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Associated Press

1st Hispanic Named To Florida's High Court

July 10, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Raoul Cantero III

Age: 41

Occupation: attorney, Adorno & Yoss P.A., Miami

Education: Florida State University, Harvard Law School.

Personal: Born in Spain of Cuban parents, a grandson of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. Has handled more than 250 appeals during his years with the law firm, but has no judicial experience.

Source: Sentinel research

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday named a grandson of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista as the first Hispanic on the Florida Supreme Court.

Bush said Miami lawyer Raoul Cantero III will bring the right judicial philosophy as well as diversity to the high court.

``A healthy respect for the people's right of self-government and a strong dose of humility are absolute prerequisites for a good judge,'' Bush said. ``Raoul Cantero has both of these qualities.''

Cantero, 41, was born in Spain to parents who had fled Cuba after his mother's father, Batista, was overthrown by Fidel Castro in 1959.

The Harvard-educated attorney replaces Justice Major Harding of Jacksonville, who is retiring Aug. 31 after 11 years on the court.

Bush praised Cantero as ``one of the finest appellate advocates in the state'' and a person of ``exceptional character.''

Cantero will be one of the youngest justices in state history -- and could end up serving nearly three decades on the court.

``Being young is a good thing in a lifetime appointment,'' Bush said. ``This is a chance for me to make a difference for the future of our state.''

Cantero, a Catholic who has publicly defended anti-abortion protesters with the comment that ``abortions kill children,'' said he would be an impartial judge on all topics.

``My personal views on any particular issue will not keep me from applying the law, whatever the law is,'' he said.

The head of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates said she hoped that was true. Cantero's apointment ``raises concerns for women's access to reproductive health services,'' said Charli Summers, executive director of the group.

Bush said he was proud to appoint the first Hispanic, saying it was significant not because Cantero would represent Hispanics but because diversity in Florida courts is important. The first-term governor, who is running for re-election, said his record on diversity in appointments is conceded even by critics.

About 17 percent of Florida's 16 million residents are Hispanic.

Cantero's candidacy attracted some controversy because he helped defend Orlando Bosch, an anti-Castro extremist who was labeled a terrorist by the U.S. government for his purported ties to bombing raids on Cuba. Cantero did not endear himself to some of Miami Cubans who didn't agree with Bosch's violent tactics.

On a Miami radio talk show in 1989, Cantero called Bosch a ``Cuban patriot.'' Bush also championed Bosch, and his father, former President George Bush, pardoned him.

``Everybody has a right to an attorney -- it's one of the foundational aspects of our legal system,'' the governor said Wednesday. ``And I have no problems that Raoul was part of the team defending Orlando Bosch.''

Cantero also defended his representation of Bosch, pointing to John Adams, who represented the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre.

``Any lawyer who's ashamed of who he's represented should consider another line of work,'' Cantero said. Many Miami Cubans hailed the choice.

``We thank Governor Bush for recognizing the importance that Hispanics have in the great state of Florida by providing opportunities for members of our community to play a greater role in government,'' said Jorge Mas Santos, chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, the biggest organization of Cuban exiles.

Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat who had urged Bush to appoint a Hispanic, also praised the pick.

``I believe that this particular appointment could very well define his governorship,'' he said.

Cantero has superior communication skills and will write court opinions in a way that will be easy for the layman to understand, said Gonzalo Dorta, a Coral Gables lawyer who has worked on cases with Cantero.

``He listens more than he talks. He doesn't like the limelight,'' Dorta said. ``The way he likes to express himself is through writing.''

Cantero was Bush's first solo appointment to the seven-member court. In late 1998, after his election but before he took office, Bush and the late Gov. Lawton Chiles jointly appointed Justice Peggy Quince to the court.

If re-elected, Bush will have a chance to make another appointment later this year to replace Justice Leander Shaw, who is retiring early next year.

During the news conference announcing Cantero's appointment, Bush took the opportunity to criticize courts in general for ``too often'' overstepping their bounds and meddling in policy decisions that belong to the legislative and executive branches.

Cantero heads the appellate division of a Miami firm, Adorno & Yoss and was the only finalist who was not a judge. The others recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission were 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Chris Altenbernd of Tampa; Circuit Judge Kenneth Bell of Pensacola, and 1st District Court of Appeal judges Philip Padovano and Peter Webster of Tallahassee.

Once Cantero succeeds Harding in September, none of the seven justices on the Supreme Court will have any experience as a trial judge. Bush said he hoped to rectify that with a future appointment.

Cantero graduated from Florida State University in 1982, holding a double major in English and business. He was a cum laude graduate of Harvard Law School in 1985 and has argued half a dozen cases before the state Supreme Court.

Measure Cantero By His Own Past

Myriam Marquez

Copyright © 2002, Orlando Sentinel

July 16, 2002

Raoul Cantero III now sits as Florida's newest Supreme Court justice -- the first Hispanic man on the state's highest court.

This is a historic moment for Cuban-Americans and for the state's growing Hispanic population in general. Yet Cantero's appointment is not without controversy, because his grandfather was Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

Should Cantero pay for the sins of his grandfather? Or for the sins of his father, for that matter, who allegedly was part of an anti-communist organization during the Batista years that purportedly killed many people simply for having a different political view?

Of course not, though Fidel Castro's government is making those outlandish charges. It's hypocritical when so many of Cuba's powerful political elites, including the Castro brothers themselves, have family members living outside the island who have shunned communism.

Cantero, like anyone else, should be measured on his own talents, character and accomplishments. On those accounts, even Florida Democratic Party leaders have no public beef against him.

Pam Perry, a Democrat who participated with Cantero on a judicial nominating committee in South Florida, raved about him to The Miami Herald. "If I were governor, I couldn't have made a better choice," she said. "The only reason I'm surprised he is a justice today is that he's so humble."

Attorney General Bob Butterworth, a Democrat, echoed Perry's sentiments about Cantero's abilities.

Registered as an unaffiliated voter, independent of either major political party, Cantero has made a name for himself as a tough and knowledgeable lawyer in a distinguished law firm who has practiced before appellate judges for years. Virtually every appellate judge in the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Miami-Dade County backed his nomination. Cantero has never been a judge, but the Harvard Law School graduate isn't the first justice to get appointed to the state's highest court without ever serving as judge.

Maybe that's another reason why Democratic leaders aren't crying foul even if they were to disagree with the Republican governor's pick. When Democrat Lawton Chiles was governor, he missed the opportunity more than once to select a qualified Hispanic to the state's highest court. In fact, Chiles also appointed a lawyer with no judicial experience on the bench to the Supreme Court -- an old buddy, Charles Wells of Orlando.

What's unfortunate is that Gov. Jeb Bush's appointment during an election year opens up Cantero's appointment to criticism that the governor's pick was motivated by politics and meant solely to appease Cuban exiles often smeared as a group with the "Batista lovers" label.

Let's get real. Anyone who believes that Bush, who's wildly popular among South Florida's Cuban-American voters, would have lost their votes this November had he picked a non-Hispanic is living in another dimension. Where would Cuban-American Republicans go for an alternative? Janet "Rambo" Reno?

Not a chance.

Nevertheless, there are many able and experienced Hispanic judges in Florida, though their numbers certainly aren't anywhere reflective of the state's Latino population. Judge Virginia Hernandez Covington, whom Bush appointed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, was another outstanding applicant who happens to have Hispanic roots. Unfortunately for Covington, she grew up in Tampa, the daughter of a Cuban mother. She didn't make the final cut of five finalists.

Cantero, born in Spain, grew up in Miami. His "unaffiliated voter" label aside, Cantero knows the ins and outs of exile politics.

He was part of a team in 1989 that represented Orlando Bosch, a Cuban exile who risked being deported after serving time in a Venezuelan prison. The Venezuelan courts overturned Bosch's conviction for an attack on a Cuban airliner that was blown up with 73 passengers in it.

Cantero likened his representation of Bosch to the actions of one of America's founding fathers, John Adams, who defended British soldiers in cases before U.S. courts. Adams went on to be elected president.

In that sense, Cantero was doing the job that any good lawyer would do.

Whether Justice Cantero can be fair, impartial and base his legal opinions on the law and not on knee-jerk exile politics or his own conservative leanings will be clear soon enough. I don't cast stones at Cantero for the sins of his dictatorial grandfather.

I do blame Bush for playing Cold War-style geopolitics with a judicial appointment. Now Cuban dictator Fidel Castro gets one more chance to gleefully smear all Cuban-Americans, the vast majority of whom despised Batista then and now, as corrupt zealots more interested in acquiring power than the ideals of liberty and justice for all.

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