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Hispanic Named to Fla. Supreme Court

July 11, 2002

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Gov. Jeb Bush on Wednesday named a grandson of former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista as the first Hispanic on the Florida Supreme Court.

Raoul Cantero III, a Miami attorney and Harvard Law School graduate, replaces Justice Major Harding, who is retiring after 11 years.

``I have named a person who is one of the finest appellate lawyers in the state,″ Bush said. ``Above all else, Raoul is a man of exceptional character.″

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.

In his application, Cantero wrote that his heritage would benefit the court.

``As an American whose family escaped a totalitarian (Castro) regime, I have learned to appreciate and defend democratic values and the rule of law,″ Cantero wrote. ``I know the price a society pays when it lacks freedom to speak, freedom to worship, freedom to dissent.″

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.

``Everybody has a right to an attorney and I have no problems that he was on the team,″ Bush said.

Cantero also defended his representation of Bosch, evoking 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,″ he said.

Cantero, a Catholic who has publicly defended anti-abortion protesters with the comment that ``abortions kill children,″ said he strives to be impartial on the bench.

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

Charli Summers, executive director of the Florida Association of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said Cantero’s apointment ``raises concerns for women’s access to reproductive health services.″

It 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.

Bush, who is running for re-election this fall, said the appointment ``proves that service on our state’s highest court is open to men and women of excellence of all backgrounds.″

The appointment, which takes effect in September, does not require approval of the Legislature.

Cantero was the only finalist who was not a judge and will be one of the youngest justices in state history.

The other finalists recommended by the Judicial Nominating Commission were 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge Chris Altenbernd; Circuit Judge Kenneth Bell; and 1st District Court of Appeal judges Philip Padovano and Peter Webster.