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Justice Couriel: ‘At the end of the day, lawyers have judgment’

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Justice Couriel: ‘At the end of the day, lawyers have judgment’
Justice Couriel

Justice John Couriel

Florida Supreme Court Justice John D. Couriel, a former federal prosecutor and American history aficionado, is reminding Florida Bar members that judgment is critical to the legal profession.

Addressing a July 23 board meeting in Miami Beach, Couriel referred to Alexander Hamilton’s remarks in Federalist No. 78, that the judiciary “have neither force nor will, but merely judgment.”

“At the end of the day, lawyers have judgment,” Justice Couriel said. “That is what people hire us for, that is what people look to us for.”

Attorneys who find themselves facing discipline aren’t being singled out for their politics or personality, Justice Couriel assured.

“We’re focused on judgment that attorneys show when evaluating the conduct that lawyers show, that is the touchstone,” he said.

Invited to administer the oath of office to several board members who were unable to attend a June ceremony, Justice Couriel recalled taking his oath in a backyard ceremony at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

South Florida neighbor and former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Lagoa administered the oath and lent him her father-in-law’s judicial robes for the occasion, Couriel said.

“I know a thing or two about being sworn in late,” he joked.

One of the court’s newest members, the Miami native and 2003 Harvard Law graduate was appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis on June 1, 2020.

Before he became Florida’s 90th justice, Couriel worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida, prosecuting human traffickers and international money launderers before joining Kobre & Kim LLP, where he specialized in cross-border disputes and investigations relating to financial products and services.

Couriel told the board that he will mark a personal milestone when he returns to Tallahassee on August 30 at the end of the court’s summer recess.

“My life on the court has been interesting so far, because I have yet to walk into a courtroom as a judge,” he said.

Couriel said he told a fellow justice that the prospect “terrified” him.

“He said why would you be terrified? For the first time in your life, you don’t have to answer questions,” Justice Couriel said. “You don’t drive the train, you merely have judgment to resolve the dispute between the parties.”

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