Photo of the Florida State Capitol Building in Tallahassee, FL, USA on May 3, 2020. Photo: Felix Mizioznikov/Shutterstock.com
There are now two new additions to the Florida Supreme Court thanks to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis appointed 42-year-old Palm Beach County circuit judge Renatha Francis and 41-year-old Miami attorney John Couriel at a press conference on Tuesday, May 26 inside the Miami-Dade Public Library main branch on Flagler Street. Judge Francis and Couriel won the seats after two Miami-Dade County former justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck were appointed last year to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Jamaican-born Renatha Francis will be the first justice from a Caribbean nation to serve in the Florida Supreme Court. Francis moved to Florida as an adult and worked presiding over bond court. Judge Francis also oversaw the probate division in West Palm Beach, county court and was a circuit court judge in Miami-Dade County. Her legal experience includes being counsel for class action and mass litigation practice groups at Miami firm Shutts & Bowen, LLP. Francis was an attorney and law clerk at the First District Court of Appeal.
As a young adult, Francis supported herself through college by operating a bar and a trucking company in Kingston while also trying to care for a younger sibling. Her other work experience involved selling skincare products and nutrition supplements for a company called YouLabs in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Francis received her bachelor’s degree from the University of the West Indies in 2000.
Francis has not been an attorney in over 10 years so she will not be installed until September.
John Couriel is the son of Cuban exiles, a Harvard graduate and a private litigator. Couriel’s parents arrived separately from Cuba in 1961. His father was among 14,000 children airlifted into South Florida during Operation Pedro Pan. Couriel replaces South Florida Judge Barbara Lagoa (also a daughter of Cuban exiles) after Lagoa was promoted to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President Trump.
Couriel unsuccessfully ran for U.S. attorney in Miami and also made an unsuccessful run as a Republican for state Senate in 2012. In 2016, Couriel ran for state House and lost against Representative Daisy Baez of Coral Gables.
Governor DeSantis noted both Couriel and Francis’ achievements, stating,”Couriel represents the Cuban-American community as a person who “shows dedication to freedom, democratic self-government, and the Constitution.”
“Any time there’s issues with people standing up for freedom and democracy and rule of law, you just look to the Cuban-American community here in South Florida,” he said. “I think John really exemplifies that.”
As for Judge Francis, DeSantis said, “Judge Francis is an amazing addition to the bench who exemplifies what can be attained with hard work and perseverance.” Francis’ appointment was hailed by Caribbean-American attorneys in Miami. “It’s an amazing and proud day for all past, present and aspiring Caribbean-American lawyers,” said Miami defense lawyer Tara Kawass, herself a native of Jamaica.
According to the Florida Constitution, each appellate district must have at least one justice elected or appointed from the district to the Supreme Court who is a resident of the district at the time of the original appointment, meaning five must live inside the territory of the district courts at the time of appointment. Until Tuesday, there was no appointee from the territory of the Third District, a gap Couriel now fills.
Governor Ron DeSantis says the appointments were delayed due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Chris began his writing as a hobby while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Today he and his wife live in the Orlando area with their three children and dog.