by Jan Pudlow
As the sun rose at the Virginia Beach shipyard, Solomon Roosevelt Quince, Sr., lit a fire in a barrel to warm his hands before loading cargo onto ships headed out to sea.
The first stevedore to arrive, he was an undereducated civilian working for the Navy, and often the first to be threatened with being laid off during hard economic times.
Struggling to raise all five children himself after the breakup of his marriage, he’d turned down his siblings’ offers to take some of his kids.
“No,” he insisted. “I want my children to grow up together.”
It wasn’t easy. The Quinces were poor, but blessed with love.
Solomon Quince made sure his children would have it easier — stressing education would spare them the indignity he felt being at the mercy of others.
Peggy, his second oldest child, listened to her father.
After he’d leave for work, she waited for the school bus in rural Chesapeake to take her to a segregated school. Nurturing teachers helped fill the gap of not having a mother around and reinforced her father’s teachings that education meant progress, both personally and for the entire African-American race. If Peggy made a C on a test, or talked too much in class, teachers were quick to call her father, because they knew she could do better.
She did the best she could. At Howard University, Peggy excelled, keeping her coveted place in the scholarship dorm. While in law school at Catholic University of America, she grabbed a unique opportunity at Columbus Community Legal Services, easily relating to her clients’ poverty.
When she passed the Virginia bar exam, it was Solomon Quince who first read his daughter’s name in the newspaper list of successful test-takers and called with the good news.
“He was more thrilled than I was!” Peggy Quince recalled with a laugh. “You could hear all the love and pride in his voice. There were a few tears.”
When Peggy married fellow law student Fred Buckine, she kept her father’s name.
“Because he did not have the same kind of opportunities, and he was proud of what we had accomplished,” Quince explained, “I wanted to keep my name in honor of him.”
With the lively delivery of a preacher from the pulpit, Buckine, a lawyer with a master’s in theology, said this about his hardworking father-in-law who died 22 years ago: “All his life, for 72 years, Solomon never got justice. He was black in America, uneducated, a single parent. Now, he sits on his cloud and plays his harp. The justice he didn’t get on Earth, he gets now. Everybody — young, old, white, black — everybody who appears before his daughter in court must give him justice. They must say: ‘Justice Quince.’”
Beyond inheriting her father’s work ethic and following his credo to get an education, Quince built a reservoir of strength from family and faith that steadily propelled her career as a government lawyer:
• Eight years with the Criminal Division of the Attorney General’s office before being promoted in 1988 to Tampa bureau chief, handling death penalty appeals;
• A seat on the Second District Court of Appeal in 1993, appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles;
• A position on the Florida Supreme Court in 1998, uniquely named by both outgoing Chiles and Republican Gov.-elect Jeb Bush. Her commission, the formal document placing her on the bench, was signed by Gov. Buddy McKay, who briefly succeeded Chiles after his death.
Now, during her two-year term as chief justice, Quince takes the helm of Florida’s judicial branch as an unprecedented court funding crisis cries out for a permanent solution, and four of seven justices will be new to the bench.
In her calm, steady way, Quince addresses those dual challenges as opportunities for collaboration.
That more than half the court will be inexperienced justices, Quince said: “We will bring them into the fold. We will be a very collegial group. I think anyone who comes on this court will find that those still on the court will be willing to assist them any way we can in their transition. I believe the court will continue as usual.”
Continuing the court as usual, while draconian budget cuts threaten an independent judiciary, will be a tougher dilemma. Quince knows she can’t solve it alone.
“I think the lawyers of Florida need to know that the court system consists of them also,” she said. “We all need to work together to make sure that the third branch of government is open and accessible.”
Second DCA Judge Carolyn Fulmer, appointed to that court at the same time as Quince, lobbies the legislature as a member of the Appellate Court Budget Commission.
“The budget cuts we are undergoing are overnight setting us back 15 years, and Chief Justice Quince is going to be dealing with the aftermath of that. She has the temperament: level-headed, extremely firm, and calm at the same time.”
Quince’s talents as consensus-builder, Fulmer said, will help all of the justices — veterans and rookies — work together.
“She has a quiet strength,” said longtime friend and colleague Bob Krauss, Tampa bureau chief of criminal appeals for the Attorney General’s Office.
During the years they worked together, he witnessed Quince meticulously research and clearly write briefs, a workhorse driven by her keen sense of responsibility in representing the people of Florida on the gravest murder cases.
She was able to compartmentalize her work on those gruesome death cases, then go home to be a nurturing mother who made sure her two young daughters ate dinner and did their homework, before she tucked them into bed.
“Those cases are entitled to someone who really will put a lot of energy and time into it,” Quince said. “I was willing to do that. I won’t say that it isn’t troubling sometimes. I believe whenever someone is executed, it is a given life that’s taken. But as long as I’ve been comfortable that the person had a fair trial, had due process, then I think for the most part you have to realize that this is a case where it took its course and that was the ultimate punishment that was given. . . .To the greatest extent possible, I would try to put those cases out of my mind when I was trying to spend time with my family at home.”
Now, as chief justice, what will see her through rough times ahead?
“First of all, her faith. It’s very important to her,” Krauss said. “And just her dedication and concentration on the task that needs to be done.”
In the overflowing courtroom at the June 27 passing-of-the-gavel ceremony, Second Circuit Judge Nikki Clark, chair of the Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Court, beamed from the audience, feeling “pleased, relieved, and encouraged.”
She’d just heard Chief Justice Quince announce that despite tough budget times, the Unified Family Court must continue.
“It means the Unified Family Court will not be a quote ‘specialty court’ that will be dispensed with. It’s a recognition that our children and families will be of paramount importance,” Clark said.
“Justice Quince is the ideal leader for the state judiciary, especially in these times of further threatened budget cuts. As she always has in everything she’s undertaken, Justice Quince will approach her chief justice responsibilities with dignity and intelligence.”
Beyond confidence in her capabilities, well-wishers celebrated the milestone of the first African-American woman to lead a branch of government in Florida.
“I felt an overwhelming sense of pride and accomplishment that somehow it felt like we had all made it,” said Clark, the first African-American and first woman judge appointed in 1993 to the Second Judicial Circuit, the same year Quince was a similar “first” on the Second DCA.
Testament to loyal friendship, Quince especially welcomed members of her eighth grade class who stood to be recognized from reserved seats near the bench, as well as dozens of college friends and sorority sisters, who’d traveled from all over the country to witness her become Florida’s 53rd chief justice.
Barbara A. McKinzie came from Chicago for her sorority sister who “epitomizes Alpha Kappa Alpha’s purpose of service to mankind.”
“It was a privilege and honor for me to witness history in the state of Florida during her investiture ceremony, and know that the citizens of Florida have a leader and champion in her, and that life in Florida will be better through her service,” said McKinzie, international president of AKA, the nation’s oldest African-American, Greek-letter organization for women, founded a century ago.
“Yes, she still finds the time to serve actively in our sisterhood at the local and international levels. She, through her actions, illustrates that we, all of us, are only as strong as our weakest brother or sister.”
Others may speak of her making history, but with humble graciousness, Quince said simply: “It really just is an opportunity for young women, especially minority women, African-American women, to know that these things — that for many years they felt were closed to them — are really open to them. That is the real significance of it to me.”
Dependable, Down-to-earth Peggy
While Quince inspires awe at her accomplishments, she is not wrapped up in a big ego just because she wears the black robe.
One Sunday morning, at Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee, the Rev. Joseph Wright announced to the congregation that there is a new chief justice in their midst.
“We gave her a grand stand and highlighted her. During the hoopla, she embraced it, and stood up, and the folks clapped. But when she comes to church, she doesn’t like a lot of notoriety. If someone tries to give her accolades, she is very bashful,” Wright said.
Waverly Palmore, assistant pastor of administration, teaches Sunday school and speaks warmly about the friendly chit-chat and warm hugs she receives from Quince.
“It’s a great honor to have her in our presence, but she doesn’t make a great to-do about it. That’s what is so great about it. She’s just like anybody else and doesn’t put on any airs.” Palmore said.
Nelsonna Barnes, an administrative law judge for the state of Kansas, was among the Howard and Catholic University friends gathered in Tallahassee to celebrate Quince’s investiture as chief justice.
“She’s such a genuine person, you want to stay in touch and be around her,” Barnes said. “She has an open-door policy. You do not need to stand on ceremony with Peggy. You notice her name is Peggy, and it’s not short for Margaret.”
Even after a night of celebrating her rise to chief justice with all of her out-of-town friends, Quince kept her promise early the next morning to lace up her shoes and walk laps around Tallahassee’s Lake Ella with her sorority sisters in a salute to physical fitness.
The “perfect example of the well-rounded and professional woman,” is how Administrative Law Judge June McKinney described her friend and mentor. To illustrate Quince’s down-to-earth demeanor, she recalls decorating a banquet room for a function at Leon County’s civic center.
“Someone said, ‘No, you don’t have to do the chairs.’ But Peggy is never like that. She set out 25 chairs just like everybody else. Her involvement is an active involvement,” McKinney said.
Each year, Quince dons her cowgirl outfit and her husband wears his trademark cowboy boots with an added kerchief for the Western dance fundraiser for AKA’s Tallahassee graduate chapter of Delta Kappa Omega.
Among the sorority cowgirls is Cassandra Jenkins, deputy director for education at the Department of Juvenile Justice, who said: “We are proud she is a part of us. She’s a standard-bearer for working hard and never forgetting where she came from.”
“Peggy Jr.” is what they call Justice Quince’s oldest daughter, a third-year law student at St. Thomas University and, following in her mother’s footsteps, president of the Black Law Students Association.
Peggy LaVerne Buckine reels back to when she was still in middle school and attended one of her mother’s reunions at Howard University.
Amazed, Peggy Jr. watched her mom kick off her shoes and dance with sorority sisters to favorite golden oldies by the Temptations and Four Tops, and the Fifth Dimension’s “You Don’t Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show).”
“Watching her in that moment with her friends, it dawned on me at one point she was young and fun and would hang out. It’s the most fun I’ve seen my mom have outside work and family,” Peggy Jr. said of the moment she will never forget.
“It was like she was 18 again. It brought home how much she loves others and they love her back.”
Turbulent Times Inspire Law Career
Nelsonna Barnes was at that sorority reunion and every reunion since, as recently as last summer. Barnes first met Quince in 1966 as coeds in the scholarship dorm at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
“None of us had any money, and we were all on scholarship, and we knew if we didn’t keep our scholarship, we would all have to go back home,” Barnes recalled. “Peggy was very focused, but she was also fun to be around — just a natural leader.”
Together, they served in Angel Flight, an auxiliary organization of R.O.T.C., and Quince soon ascended to area director by their senior year in 1970.
On Sundays they would take the bus to visit injured soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
“We’d go to socialize with the soldiers, and some had head bandages. It was pretty raw, but they needed entertainment and someone to talk to while they were in the hospital,” Barnes said.
“It was a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Most of the guys were drafted and wound up on the front lines and got killed or wounded. We said to the guys we knew, ‘Look, if you are going to be drafted, you should go as an officer.’”
Watching protesters during the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam War land in jail for what they believed in during this tense time made Quince aware of the rule of law in bringing about social change and justice.
Wearing a natural “Afro” hairstyle, Quince took her blanket and pillow and participated in a “sit-in” takeover of the university’s administration building.
Once, Quince thought she was destined for medical school.
“When I went to college, I wanted to become a doctor, or actually I wanted to do some research on sickle cell. That is why I was a science major,” Quince said, explaining her zoology undergrad degree.
“Plus, when I was in high school, I used to love to compete in the science fairs,” where she often won first, second, or third place certificates on the science competition exams.
“But then Vietnam happened. Kent State happened. And the murder of Martin Luther King happened. All of those things just really were happening when I was in undergraduate school and really made me more interested in the law. That is what really made me want to go to law school,” Quince recalled.
While in law school, Quince met Buckine, the love of her life.
Like Quince, Buckine wound up going to law school on a scholarship at Catholic University. Before studying law, Buckine had been in the Air Force, watched his friend take a bullet to the head in Vietnam, and landed at Bowie State College, Maryland’s oldest historically black university, where he was editor of the school newspaper and student government president.
“I got my GI Bill $130 a month and I asked Peggy if she wanted to go out to dinner. I think it was starvation that made her say ‘yes,’” Fred Buckine said with a laugh, remembering his first date with his future wife he calls his “black diamond.”
“I took her to the Luau Hut, a Hawaiian restaurant, and we sat across from each other in huge semi-round chairs, sipping fruit punch drinks. Peggy was a hard worker, taking a full load in law school, and still working until midnight as a computer operator. I thought, ‘This is someone I should know: motivated, determined, with the proper attitude. I like this lady.’”
They were both in the Phi Alpha Delta law fraternity, and Buckine borrowed an alumni’s Chevy station wagon and credit card to go to an American Bar Association conference in Chicago, and asked Quince to accompany him.
“Seven magnificent days,” Buckine recalled. “Her goals and willingness to achieve those goals were the mirror image of my own. I tend to take advantage when somebody is good to be around. It’s worked out well.”
Both Quince and Buckine took advantage of hands-on learning at Columbus Community Legal Services, at that time in the mid-’70s an innovative legal clinic program at Catholic University, housed off-campus in a storefront law office staffed by students and faculty.
Ellen Scully, then clinical professor and still on the faculty at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law, remembers the inseparable duo well.
“What I remember about Peggy and Fred is how much they cared. They were there to learn, but they also knew they could make a contribution. Students had enormous responsibility representing low-income people of the District of Columbia,” Scully said.
“Peggy had a presence, but a very quiet presence. The reason you remember someone like Peggy is you knew she was there — not in a flamboyant way — but it’s the solidness and purposefulness that you remember.”
Thirty years later, when Quince came to campus for a speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, Scully was in the audience. Quince reeled back the years to being a little girl growing up in Virginia, one of the states involved in the Brown lawsuit, explaining why she was still going to segregated schools a decade after the decision.
“She gave a stunning talk, along with her biography. I sat there and thought, ‘Wow! This is so good.’ It was just what people who haven’t had that life experience really needed to hear to really understand. And even people of color were taken aback, when she talked about how her education had been. It was presented in a very understated way, and that is what made it more meaningful. It was so personal and had a life of its own,” Scully recalled.
Now that her former student is chief justice, Scully exclaimed: “How lucky Florida is!”
Leading by Example
Buckine felt like the lucky one when Peggy agreed to marry him in a rose garden at the end of an airport, witnessed by her father and his mother.
“She’s always been a history-maker. She made my history. It’s an active growing love,” said Buckine, whose legal career includes working as a general counsel for the Department of Transportation, Hillsborough County judge, administrative law judge, and certified mediator.
What brought Quince to Florida?
“A man!” she answers with a laugh.
After working as a hearing officer with the Rental Accommodations Office administering Washington’s new rent control act, and a short stint in private practice in Norfolk, Quince moved to Bradenton, Fred’s hometown, when his mother became ill.
Once again, Solomon Quince would wield his power in his daughter’s life.
He asked to come live with her, reveling in the chance to watch his granddaughters grow up. He didn’t just watch. He helped raise them. While Peggy and Fred worked as lawyers, Solomon warmed baby bottles, changed diapers, and brushed his granddaughters’ hair, rolling them into “Mickey Mouse-ear balls” because his arthritic fingers could not plait.
Youngest daughter Laura LaVerne Buckine, an accountant in Baltimore, said she “cherishes every moment I got to spend with my grandfather,” remembering how she’d play with his earlobes as he sat in his navy blue La-Z-Boy recliner, doing a crossword puzzle and watching Perry Mason and Days of Our Lives on TV (laughing that she can’t shake the habit of watching that soap opera to this day).
Peggy Jr. remembers Granddaddy as “my first remembrance of an example of a strong black man. He was the head of the household and he was in charge. He took us to baseball and football games. He was the rock and the foundation of the family, while my mom and dad were working.”
When Solomon collapsed with a heart attack, it was Peggy Jr. who called 911.
Listening to her grandfather’s stories of racial and economic struggle, Peggy Jr. said the whole family knew that her mother “had moved beyond the boundaries she had grown up with. I know my mother’s big thing to us was stressing how important education was and definitely let us know she grew up poor and money isn’t everything. She instilled in us we are blessed.”
Laura Buckine said both parents “epitomize the phrase ‘to lead by example.’ In this day and age, when there are so many single-parent homes, broken families, and a staggering divorce rate, I find solace in the fact that my parents are an impenetrable team. I believe in the sanctity of marriage, because I’ve seen it work first-hand for the entire span of my life.”
Both daughters and husband agree Quince’s greatest strength as a mother and wife will also serve her well as chief justice: a strong sense of fairness and a willingness to listen to others.
“No decision is made without including everybody’s opinions and feelings and contributions. That’s the key to her effectiveness,” Fred Buckine said. “We always used to say we never made a decision in our house without asking our daughters what they thought. Inclusiveness governed our lives. Everybody has a right to be heard and be considered.”
Asked what the lawyers of Florida should know about her mom, Peggy Jr. answered: “The whole state should know she is fair. It’s not a black or white thing, a man or woman thing, or a rich or poor thing. She’s been poor. She’s been a woman when women weren’t allowed anything. She’ll always be black, another minority hurdle. But no matter what, she will always be fair. She will take all the information and create an informed, fair decision. There’s no partisanship. With me and my sister, there was never a time we thought she wasn’t fair to both of us. And my mother is a living example that hard work pays off.”
“Electric” is the word Seventh Circuit Judge Hubert Grimes used to describe the feeling in the courtroom the day he witnessed Quince become chief justice. He knows her well from their time spent working together on the Judicial Council of the National Bar Association, an esteemed group of black judges that Quince presides over as chair.
“There was such a positive energy present. It permeated all of us, without respect to gender, race, economic status, or age,” Grimes said.
“She was like a lightning rod. It was such a powerful moment, like we were plugged in together and we were embarking on a journey, and if we grab hold of each other and look for the best in each other, we will get through it together. Her appointment portends wonderful things. She’s going to push us to be better lawyers. She is going to make us all be better citizens of her state.”
A Passion for Mentoring
Her own mother left the family when Peggy Quince was in the second grade. All through law school and when she worked as a young professional, she never had a mentor.
The nurturing and mentoring she didn’t have growing up, Chief Justice Quince generously gives to others.
Quince’s community spirit and dedication to helping children came through loud and clear for C. ShaRon James, immediate past president of Tallahassee Women Lawyers, who watched Quince volunteer her time at the PACE (Practical Academic Cultural Education) School for Girls, through the Breakfast and Books Program.
Not only did Quince select the books, she personally read to the girls and talked to them about her own life.
“It was important for them to hear. The students at the PACE Center are considered ‘at risk.’ A number are in foster care and group homes. To hear her story is very motivating, and she weaves themes of her personal story into the book they are reading,” James said.
“That amazes the girls, and also just the fact she is so approachable. It’s not like she’s sitting on a high hill on the Supreme Court wearing a robe. She is a real person. I consider her a community servant in every sense of the word,” James said.
Many young African-American women lawyers Quince has personally mentored were in the audience the day she was sworn in as chief justice.
One was Kendra Davis Briggs, a Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division member now practicing law in Washington, D.C.
She interned with Quince as a first-year law student in the summer of 2000.
“Anytime I had a question, I would just knock on the door, and she was very accessible and approachable. All that pressure on her shoulders, and she still takes the time to talk to me. She goes to the Minority Mentoring Picnic (an annual event in Hialeah) and is so invested in law students.”
Briggs still calls Quince her mentor who encouraged her to push forward and let her know “you will face some obstacles and some will think you are the client and not the attorney.”
She wiped away tears of joy when Quince put her hand on the Bible and took the oath of chief justice.
“It reminded me of that first day when I sat across from her desk and thought, ‘Wow! This woman looks like me and knows so much about the law.’ Just to be an African-American woman in the profession, as she is, and to see her ascend to the highest level in law in the state of Florida is amazing. It symbolizes opportunities that minorities have now that didn’t exist when I was born in the ’70s. It symbolizes what is possible,” Briggs said.
Another was Janeia Daniels, who as a student took Quince up on an invitation to have lunch in 2001, found her refreshingly easy to talk to, and continues to value her mentorship now that she’s assistant dean for student affairs at Florida State University College of Law.
“I can imagine myself telling my children and grandchildren what it was like to be amongst great lawyers honoring another fantastic lawyer. In a day, in a moment, it opens new horizons for me, for women, for African-Americans,” Daniels said.
Administrative Law Judge June McKinney remembers first meeting Quince at a Tallahassee Women Lawyers meeting, before she became a judge, and it was the justice who called her one day to ask her about her job and career goals.
“She initiated it. It was exciting, but quite frankly, I was afraid of her. I actually wondered what we had in common,” McKinney said.
Intimidation quickly faded when Quince invited McKinney to accompany her to a women’s conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“We flew out and back together, we went to workshops together, we went to the wharf and ate seafood. We got to know each other on a personal basis.”
Now, McKinney calls Quince both friend and mentor who helps her grow professionally, supported her during her term as president of Florida Association for Women Lawyers, and teaches her daily by her example.
“Peggy takes her work very seriously and considers each case anew, like she is starting over. She puts the same amount of time and dedication into the case to ensure that whatever justice needs to be done is handled from her perspective,” McKinney said.
Through her community work, Quince inspires women, no matter what their chosen profession.
Angela Hardiman-Cole, senior vice president of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, got to know Quince through Jack and Jill of America, described on its Web site as the oldest and largest African-American “family organization that provides cultural, social, civic, and recreational activities that stimulate and expand the mind to enhance life.”
“The air of Chief Justice Quince calls forth your best and forces you to square your shoulders. Notwithstanding her professional stature, her aura embodies grace, principle, and fortitude. She’s emblazoned a golden path for me — to be all that I am — as a woman, a black woman, a mother, and a professional. I am a grateful and accountable benefactor,” Hardiman-Cole said.
Chief Justice Quince’s Initiatives
Fostering Independence Project
“You bring to that center chair, not only wisdom and legal skill, but a big heart,” Bob Butterworth told Peggy Quince at her swearing-in ceremony.
“Every day at the Department of Children and Families we struggle to make something of those children that we see who are in the face of adversity, with all the cards stacked against them. You are all beacons of hope and inspiration for all of them and us,” said the former attorney general, judge, and law school dean who resigned in August after fulfilling his promise to the governor to lead DCF for 19 months.
“Justice Quince, you devote your energy to the challenges of children in foster care. Those children and teenagers face abusive or neglectful parents. . .a childhood among strangers.”
Chief Justice Quince has always had a big heart for children.
“If we can’t help our children, the rest doesn’t make any difference,” she said in 2000.
Now, as leader of the judiciary, she wants to especially make a difference in helping teenagers “aging out” of the foster care system, by urging Florida’s lawyers to volunteer as guardians ad litem in the Fostering Independence Program.
The goal is to recruit lawyers to step in as volunteer guardians ad litem when the child is 16 and 17— time enough to forge a relationship and craft a workable plan before the child officially leaves foster care and dependency court jurisdiction at 18 or 19.
Too often when foster children age out, they are dumped into the world with no one. What can happen when a child has no family, no plan, no one to call? Homelessness. Trouble with the law. No job. No hope.
“At 18, you may be an adult according to the law, but you certainly still have some growing to do. Many of these children have no idea of how to even balance a checkbook, let alone go out and rent an apartment, sign a lease, turn on utilities, and do all of those things we expect them to do, when they have never actually been exposed to those kinds of issues,” Quince said.
In Florida, of 6,500 volunteers in the Guardian ad Litem Program, Quince noted, only 700 are lawyers — yet lawyers possess the skills to bring to the court’s attention issues in the best interests of children.
“People need more than you giving money. And $350 is less than an hour’s work for many lawyers,” Quince said of lawyers who’d rather write a check than give their time to pro bono service.
“The money is helpful, because it certainly helps the legal services people. But there are not enough legal services lawyers to go around. So we really need the warm bodies to help people.”
Currently, about 700 aging-out youth have GALs, according to the statewide office, but approximately another 2,000 need representation.
“This is something we need to really work on,” Quince said, “because we don’t want these children to be lost along the wayside.”
Florida’s First Black Lawyers 1869 - 1979 Project
Quince believes that “bias and prejudice really stem from lack of knowledge and understanding of other racial ethnic groups.”
When people really get to know each other, she said, “We don’t allow ourselves to succumb to the stereotyping that we hear.”
Learning about where Florida’s black lawyers came from to help everyone get along better is the foundation of Quince’s brainchild to create a book capturing the oral and written histories of black lawyers of Florida from 1869-1979. The final product will be unveiled at The Florida Bar Annual Convention in Orlando in June 2009.
Quince named Administrative Law Judge June McKinney and Rachelle Munson, president of the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association, to head the project.
Quince personally conducted an interview of 94-year-old Judge John D. Johnson, who served on the “City of Miami Negro Municipal Court” in the 1950s.
When he took the bar exam, he told how they put rows of chairs as a separating barrier from the whites.
“Believe me, he has some stories to tell — moving and compelling and very sad,” Quince said.
It is taking some sleuthing to find all of the black lawyers to chronicle, McKinney said, because race is not a piece of information collected in the Bar’s membership records.
So far, McKinney said they have found 234 “Florida Firsts.”
Because there is no court funding to spend on such a project, the Virgil Hawkins voluntary bar association stepped up to sponsor the endeavor.
“When Justice Quince approached me with regard to her thoughts and desires with this project, I said, ‘Absolutely!’ This is a fascinating and amazing opportunity,” Munson said.
“It sends a statement of legacy, progress, and pride,” Munson said.
“It’s an opportunity for individuals to have a better understanding of some of the experiences of the first African-American attorneys, the beginning points in their lives, and how they transcended that into greater opportunities that define the legacy and heritage we enjoy today.”
Overshadowing all court initiatives is the most pressing issue of fighting for adequate funding, by persuading the legislature to treat the judiciary as a co-equal third branch of government, not another state agency.
“We are increasingly concerned about our ability to carry out the mission of the third branch,” Quince wrote in a July 31 letter to legislative leaders. In 2007-08 and 2008-09, the legislature imposed 10 percent budget cuts to the courts’ budget, even though it is only seven-tenths of one percent of the $66 billion state budget.
Lawmakers slashed court spending $44 million in the last two years, which resulted in losing 280 positions out of a 3,100-member workforce.
Now Quince is fighting a proposed $17 million — or 250 additional positions — in further cuts to the state’s $438 million court budget.
She is asking that the courts be excluded from a four percent holdback in spending that Gov. Charlie Crist has ordered for all state agencies.
“Since the courts carry out their functions entirely through the work of judges and their support staff, these reductions, in addition to those already sustained, will substantially impair the branch’s ability to perform its constitutional functions, will result in significant delay in the processing of certain types of cases, and place at risk the constitutional guarantee that the courts will ‘be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial, or delay,’” Quince wrote.
In an August 7 letter, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink responded: “I share your concern that the proposed budget reductions are of such magnitude that they will significantly undermine the ability of the judicial branch to carry out its duties.”
Sink said she joined Quince in calling for the governor and legislature to approve the chief justice’s budget plan.
The Florida Bar is committed to working with Quince, President Jay White said.
“This is an important issue and it will and it must be solved. We must find a permanent solution and permanent funding source for our judiciary now, or the quality of our judiciary will decline,” White said. Despite the court budget crisis, Quince stressed that the Unified Family Court must continue, and she is determined to solve the crisis of the mentally ill locked in jails.
“It is staggering to think there are half a million people with mental illnesses incarcerated in our jails and prisons across the United States. Another half million are on probation. Our jails and prisons should not continue to be our psychiatric hospitals that no longer exist,
“We cannot continue to spend the quarter of a billion dollars that we are spending annually on 1,800 forensic beds. This issue has got to be addressed and it has got to be addressed soon,” she said, adding the courts will collaborate with the Department of Children and Families to continue efforts Fred Lewis made during his term as chief justice.