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Antonin Scalia, Sandy D’Alemberte and the pack of Marlboros

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About a quarter-century ago, a pack of Marlboro cigarettes sealed a friendship between the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Florida legal legend Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte. 

It was December 1991, during D’Alemberte’s tenure as American Bar Association president. Scalia had been on the bench about five years by then.

The two men were on an ABA “mission to Moscow” in the middle of the dissolution of the Soviet Union, D’Alemberte recalled Saturday night after news spread about Scalia’s death at 79.

The 82-year-old, a longtime Democrat, also has been a state representative and Florida State University law school dean and president. He’s now in private practice with his wife and law partner, Patsy Palmer.

“One night, (Scalia) decides he wants to go to an Irish bar,” said D’Alemberte, who lives in Tallahassee. “One had just opened up, but it was on the other side of Moscow and there were no cabs running that night.

“Well, he had heard if you hold up a pack of Marlboros, someone driving by might stop and give you a ride,” he said. “Hopefully, you were able to communicate just enough to explain where you wanted to go.

“So we brought cartons of Marlboros,” D’Alemberte added. “It worked. We got a ride there and back.”

D’Alemberte remembered Scalia as, well, being a blast as a drinking buddy: “He wasn’t at all stuck up that he was a Supreme Court justice.”

Over the years, D’Alemberte said he grew to know Scalia “fairly well … though I rarely agreed with him, of course.”

The men, both law professors, were on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

D’Alemberte has long fought for progressive causes. In 1975, he petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to allow cameras into the state’s courtrooms on behalf of the then Post-Newsweek stations. The court gave its approval four years later.

In 2014, he represented Jim Apthorp, the former top aide to the late Democratic Gov. Reubin Askew, in his unsuccessful challenge of the state’s blind trusts law. At one point, Gov. Rick Scott was the only statewide official to use such a trust.

D’Alemberte argued it violated the state constitution’s Sunshine Amendment, which calls for elected officials and candidates to “file full and public disclosure of their financial interests.”

Scalia, on the other hand, was a stalwart conservative who authored the court’s 2008 D.C. v. Heller decision that affirmed individuals’ right to possess and use guns under the Second Amendment.

He “used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his 1986 selection by President Ronald Reagan,” the AP reported in its Saturday obituary.

“On a personal level, he was delightful,” D’Alemberte said. “In his opinions, he could have a fairly abrasive manner but he was also playful … He was a damn smart guy and a fine human being.”

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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