Barbara J. Pariente, Chief Justice
of the Florida Supreme Court
by Jan Pudlow
From The Florida Bar Journal, October 2004
“She now brings to the office of the chief justice the qualities of someone who learned discipline from adversity and whose early vision of this new ethic has become the recognized standard.”
- Harry Lee Anstead
Petite powerhouse Barbara Pariente is used to being in control. It’s evident from her stellar trajectory from federal law clerk to Florida Supreme Court justice in two dozen years.
It’s apparent in her talent for analyzing every argument with razor-sharp intellect, her perfectionist attention to detail in every opinion she writes, and her pin-point precise questions from the bench that often catch lawyers off guard.
Control was snatched away from Pariente when a doctor uttered the dreaded C-word in March 2003 after a routine mammogram revealed breast cancer.
After a 14-hour double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in June 2003, Pariente opened her personal journal and poured out her heart: “I have always feared breast cancer and losing my breasts. In the ’60s and ’70s, breast cancer was a death sentence and a mastectomy was disfiguring. No more. Not for me. I am not scared?? Not real fear. What are my emotions, I am asked. Anger? Yes. OK. And somewhat scared. Frustration. Our life is no longer as we planned. Any semblance of control wrested from us . . . . ”
The shocking diagnosis brought Pariente to her knees—but only temporarily. She fought back by doing what she does best: going into full analytical mode.
Anything but a passive patient, she kept a fat notebook of all her medical records, files of research, and ques tioned leading authorities on breast cancer, seeing at least 15 doctors in all.
“She attacked cancer with the same type of meticulous preparation she has used throughout her legal and judicial career,” said husband Fred Hazouri, a Fourth District Court of Appeal judge.
After choosing an aggressive treatment, Pariente retreated to her Cape Cod summer home during the August 2003 court recess to start chemotherapy. She began yoga for relaxation, acupuncture to ward off nausea, and followed a diet recommended by a cancer nutritionist.
The hardest part, she admits, was losing her hair. One day, she scratched her head and clumps came out in handfuls that filled wastepaper baskets.
Buzz it, G.I. Jane!
“Fred began to tell me I needed to buzz my hair,” Pariente wrote in her personal journal. “But I clung to my ever-decreasing head of hair like a poor child to her last scrap of food . . . . I continued to resist his mantra of ‘Buzz it’ until 8/12, when I realized the bald spots were growing and I would soon look (and feel) . . . ridiculous. So when the sun came out, I took an outdoor shower and threw my head and hair back into the pounding water, washed with Miracle Soap, and looked up with a smile at the blue sky and felt free at last.”
That afternoon, she emerged from her hairdresser’s shop totally bald.
“I love my buzz!” Pariente wrote in her journal. “I love the touch and freedom of my adorable bald head . . . . I feel healthy and very alive. . . .I am G.I. Jane!”
When the Supreme Court reconvened later that month, Pariente clung to wearing a wig, worried about people’s reactions. On the inside, she felt like she was hiding the “real me,” and she was tired of “masquerading as if all was normal.”
In a high profile citrus canker case October 7, Pariente took her place at the polished bench next to other justices, donning her familiar black robe and exposing her unfamiliar bald head. In Pariente’s very public job, flinging off her wig was a visible declaration to the world that she was fighting breast cancer and there was no reason to feel ashamed. To the contrary, she saw it as “an affirmation of life—to do what is necessary to ensure good health.”
During Pariente’s liberating courtroom debut sans wig, there was a Supreme Court ceremony to induct new members to The Florida Bar. In his speech, then Bar President Miles McGrane made references to heroes in the law Atticus Finch and Chesterfield Smith. And then with a nod to Justice Pariente, he said, “I am so honored and pleased that you are doing what you’re doing for your cause. You are a hero to me, and, I think, everyone here.”
Clearly touched by his remarks, Pariente’s eyes glistened with tears as the spectators broke into applause.
Never Missed an Oral Argument
Being aboveboard about her cancer took on striking proportions when Pariente allowed the Palm Beach Post to chronicle her treatment with a huge spread of pictures and words, including one dramatic closeup shot of her looking vulnerable as she held a sheet over her breasts, while a nurse drew blood.
Hundreds of cards and letters and e-mails poured in, including notes from Gov. Jeb Bush and his wife Columba, and from women who had faced breast cancer themselves, cheering Pariente on for her courage to fight cancer with such disarming honesty.
“That’s who she is. It helped her to share her feelings, because she was simply sharing an experience that literally thousands and thousands of women face every day,” Hazouri said. “If being open about it takes some of the mystery away, and she certainly is a survivor, it gives hope to other people.”
U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Rosemary Barkett, a close friend and the first woman on the Florida Supreme Court, said: “Barbara is so straightforward. Obviously, no one can be with you in very private moments when you are alone and have to face this. But in her relationships with people, it was amazing how much effort she expended in being upbeat and to make the best choices possible. I don’t think anyone can help but admire her enormously.”
Throughout her cancer treatment, Pariente never missed an oral argument and participated in all conferences, including one by telephone and one video conference.
“The most remarkable thing to me is while she sat at chemotherapy, she took a briefcase of her work, reading over cases and briefs, with an IV dripping in her arm,” said Eleanor Hunter, executive director of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.
Hunter is a breast cancer survivor herself, and Pariente, her neighbor at the time, helped her through the ordeal.
“She was a source of strength to me,” Hunter said, “but I don’t think she needed me as a source of strength. I don’t think it ever occurred to her to stop working. I felt like a wimp in comparison.”
Pariente’s arsenal of strength came from those she loves—friends, family, and what she calls “my court family.” She thanks Justice Charles Wells for calling on his daughter Shelley, a doctor married to a doctor, to get the best medical advice, Justice Raoul Cantero for enlisting his whole family to pray for her daily, and Justice Peggy Quince for staying with her when she needed help changing dressings.
Justices Harry Lee Anstead, Fred Lewis, and Kenneth Bell “offered to do anything I requested. Well, not quite anything. I don’t think I got any more concurring votes out of this,” Pariente joked.
What she says she did get out of breast cancer was “a calmer view about events. Among my friends, they know I am the ultimate planner. It is my lifestyle. If my experience of the past year has taught me anything, it has taught me that we can plan and plan, but some things are just beyond our control.”
A mere year after her rigorous cancer treatment, Pariente began her term as head of the high court “not so much nervous or anxious as I am grateful—for my health, for the honor of being named chief justice, and most of all for my family, friends, colleagues, and staff.”
To Know Her Is to Like Her
If you want to plan a party, put Pariente in charge. She loves a celebration.
“She loves making people happy. She loves sharing in their happiness. And she loves sharing her happiness with them,” Hazouri said.
Just don’t let her order the food.
The family joke, says stepdaughter Leslie DiTocco, mother of five, is remembering the time Pariente ordered Thai takeout for a family celebration and they had enough leftover pad thai noodles to feed the neighborhood.
Such exuberance spills over in a longtime mentoring relationship Pariente shares with 22-year-old Doris Davis. Their relationship began through the Take Stock in Children program when Davis was a shy ninth-grader at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School and Pariente was a judge on the Fourth DCA.
“She had to pry everything out of me, even ‘hello,’” Davis recalls. “But she was so consistent with me, I had to open up.”
These days, Davis considers Pariente a true friend with her best interest at heart.
“Just to know she is genuinely interested in me makes me feel like I can do anything,” said Davis, now a Florida A&M University student majoring in political science education, a newlywed contemplating law school.
“She is not afraid to live. She knows life is meant to be lived. She makes the most of every day and every situation.”
Even in sad times, Pariente has a knack for drawing friends together.
“Her thoughtfulness is almost boundless,” said Tallahassee lawyer Dan Stengle. “She writes the thoughtful note. She puts on the quiet brunch for people going through painful times. She knows scores of people, but she never misses an opportunity to rise to the occasion to remember a special event or help someone in need.”
Says former Justice Major B. Harding: “To know her is to like her. She is just an engaging, warm human being.”
When people meet his wife for the first time, Hazouri said, often they are “disarmed to find such a down-to-earth, warm, caring loving person who really cares about the justice system, and particularly the people who are affected by the justice system.”
The ever-sentimental Pariente scatters pictures of family and friends liberally around her chambers, keeps detailed scrapbooks, and has a constant moving portrait gallery of her six grandchildren as a computer screen-saver. She likes to surround herself with the people she loves, whether they can be with her in person or not.
When it’s someone’s birthday, Pariente likes to blow up photos of the guest of honor and spoil him or her with the perfect gift and multiple greeting cards.
“When she was young, every birthday she had was a big deal. She was princess for the day,” DiTocco explains.
Susanne Pariente, a psychotherapist, says what she loves most about her older sister is “her love of family and her sense of humor. She is fun to be around, really down to earth, with this great energy. She makes you feel special.”
These sisters “see the glass as half full,” says Susanne Pariente, and she attributes that to their parents, who went through the hard times of the Depression and World War II, savored the good of what life had to offer, and fostered a sense of family and togetherness at home.
“My mom was really into great holidays and special celebrations. Those are times we still cherish,” Susanne Pariente said. “Barbara went on to continue that in her life and family.”
Barbara Pariente’s family is a happy blend, with a son from her first marriage and a son and daughter from Hazouri’s first marriage.
At her swearing-in ceremony July 2, 27-year-old Joshua Pariente Koehler said, “It’s the priority that she places on personal relationships that really makes her so special.” Turning to his mother, he said: “Mom, you are the very best person that I know.”
And David Hazouri, a Miami lawyer, said: “Barbara is as genuine a person as I have ever met. I have never had to read her or wonder what she was really thinking. Her intentions are unflaggingly filled with the hope of success for those she cares for. In a family that is the product of two second marriages, this quality has made us more than simply functional; it has made us whole.”
It was love at first sight for Mildred and Charles Pariente, who married in October 1941, two months before Pearl Harbor, and Charles was called into active duty. For newlyweds separated by the war, Barbara Pariente says, “Basically, their fifth anniversary was their first anniversary together.”
Dad, now deceased, worked for a chocolate company, and Mom, living in South Florida and still active in volunteer work in an art museum, was in charge of booking movies for Brandt Theaters.
“They kidded, because it was such a great match. She could get free tickets to the movies, and he could supply the candy,” Barbara Pariente says with a laugh. “They had the most wonderful relationship. I don’t think I fully appreciated that as a child, how normal my childhood was. They gave me a lot of love, as well as total support.”
Born in New York on Christmas Eve, 1948, Pariente grew up in the heart of the city in the Fort Washington area, until the family moved to the New Jersey suburbs when she was nine.
From Hula Hoops to High Honors
Typical of the ’50s, Mildred was a stay-at-home mom. And Barbara was a Brownie who flew up to be a Girl Scout. On Sundays, the family liked to ride the Staten Island Ferry and have a picnic.
The first organization Barbara Pariente ever participated in was becoming a member of the Ricky Nelson Fan Club in the fifth grade.
“One of my strongest early feelings was that I hated Elvis,” laughs Pariente. “I didn’t like all that gyration. Of course, I had to have an opinion, even as an 8-year-old girl.”
She did love the Disney version of Davy Crockett, hula hoops, and her favorite Beatle, she says somewhat apologetically, was Paul because “he was the cutest.”
She worked at the snack shack at Tenafly High School, and Susanne Pariente remembers her older sister debated with their dad about politics.
“I remember being involved in community service projects as early as junior high school,” Barbara Pariente recalls. “I don’t know exactly where I got everything from, but I just always had a sense things weren’t as fair as they should be.”
The first in her family to go to college, Pariente majored in public communication, focusing on broadcast journalism and an interest in photography. During her third year at Boston University, one class assignment was to do a documentary, and she focused her camera on a new legal services program at Harvard. That sparked her interest in the law.
She got a summer volunteer job at a legal services organization on the Lower East Side.
“Every day that summer, I went from a New Jersey suburb by bus, train, and then bus again, across 14th Street to the Lower East Side, where I passed people who were definitely heroin addicts.
“Ten years later, people would say, ‘How would someone let their daughter do this?’ And my mother wonders how she did,” Pariente says.
“That was the summer that New York changed its laws on divorce and there was a lot of business in legal services. It was eye-opening, people who had legal needs and what legal services could do for those people,” she recalls.
“I became impassioned about the law and working in legal services for the poor.
“It was a time of great change through the late ’60s in Boston, all of the undercurrent of the Vietnam War and the protesting. It always seemed to me I should funnel my energy into a more constructive way of making a difference. So I went to law school thinking that I would find people with similar passions.”
Mostly, what she found at George Washington University Law School, in Washington, D.C., were guys, and she wondered to herself: “Who are all these people in suits?
“They had all these goals. I guess I set out to say: ‘I can do this, and I am going to do the best I can.’”
She graduated fifth in her class.
This ‘Lady Lawyer’ Let Her Hair Down
“It became a goal for me to feel that I had to do better because I was a woman,” Pariente said. And that feeling continued as she looked for a job after law school, landing a clerkship in South Florida for the very colorful handlebar-mustachioed federal judge, Norman Roettger, Jr., from 1973–75.
“My first day at work, here I am, pretty grown up and had seen a lot of things. But what I wasn’t prepared for was seeing a moose’s head on the table in the entrance to his chambers. That moose, whom he called Glen, was his trophy from a hunting trip to Alaska the previous summer. Glen had the biggest eyes. That was the first thing I wasn’t prepared for,” Pariente says with a broad grin.
She wasn’t prepared for being called “honey,” though she realizes now that was just part of Southern charm, “that’s not necessarily condescending.”
During her clerkship in federal court, Pariente had a ringside seat to wonderful lawyers who inspired her interest in trial work. In 1975, she interviewed at Cone, Wagner and Nugent in West Palm Beach.
“I was told they had never hired a ‘lady lawyer,’ but they thought it was about time,” Pariente said. “There was a really good lady lawyer working for another law firm, and they thought it was about time to get one, too. And that really good lawyer was Rosemary Barkett.”
During the job interview, Pariente brought a law review article she had written in law school, titled, “Prostitution in Criminal Law,” that argued there was unequal enforcement of the law in Washington, D.C., because law enforcement was only using male officers to pose as johns, so only the women prostitutes were being arrested. Her argument was advocated by the public defender’s office, and a D.C. judge declared the prostitution law unconstitutional.
“That was a very fascinating article,” Pariente said. “But I don’t think the partners of Cone, Wagner and Nugent thought it was so fascinating. They were a little leery of hiring a woman.”
But Pariente excelled as a personal injury trial lawyer in the firm, rising to partner in 1977, the same year she gave birth to Joshua.
“I went back to work three weeks after I had my son,” Pariente recalls. “I didn’t feel I could afford to be out longer.”
She noted that one of the lawyers in the firm was in the reserves, and the firm had the stationery changed to reflect proudly “on military leave” beside his name. “I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t they announce proudly “on maternity leave” beside my name?’”
It was the ’70s and jurors weren’t accustomed to seeing “lady lawyers” in trial, so Pariente was counseled to wear her long hair up in a businesslike bun.
During a big crop-damage case in federal court, dubbed the “Crippled Pepper Case,” Pariente did as she was told—until right before closing arguments when she let her hair down.
As she walked out of the courtroom, one of the male jurors told her he liked her hair better that way.
“I got a kick out of that. And I thought, ‘So do I!’ I like to tell that story to other women lawyers about appropriate dress in the courtroom, but also be yourself. You have to be comfortable with who you are.”
U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, R-FL, has known Pariente for more than 28 years, and watched her succeed as an energetic, talented young woman trial lawyer, part of what he called “the band of sisters at the Palm Beach County Courthouse.”
“They never tried to claim any preference. They never held up the gender card; they never needed to,” he said.
As he has watched her career evolve as a judge on the Fourth DCA and Florida Supreme Court, he said she is “extraordinarily fair, and very, very intelligent. She doesn’t wear her emotions on her robe sleeves, and is very well suited for the highest court in Florida. As Fox News says, she is fair and balanced, though she might not like the Fox News reference,” Foley adds with a laugh.
During that time as a trial lawyer at Cone, Wagner and Nugent, Pariente met her future husband, Fred Hazouri, a partner at the firm.
Hazouri remembers meeting Pariente for the first time when she applied for the job, describing her as a “young, neophyte lawyer with good credentials.”
He quickly found a way to dump a case he hated: The client had plowed onto a freshly paved highway and rear-ended a paving vehicle.
“I never understood what the theory of liability was, so I was tickled to death for Barbara to come on the trial team,” Hazouri recounts with a chuckle. Even though Pariente managed to get some settlement money, arguing there weren’t proper signs to direct traffic, Hazouri said, “Barbara never lets me forget the fact that I threw her to the wolves on that case.”
Hazouri remembers Pariente as “a quick study, very enthusiastic” and “very, very meticulous,” who was “able to do a great analysis of complex cases,” and had a real talent for bringing out the significant details in a plaintiff’s case at trial.
Perhaps Pariente’s most famous case as a lawyer was when she represented Barkett, already the first woman justice on the Florida Supreme Court, when she and two other lawyers, Hugh Lindsey and Ken Slinkman, sued their former partner at a law firm. There had been a substantial verdict and they felt entitled to a percentage of it as former partners.
“The partner’s defense was that they were not entitled to a percentage, because they were not actually partners,” Pariente recounts. “The only problem with that defense was they had been listed as partners in partnership returns.”
The case went to trial, and Pariente lets out a big sigh at the memory.
“All I can say is Rosemary was one of my worst clients . . . . I had her yanking at me, saying, ‘You didn’t object!’ And my saying, ‘I DID object! Again!’”
Barkett has to laugh, too.
“Tell Barbara I thought we were excellent clients, and I say that tongue-in-cheek. I thought we were excellent clients offering helpful suggestions at trial.”
They won the case, and their friendship only grew stronger.
Barkett picks these three adjectives to describe Pariente: “intelligent, generous, and conscientious.”
What advice does the first female Florida Supreme Court justice have for the second?
“I don’t think Barbara needs advice. I think everybody has their own style, and I think she has been extremely successful to date,” Barkett says. “I have no qualms she is going to be equally successful as chief justice, in her relationship with the courts, the legislature, and the governor’s office.”
Climbing Mt. Everest
Pariente and Louis Silber, who had worked together at Cone, Wagner and Nugent, formed their own practice in 1983, where she worked until Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed her to the Fourth DCA a decade later.
“As I always tell my friends, there was a firm named Pariente and Silber. She climbed the Mt. Everest of our profession, and I am still struggling,” Silber said.
It was a long climb.
Silber remembers back in the ’70s he and Pariente attended a party for referral lawyers in Ft. Pierce and Stuart. One lawyer walks up to Pariente standing next to Silber and asks: “Oh, are you one of Lou’s secretaries?”
That lawyer, who became a good friend of theirs, wrote Silber a letter when Pariente was appointed to the appellate court.
“Dear Louis: Only in America could Louis Silber’s secretary become a judge of the Fourth DCA.”
There is no question that Pariente made him a better lawyer, Silber says.
“What made her unique as a partner was her tremendous concern for her clients. She cared so much about them, calling them, seeing how they are doing. A lot of lawyers finish a case, do a nice job, and disburse the client’s recovery. They’ve solved a problem and go forward. But Barbara showed this isn’t about winning a case in a courtroom. For her, it was about helping people.”
How will that translate into Pariente’s role as chief justice?
“I think Barbara really loves to help people and use the law and use her position and use her influence in trying to make the law more responsive to the needs of families and of children and of people who are not the people who can afford the big firms and lawyers,” Silber said.
“Domestic abuse victims, people going through rough times with kids, where the law maybe has not been able to make a dent . . . .When she appeals to the other branches, they will see how passionately she feels. She will be very persuasive, and rightfully so.”
Those who know her best predict Pariente’s gregarious personality and caring heart will help open doors and build consensus.
“No matter what intellectual or legal differences she might have with other justices and other branches of government, I can’t imagine anybody who wouldn’t like her,” said good friend and Miami lawyer Ellen Freidin. “She is an extremely engaging person, truly interested in other people, and I think that draws people to her.”
For anyone who stands before her at oral argument, Pariente is a legal dynamo quizzing lawyers.
“Her real strength shows in her questions from the bench,” said Bruce Rogow, law professor at Nova Southeastern University and appellate advocate.
“She is very adept at getting right to the issue and asking the important and, sometimes, difficult questions. Anytime one argues in the Florida Supreme Court, you always have to be prepared for Justice Barbara Pariente.”
Ask Tallahassee lawyer Stengle, who argued the issue of the governor’s veto powers while general counsel for the late Gov. Lawton Chiles.
“Justice Pariente can really come up with unique angles and questions that may not have occurred to lawyers on either side.
“Her outlook and perspective, I’d say, are refreshing, but refreshing isn’t the right word when you’re standing there petrified,” Stengle said.
“She really does her homework. You wonder, ‘How did I miss that? Why didn’t I see that?’ She puts you through the paces. It’s not a mental exercise. These are things she wants to understand. And she stands out that way among a court that digs deep to challenge lawyers on the issues.”
Harry Lee Anstead, who handed over the gavel as chief justice, shared these observations about the colleague he has worked closely with for more than a decade:
“I was fortunate enough to be on the Fourth District Court of Appeal when Barbara Pariente was appointed to the same bench in 1993. She brought with her a sense of purpose and of public service honed by someone who began her career as one of only a few pioneering women trial lawyers in Palm Beach County.
“Through hard work and determination, she and her colleagues, like former Chief Justice Rosemary Barkett, realized they were not only shattering glass ceilings, they were also creating a model for men and women alike about a new ethic in the legal profession that one day would embrace the diversity it had rejected earlier.
“She has continued to confront challenges both personal and professional, head-on, after moving to Tallahassee.
“She now brings to the office of the chief justice the qualities of someone who learned discipline from adversity and whose early vision of this new ethic has become the recognized standard.
“She challenges herself to live up to this standard every day, personally and as a justice of Florida’s highest court.”
The Loneliness of the Long-distance Marriage
In June, Chief Justice Barbara Pariente was asked to marry a couple whose jobs forced them to live in separate towns.
“I said to the couple, ‘I thought that I was being picked to officiate because I was a judge, but now I realize it’s because I can give you advice on how a marriage can flourish in person from Thursday to Monday, and with e-mails and phone calls in between,’” Pariente recounts with a laugh.
Pariente and her husband of 18 years, Fred Hazouri, a judge on the Fourth District Court of Appeal, have made their long-distance marriage work.
They hunker down at their respective judicial jobs during the week, then alternate on who flies either to West Palm Beach or Tallahassee to spend long weekends together.
Racking up frequent-flier miles, they enjoy their far-flung Florida homes, as well as a third Cape Cod cottage that is their summer-recess retreat and family destination at Thanksgiving.
They agree it has been an evolution of accommodation. It helps that there is now one-hour Delta nonstop jet service instead of often-canceled connecting flights on prop planes.
And if they still had small children at home? Forget it!
Still, the arrangement hasn’t always been easy.
Eleventh Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan remembers consoling her good friend Pariente on her first night in her new home of Tallahassee.
“She said, ‘This is so strange living here alone.’ And I said, ‘Don’t think of it as a long-term thing. Think of it like a short-term thing, like you are in litigation and you are just in a new town for depositions,’” Karlan advised.
Hazouri has to grin when he says: “Some of my colleagues, particularly some of my male colleagues, think this is the greatest thing. You can be home during the week; your wife not hassling you; you have complete control over the TV controller; you can watch as much sports as you want.”
But he admits having “very mixed feelings” when Gov. Lawton Chiles elevated Pariente from the Fourth DCA to the Florida Supreme Court in 1997, while Hazouri was a civil trial judge in the 15th Judicial Circuit.
“On the one hand, I knew she would be a wonderful Supreme Court justice. But I wasn’t particularly excited about the fact that we were going to be separated for long periods of time. I married her because I love her and I wanted us to be together.”
Hazouri loves being a judge and wasn’t interested in “moving up to Tallahassee and practicing law.” It helped when Chiles appointed Hazouri to the Fourth DCA, where he has more control over his schedule than a trial judge.
“I can do a lot of work at home and on the road, and a lot of computer communication,” Hazouri said.
Pariente agrees it was difficult the first year, but they’ve achieved harmony.
“This is how I have gotten the reputation of the person who works around the clock,” Pariente said. “I tend to stay long hours during the week when I am here. I get a lot done. In a way, it’s good. We have the weekend to be together in quality time.”
When his wife first applied for the position of Supreme Court justice, Hazouri confesses he told her that the really “interesting cases were being decided at the intermediate appellate court level,” and she wouldn’t be particularly happy with the huge workload of death penalty cases at the Supreme Court.
“Of course, that hadn’t been out of my mouth very long when Bush v. Gore came about. It then became a situation where obviously the Supreme Court of Florida then and since has been faced with some very controversial, very socially hot topics. It certainly has been a high-profile, very important court. So, obviously, I was wrong about that!” Hazouri concedes.
Hazouri wasn’t even in the state when Tallahassee became the focal point of the entire world during the presidential election challenge of 2000. He was waiting for his wife to come home for Thanksgiving in Cape Cod.
They had made a decision not to have a television at their New England retreat.
“When the announcement was made they would televise this thing live, I had to go over to the neighbor across the street to watch Barbara in the first oral argument,” Hazouri said.
“You have to understand: Cape Codders are pretty keep-to-themselves kind of people. The word drifted around the little shops and newspaper stands that somehow this woman appearing in Bush v. Gore was the person who lived on this street in this little town in Cape Cod.”
In the end, they both got their moments in the limelight. Hazouri was interviewed by the Cape Cod Times. And Pariente joked: “The 15 minutes of fame started to fade when I learned I was in the year-end trivia contest in The New Yorker. I was question 22.”
Oh, and by the way, Pariente did get to join her family in Cape Cod for Thanksgiving dinner, because it fell during a break after the Florida Supreme Court had made its decision for a recount and they thought it was over.
As far as talking about cases, Hazouri said, “We try to keep that part of our lives separate.” Now, if a case in which Hazouri participates comes to the Supreme Court, Pariente will recuse herself, following the recommendation of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
“As it is now, she does not sit on cases in which I have either written the opinion or I am on the panel,” Hazouri explains. “So far, it hasn’t been an operating problem, either for my court or her court.”
In this high-powered, dual career, commuter marriage, there is yet one more adjustment to make. “When she became the chief justice, she actually became my boss,” Hazouri says. “She always thought she was my boss. Now, she really is.”
Pariente’s Plans as Chief Justice
The July 2 morning Barbara Pariente was sworn in as chief justice, she noted: “Today is the 40th anniversary of the signing of the historic Civil Rights Act—probably the single most significant piece of legislation in our lifetime.”
Sitting in the audience was longtime child advocate Jack Levine, who remarked: “What better stage than the Florida Supreme Court for honoring a pioneer jurist whose focus has been a career-long interest in the rights of a population with little voice of their own: children?”
Observed Fifth District Court of Appeal Judge Emerson Thompson: “Read her opinions. She is often in dissent and she has an attitude that she wants to level the playing field to make sure everyone has a fair opportunity to be heard. That includes children and pro se litigants.”
Listening to Children, Urging a Unified Family Court
Giving children a voice in court was demonstrated in Amendment to the Rules of Juvenile Procedure, Fla. R. Juv. P. 8.350, 804 So. 2d 1206 (Fla. 2001). The 5-2 opinion, written by Pariente [in an issue first brought to the court in M.W. v. Davis and DCF, 756 So. 2d 90 (Fla. 2000)] was hailed by children’s advocates as a groundbreaking decision recognizing that foster children have rights, too. Carrying out the recommendation of The Florida Bar Commission on the Legal Needs of Children, the opinion said foster children have a right to a lawyer and meaningful opportunity to be heard at a hearing before they can be sent to a residential mental health treatment facility against their will.
Pariente chairs the Supreme Court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Courts, which advocates a Unified Family Court.
She said it is important “not to lose sight of the fact that the test of a justice system is its effect on individual lives. Therefore, I will strive to use the chief’s office to continue to ensure that our Unified Family Court—which includes dissolution of marriage, adoption, child support, domestic violence, juvenile dependency, and juvenile delinquency—continues to be given top priority. A huge number of people come to court because there is trouble in the family—a disintegrating marriage, domestic abuse, custody and child support matters, children in need of services, and delinquency.
“The Unified Family Court is not a training ground for new lawyers and new judges, but a court where we should be sending our most experienced and committed lawyers and judges. This high level of commitment and experience is necessary to deal with the complexities arising from the fact that most of the young people in the delinquency and dependency systems are products of abuse and neglect—both physical and sexual abuse—drugs and alcohol (either their own addictions or that of their parents)—or are there because of domestic violence (either their own aggressive act or as a previous victim). The Unified Family Court helps us get a total picture of this child, which is possible only if we have all the information, and if we listen and allow the child to be heard.
“That is why it is critical to work with legislators in an attempt to find successful models of representation for children. These models exist right now, such as Project TeamChild, in which accused juveniles are provided not just with an attorney to deal with pending charges, but also with the services of a social worker who can line up services such as counseling and treatment.”
Said Levine: “Chief Justice Pariente is one of the clear voices that says, ‘We need to look at the family very differently than we look at the criminal law.’ The family has the opportunity in the Unified Family Court not to go place to place and person to person, but to have one-stop shopping when it comes to positive jurisdiction.
“It comes down to the perception of respect and mutuality. And what Chief Justice Pariente brings to the conversation is an open ear, a willingness to learn, and, frankly, a willingness to understand more deeply because the law is only one aspect of the guidance.”
Continuing the Success of Drug Courts
Pariente wants to continue programs with proven success, “including the drug court approach for juveniles and for parents of children in dependency,” she said.
“Every time we have to terminate the rights of a parent because of a treatable addiction, we fracture a family with potentially devastating effects on parent and child.”
Jim McDonough, director of the Office of Drug Control, in the Executive Office of the Governor, remembers first meeting Pariente in the summer of 1999.
“It was a nice discovery that her goal was to convince me on the wisdom of drug courts. And my goal was to convince her on the wisdom of drug courts,” McDonough said. “We are confederates in drug courts.” Pariente, who organized the first statewide conference on drug courts, appointed McDonough to the Supreme Court’s Drug Court Steering Committee.
“She has a very compassionate view of the social ills that beset the state right now and how the courts impact them,” McDonough said. “I see her drive, energy, and intelligence, and her absolute zeal to do the right thing.”
Educating the Public, Promoting Relationships
“Although many may see the judiciary as being removed from the public—which is sometimes necessary to maintain our impartiality—in fact we are the only branch of government that truly shares power directly with the people, by making them partners in the justice system and integral to decisionmaking through the genius of our jury system. I look forward to working with the governor and the legislature to initiate a statewide civic education campaign so that we can educate and re-educate all Floridians, from our youngest to our oldest, on the important values of citizenship, the true meaning of the Rule of Law, and the genius of the three branches of government,” Pariente said.
She plans to meet with agency heads, especially the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Revenue, and the Department of Education, “to talk about mutual interests with the court system, really, to try to get some true partnerships going.”
That includes promoting judicial branch relationships.
“I hope to have lawyers over here, to talk about what we do on this court, and also to reach out to the business community,” Pariente said.
Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “I couldn’t be happier she is chief justice. She is very articulate, intelligent, and patient. She will listen to you. Some of my colleagues think the court is too liberal and rules contrary to the legislature, and they get (mad) about that.
“But the system works because there is an adversarial system and three branches with checks and balances. My colleagues who think the court always has to agree with the legislature are just plain wrong. I’ve made it a goal of mine to keep the court as independent as possible.”
Fostering Diversity in the Legal Profession
“I am so glad The Florida Bar is taking a leadership role on the issue of diversity,” Pariente said. “During my tenure, I intend to handle fairness issues and diversity issues and do all that we can to promote women and minorities in the profession and judiciary.
“One of the things I recognize as chief justice is the best thing you can do is be available to speak out. Then you also have to decide what it is the judicial branch can do. And sometimes, those are not synonymous.”
But, Pariente said, she can do her part to heighten awareness.
That is music to the ears of The Florida Bar Board of Governors member Henry Latimer, who has known Pariente for three decades.
“She is really committed to making the Bar, the court system, the justice system more sensitive and reflective of the entire community with respect to diversity,” Latimer said.
“That’s important because it comes from the top. Just like parents and children, the example comes from parents and the children follow. The Florida Supreme Court is the highest court, and when the court speaks, people listen.”
Improving Technology and the Courts
“We must continue to embrace technology, so that we can truly have an integrated judicial system where each judge has access to information needed to make informed decisions that will better serve our litigants and ensure that justice can be done,” Pariente said.
Even today, she notes with dismay, there are segments of the court system that still do not have Internet access.
“It will not be that way at the end of my two years as chief justice, if I have anything to do with it,” she said.
“We must move toward electronic filing of documents to better serve both the litigants of this state and to help provide an even more timely appellate review process.”
Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Martha Warner said: “We’ve been talking a lot about the use of technology to improve court efficiency. Through her guidance and during her watch, we are moving to an entirely paperless court. It’s a big effort to make the courts more efficient through technology.”
The continuing challenge, Warner said, is figuring out the answer to this question: “How do we get a shared vision with other agencies of government to develop an environment where we can use technology to improve decisionmaking?”
In simple terms, it means getting various computers to talk to each other, so that whether it is in drug court, family court, or criminal court, information is available to judges so they are better equipped to make good decisions for the people appearing before them in court.
Continuing the Challenge of Court Funding
“Of course, my first priority is to continue to work together to ensure full and fair funding of the courts so that our citizens have equal access to justice no matter where they live or what they do for a living,” Pariente said.
The need continues to educate the public and lawyers about the July 1, 2004, funding shift of courts from the county to the state, she said.
“I think when it finally dawned on some lawyers that Revision 7 (to Article V) might affect them because their jury trials were stopping, or they may be delayed, there was an interest. I ask our lawyers: Why did it take that before they realized it was a critical need? . . .
“At the same time, there is so much in the way of nuts and bolts that has to be done with the transition of Revision 7.”
Aiming for the Ideal of Equal Justice for All
“Across Florida, thousands of people enter our courthouses every day. They come as lawyers and litigants, as jurors and witnesses, as friends, family, and interested observers,” Pariente said.
“They seek justice on issues that run the gamut of human experience—family disputes, financial disagreements, criminal matters—every matter from birth to death. The viability of our justice system depends on those who use our courts, and what they think about how we do our work. And what they think depends on the totality of what they observe and experience in our courts . . . .
“As Martin Luther King, Jr., stated: ‘The time is always right to do what is right.’ I pledge that over the next two years, I will give my best efforts as chief justice to do what is right, in trying to make a difference in bringing Floridians together, to bring us closer to the ideal of equal justice under law that is inscribed over the entrance to our nation’s highest court—the principles upon which the ideals of this country’s democracy are based.”