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Jamaican-born judge among two appointed to Florida Supreme Court

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed two residents from minority communities to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday: a Palm Beach County circuit judge who immigrated from Jamaica and a former assistant US attorney who is the son of Cuban immigrants.

Renatha Francis, who will be the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Florida court, and John Couriel are replacing Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck. DeSantis appointed Lagoa and Luck to the court last year, but they were subsequently appointed to the US 11th Circuit Court of Appeal by President Donald Trump.

DeSantis, a Republican, said at a Miami news conference that he picked them because he believes they will make their decisions based on the law, not their own preferences.

Francis, 42, has served as a circuit court judge since 2017, the last six months in the family and probate division in Palm Beach County. She operated a bar and trucking company in Jamaica before moving to the United States as an adult after graduating from the University of the West Indies in 2000. Francis graduated from Florida Coastal Law School in 2010, then worked for a judge and an appeals court as a staff attorney before being appointed to the bench three years ago.

Renatha Francis, left, smiles as she and her family are introduced during a news conference, Tuesday at the Miami-Dade Public Library in Miami.

She cannot take office until September 24 under a state law that says justices must have at least 10 years experience. She became a lawyer on September 24, 2010.

Francis had the backing of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, as there had been no black justices on the seven-member court. DeSantis said her background reminded him of Alexander Hamilton, one of the founding fathers who also immigrated from the Caribbean.

“Hamilton articulated what Judge Francis deeply understands: that the judiciary lacks authority to indulge its legislative preferences,” he said.

Couriel, 41, works as a private attorney specializing in civil litigation involving Latin America. According to his application, he frequently represents Latin American financial institutions and investors in US court proceedings. He served three years as the vice chair of the American Bar Association’s international criminal law committee and was an assistant US attorney from 2009 to 2012 in South Florida. He is a 2000 graduate of Harvard College and graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003.

John Couriel smiles as he speaks during the news conference.

DeSantis said Couriel “is giving up a lot of money to serve and I think that says a lot about John, his character and how important the rule of law is that he would be willing to” be a judge.

DeSantis picked Francis and Couriel from recommendations by the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which he appoints. Francis and Couriel will face a retention vote on the November 2022 ballot.