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2 South Floridians Are Now Among the Most Powerful Judges in the State, Having Risen to Florida Supreme Court

A South Florida judge and Miami litigator will soon be state Supreme Court Justices.
By Raychel Lean | May 26, 2020 at 02:27 PM

Francis and Couriel

L-R Renatha Francis and John Couriel. Courtesy photos.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed two new justices to the state Supreme Court on Tuesday, making commercial litigator John D. Couriel of Kobre & Kim in Miami and Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis two of Florida’s most powerful jurists.

The pair will fill vacancies created when Judges Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa rose to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Francis oversees the family and probate divisions and recently moved from the Miami-Dade Circuit to fill a vacancy following the death of Judge Meenu Sasser. Francis was an attorney at Shutts & Bowen before she rose to county court in 2017. She holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of The West Indies and a law degree from the Florida Coastal School of Law.

At a press conference Tuesday, Francis said she was honored and humbled by the appointment. The jurist was born in Jamaica and raised by a single mother who had no high school diploma.

“From very humble beginnings, standing before you all today, I am truly the epitome of the American dream,” Francis said.

Couriel represents companies in high-stakes cross-borders disputes and, as a Cuban American, uses his native fluency in Spanish to concentrate on Latin America. He’s also served as a federal prosecutor, focusing on cases involving wire fraud, money laundering, health care fraud and other conspiracies.

Couriel obtained his bachelor’s and law degrees from Harvard University, and in 2016 ran as a Republican candidate for the Florida House of Representatives but was defeated by Daisy Baez.

Having worked with Couriel at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, Wilfredo A. Ferrer of Holland & Knight described him as a devoted family man with an “extraordinary work ethic” and “first-class” analytical mind, who was regularly selected for some of the most complex investigations.

“You should hear him speak about his family. He just lights up,” Ferrer said. “He lends his unselfish support to anybody in need, and that sort of humanity and humility is very important for a judge.”

Ferrer called the appointment good news for Florida’s lawyers, the judiciary and litigants.

“With John, they’re going to get an honest, well thought-out, intellectual and fair process,” Ferrer said. “He’s got the heart and the grit that comes from being the son of immigrants who came to this country with very modest means, but with their hearts filled with hope.”

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, applauded the move, remarking in a press release: ”The governor’s appointments of John Couriel and Renatha Francis as the 90th and 91st justices continue his mission to restore the court to its proper role as the interpreter of our laws, not the author.”

The Cuban American Bar Association also cheered the appointments, nothing that they epitomize its goals.

“Since 1974, the Cuban American Bar Association has worked to promote diversity in the judiciary and legal community,” a CABA press release said. “The appointment of John Couriel and the Honorable Renatha Francis will enhance and promote diversity on the bench.”