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State’s chief justice has cancer, will undergo surgery

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Jorge Labarga, chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, on Friday said he has been diagnosed with cancer and is set to have a kidney removed later this month at Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

“Doctors tell me that my prognosis is very good after surgery because the cancer was detected early by blood tests during a routine medical exam,” the 62-year-old Labarga said in a press release.

“This is a big example of why regular testing is so important for everyone.”

He should be in the hospital recuperating for about a week and plans to “resume his duties remotely, soon after the surgery,” the release said. 

Justice Barbara Pariente, currently the longest serving justice on the court, will be acting chief justice while Labarga is away. 

The court’s biographical page for Labarga, the first chief justice of Hispanic descent, is here. He joined the court in 2009. 

Labarga wrote an unusually personal concurring opinion last year in a ruling on a Tampa Bay-area man’s effort to get a law license.

Labarga came to the United States in 1963 as a Cuban refugee.

Jose Godinez-Samperio had entered and stayed in the country unlawfully as a child from Mexico.

The court noted federal law prohibits Florida from granting a law license or similar “public benefits” to Godinez-Samperio and those in his situation.

The Florida Legislature later passed a law to “ ‘override the federal barrier’ and provide a state public benefit to unauthorized immigrants,” as the court explained. Godinez-Samperio is now an attorney in Clearwater.

“When I arrived … my parents and I were perceived as defectors from a tyrannical communist regime and were received with open arms,” Labarga wrote.

On the other hand, Godinez-Samperio “is perceived to be a defector from poverty (and) is viewed negatively because his family sought an opportunity for economic prosperity,” he added.

“It is this distinction of perception, a distinction that I cannot justify regarding admission to The Florida Bar, that is at the root of” Godinez-Samperio’s problem, Labarga wrote.

Get-well cards can be sent to Labarga by mailing them to: Florida Supreme Court, 500 S. Duval St., Tallahassee FL 32399-1925.


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

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