New Chief Justice Quince becomes first Black woman to head branch of state in Florida
by Jim Ash
Florida’s newest chief justice, praised for shattering racial and gender glass ceilings, wasted no time Friday setting a fresh agenda for the fourth largest court system in the nation.
Chief Justice Peggy Quince, the first black woman to head any branch of Florida government, used her swearing in ceremony to call for a new commission to fight a widespread perception of unequal treatment in the courts.
“No one should come out of this court system feeling that they were treated unfairly,” Quince said. “You may lose, but you should not feel that you were treated unfairly.”
Quince vowed to continue a push by her predecessor to reform a criminal-justice system that spends $250 million a year housing defendants too mentally ill to stand trial.
“Our jails and prisons cannot continue to be the psychiatric hospitals that no longer exist,” she said.
Quince also issued a polite but firm warning to the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist, who was not in the audience. Steep budget cuts will force administrators to eventually accept only the most pressing cases, straining courts to the breaking point, Quince warned.
“We will have no other option in this state but to prioritize the cases that we will be able to handle,” she said.
The 60-year-old justice was a veteran prosecutor and appellate judge when former governors Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush shared her appointment to the high court in 1998.
A crowd of about 500 well wishers packed the standing-room-only chambers and spilled into adjacent offices set up to handle the overflow.
Friends, family and colleagues joked about her love for shopping and the nickname “Imelda” that she earned by amassing a large collection of shoes.
A tribute by Quince’s husband, Fred Buckine, who calls her his “black diamond,” brought some audience members to tears.
“Justice is not elusive,” he said. “If you do good, good will come to you. My wife does good and good has come to her.”