. Quince often rules against her, but Snurkowski is satisfied that Quince is weighing the merits of the individual cases and arguments.

Although Quince has a calm demeanor, attorneys better come to her court well-prepared and ready to answer detailed questions, Snurkowski said.

"She's a government lawyer, and that makes her special to us," Snurkowski said. "She's come up through the ranks. She knows what it's like to argue a case and prepare a brief."

Snurkowski and Quince worked together in the attorney general's office and enjoy a long friendship. Away from the court, Quince has a talent for making everyone around her feel comfortable, Snurkowski said.

"She's a lot of fun," Snurkowski said. "She can eat chocolate with the best of them."

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1 comment:

Chris Clark said...

I'm not a detective but if I was I would be all over the step father. Smh. If I was on that jury she would have been convicted of neglect at most. The call to 911 was a real reaction. A murderer wouldn't be able to fake that. She was freaking out cause her daughter was dieing in front of eyes. And the 7 year old....that's a whole other line of crap. Kids are not reliable enough to take the stand on a murder trial. They don't even understand the bible they swear in on. Anyone that believes his testimony is out of their mind. I hope they overturn this one day. And I hope Amanda keeps her head up.