X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
When he takes his seat on the Florida Supreme Court next month at age 42, Raoul G. Cantero III will not only be the youngest of the seven justices by far, but, as the first high court appointee of Gov. Jeb Bush, he’s widely expected to be the court’s most right-leaning member. “I don’t know him personally, but I do know that he’s a true conservative and that he’ll move the court in a more conservative direction, which is what Jeb wants,” says incoming state Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville. Still, since Cantero is that rare appointee who comes to the supreme court without any prior experience as a judge, anyone who bets too heavily on his legal and ideological orientation may end up looking foolish. Some observers have predicted that Cantero will have a pro-business orientation, based on the fact that during his relatively brief legal career most of his clients were large corporations. They included insurance carriers, BellSouth and Coca-Cola. Another indication, some say, is that during his eight years on the Coral Gables, Fla., Planning and Zoning Board, Cantero often sided with real estate developers. “I think he was a little more for the rights of property owners, while I was more for the ability of the city to control the environment,” says Coral Gables Mayor Don Slesnick, who often butted heads with Cantero when both were on the board. But Cantero, a registered independent, warns against efforts to “pigeonhole” him, insisting that he shuns the labels conservative and liberal. During an interview at the Coconut Grove, Fla., office of Adorno & Yoss, where he has headed the appellate department for the last seven years, he sat under a painting of his maternal grandfather, former Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. The portrait is of a young Batista, long before he was overthrown by Fidel Castro. “We’ll have to see what comes before me,” says Cantero, referring to the supreme court’s future caseload, “and then you will see who I am.” Still, in naming the first Hispanic ever to the state supreme court, Gov. Bush, a former developer himself, made it clear that he saw in Cantero a fellow conservative who would not be tempted to legislate from the bench. “As courts grow ever more powerful, there is an even greater need for judges who are humble about the judicial role,” Bush said last month in naming Cantero to replace Justice Major B. Harding when he retires on Sept. 1. Lack of deference to the Legislature is a sin that Bush and GOP legislative leaders often have attributed to the seven current justices, all appointed by Democratic governors. The Republicans have engaged in a one-sided war of words and threats with the high court over the last four years, and now they see an opportunity to begin shifting the court their way. And if Bush is re-elected this fall, he’ll get another chance next year to replace another retiring justice. Cantero insists it would be a mistake to prejudge his orientation as a jurist based on the corporate clients he mainly has represented. “Who you represent is to a large extent a matter of circumstances, which won’t tell anything about what I would do,” he says. “Lawyers are just players, figures in the drama.” More revealing than his client list, Cantero suggests, are five cases he cited in his supreme court application as the “most significant” of his career. These cases illustrate the types of issues that grab his interest. Most of the cases, he says, concerned “important issues of law that needed to be decided or to be reconsidered.” Each, he explains, taught him valuable lessons that have helped shape his legal style or philosophy. ‘GOD’S WILL’ Raoul Cantero is a short, broad-shouldered man who, at about 180 pounds, is just a little over his playing weight as an outside linebacker at the all-boys Christopher Columbus High School in western Miami-Dade County. Now a weekend basketball player, he looks fully capable of setting a hard pick in between wrestling knotty issues of law into submission. From behind his desk, he folds his hands under his chin and fixes a visitor with an intense, expressionless gaze as he listens to questions. He replies with practiced care. Occasionally he explodes in laughter, as he did when asked about the British judicial wig that colleagues gave him in humorous celebration of his supreme court appointment. The curly white hairpiece is draped over his desktop computer monitor like a tea cozy. After Cantero graduated from Florida State University, where he earned a B.A. in English and business and finished in the top 2 percent of his class, he attended Harvard Law School. But he says he thought of that training merely as an insurance policy in case he failed at his true calling — writing novels. At Harvard, among the wealthy preppies, he “felt a little out of place,” he says. “It was kind of a cultural shock. There were not that many Hispanics in law school, and I was definitely the only Cuban-American in my class. So, for the first time I had a lot of friends who were not Hispanic, or at least not from Miami.” Even so, he did very well, graduating from Harvard cum laude in 1985. He accepted a clerkship with now-retired U.S. District Judge Edward B. Davis in Miami. But he still saw himself as a Hemingway in waiting, with plans to write at night and on weekends. While he continued writing fiction in his spare time, he recalls, he saw in Judge Davis “the epitome of what you think of as a judge — down to earth, humble, respectful of those who appeared before him.” Inspired by Davis, he decided that if he couldn’t make a living as a novelist, he’d like to serve on the bench, perhaps even the lofty 3rd District Court of Appeal. Earlier this year, after Justice Harding announced his surprise retirement, friends suggested that Cantero apply for Harding’s seat. “Come on, get out of here” was his reaction, he says. But after “a lot of soul-searching and a lot of prayer” with his wife, Ana Maria, a teacher and career counselor in the Miami-Dade public school system, he did apply. “My basic attitude was, if it’s God’s will that we move, he will make it work,” he says. Now, even before he takes his seat on the state high court, he’s heard talk that another Bush might consider him as a candidate to become the first Hispanic on the U.S. Supreme Court. “Very premature,” he says with a smile that suggests how flattering he finds such speculation. CONFIDENCE TO PERSEVERE Based on Cantero’s client list, President Bush at least would know that Cantero understands what big business wants. But the new justice says that what he learned in representing business clients really was the art, discipline and joy of lawyering, not conservative ideology. For example, representing U.S. Fidelity & Guarantee Co. in a 1999 case before Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal, Cantero argued the unfairness of forcing his client to pay out revised settlement claims years after initial settlements had been made, based on new, undocumented appraisals. Following the arguments, the 3rd District Court of Appeal, sitting en banc, unanimously overruled several previous panel decisions, including a decision it made the previous year, and found in favor of his client. It was especially satisfying for Cantero because he’d been on the losing end of one of those earlier cases. “This case was significant because it taught me to persevere when I am confident in the correctness of my legal position,” Cantero wrote in his application for the supreme court vacancy. “It also confirmed to me that one cannot predict the outcome of the case from the tenor of the oral argument. At the argument, I received several tough questions from members of the court. I left convinced that it would be a 6-5 decision one way or another.” Three other formative cases cited by Cantero involved his representation of clients and positions before the Florida Supreme Court. In one of two cases from 1996, Cantero illustrates his belief that while advocating for his client, an effective lawyer must take care to present to the judges a reasonable, balanced argument. In successfully representing a doctors’ group which challenged a Florida Rule of Civil Procedure governing the scope of discovery necessary to impeach the testimony of an opponent’s expert witness, “I learned it was important to emphasize that whatever standard the court adopted would apply to both plaintiffs and defendants, even though this case involved a defendant,” Cantero wrote. “This case fascinated me because my involvement began with a 10-page petition for writ of certiorari in which I encouraged the 3rd District Court of Appeal to address the issue, and before I knew it we had gone all the way to the Florida Supreme Court, which not only made law, but essentially adopted a new rule of procedure.” In another 1996 case before the court he is about to join, Cantero did not prevail. Nonetheless, in representing Continental Insurance Co. in a case involving the doctrine of forum non conveniens, which allows the dismissal of a complaint when most of the witnesses and evidence are located outside the state, he seems to take pride in simply having been part of the process. “This was an important Florida case in which I particularly felt my role as an advocate within the system, helping the Supreme Court decide an important issue,” he wrote. In a third supreme court case, this one involving a medical malpractice suit against a doctor, Cantero filed an amicus curiae brief in 1996 on behalf of the Dade County Medical Association. Cantero spent long hours going through the voluminous case file to find a new perspective to bring to the debate, which concerned the right of the defense to speak ex parte to the plaintiff’s current treating physicians. Cantero wrote in his application that he learned from this case that in crafting an amicus brief, you must “always read the statute or rule and understand it before analyzing the cases interpreting it, as the plain language of the statute may provide the answer.” In addition, he learned to “try to find another point of view from which to analyze the case, rather than repeating the parties’ arguments.” REPRESENTING THE LITTLE GUY In only one of the five cases Cantero cites as the most significant of his career did he not represent a large corporate client. Cantero described that case as “a David against Goliath” struggle between a Miami bottling company, Sunshine Bottling Co., owned by a friend of Cantero’s family, and Tropicana Products Inc., the giant orange juice producer based in Bradenton. Sunshine, which had a bottling contract with Tropicana, claimed that it had refurbished its plant to comply with Tropicana’s specifications governing the amount of oxygen allowable in each can of juice. But after a dispute between Sunshine and Tropicana over compliance with those specifications, Tropicana withdrew its contract offer from Sunshine and the bottler consequently went broke. Sunshine sued for breach of contract and promissory estoppel and won a jury verdict. But the judge issued a directed verdict on the estoppel claim, leaving Sunshine with nothing, and later awarded Tropicana more than $100,000 in costs. Cantero handled Sunshine’s appeal in 2000 on a contingency fee basis. He convinced the 3rd District Court of Appeal to reverse the trial judge’s ruling and reinstate the jury verdict, resulting in a settlement of more than $1 million for his client. “This case was significant to me because I felt so gratified in helping an innocent person that had been abused by a giant corporation,” Cantero wrote. Despite representing the little guy in that case, Cantero has made a comfortable living primarily from working for large corporations and their executives. Indeed, when he ascends to the supreme court bench, he’ll suffer a substantial pay cut. While justices earn $150,000 a year, his projected annual salary for 2002 at Adorno & Yoss was $265,000. Perhaps aware of the perception that he’s been a lawyer for the rich and powerful, Cantero, on Page 46 of his 55-page application for the supreme court job, stressed that “one of the most satisfying moments” of his legal career came in a pro bono case. That was when he represented a man who tried unsuccessfully to return a car he had just bought to the auto dealer on the grounds that it was not in the condition promised by the dealer. The auto dealer refused, the car was repossessed and the man was sued for nonpayment. Cantero countersued on the man’s behalf, the collection suit was eventually dismissed and the client paid nothing. “I remember this case well because I brought [the client] into the office, sat him down in our conference room overlooking the bay, and treated him like a corporate CEO,” he wrote. “I gave him coffee and advised him on his case. He left feeling like someone really cared about him and his problems.” FACT AND FICTION Among his colleagues, Cantero is considered a skilled legal writer. “My philosophy of briefing is, first, to educate the court,” he told the Daily Business Review in an interview. “Then, persuade the court, and third, keep the court interested. I write in short, concise sentences. I try not to be too hung up on what every single case says, which tends to bore judges.” In his application to the supreme court, Cantero included a short story called “Lottery Day.” In the piece, a young narrator describes the emotional transformation of his Cuban-exile family on the one day each month when the embittered patriarch of the quirky clan plays the numbers and hopes for instant riches. In anticipation, the family celebrates with a lavish dinner, dreaming of being able to buy a home in Coral Gables. But the family always ends up disappointed. The story, published in the Aura Literary/Arts Review in 1988, draws at least partly on autobiographical experience. As with Cantero’s family, the fictional family members are exiles from Castro’s Cuba, the father is a lawyer and the grandfather is a former military man who is convinced that communists are out to kill him. In fact, Cantero’s parents emigrated to Spain, where the future justice was born, and brought him to Miami when he was 9 months old. He attended Catholic schools here, but visited his grandfather in Spain most summers until his death in 1973. He recalls carrying a toy gun and playing bodyguard for abuelo, checking the bushes for danger. The boyish-looking Cantero says he regrets that he no longer has time to write fiction, given his work schedule, his three children and his activities as a lay leader in his parish church. But tucked away somewhere in his Coral Gables home, he keeps his unfinished novel, a tale he wrote about a Latin American revolution. He embarked on it in 1987 during a Fulbright Scholarship for creative writing. At the time, he was living in Panama. That was during the upheaval that led to the 1990 arrest of Panamanian strongman Gen. Manuel Noriega by U.S. troops. “There were all these demonstrations, lots of tear gas, and many of my friends were young lawyers and businessmen who were in the opposition,” he recalls with relish. “My wife, who was teaching at the international school, was scared. But for me it was an exciting time. I started writing as soon as I returned.” TOUGH ISSUES AHEAD Since Gov. Bush announced his appointment, Cantero has received plaudits from Democrats as well as Republicans who say they expect him to be even-handed and apolitical on the bench. Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Florida’s top elected Democrat, called him a “very fine appointment.” Both Cantero and Gov. Bush have insisted there were no ideological litmus test issues involved in his appointment. But it couldn’t have hurt his case in anti-abortion Republican circles that Cantero, who considers himself a devout Catholic, has made his anti-abortion views clear. In 1993, the Miami Herald published a letter to the editor from Cantero. In the letter, Cantero wrote that a man who gunned down a Pensacola abortion doctor was “thoroughly confused about Christ’s doctrine.” But, Cantero noted, “abortions kill children.” On the death penalty — which Gov. Bush fervently supports — Cantero’s position is less clear. He says he’s never publicly stated his personal opinion, and he refuses to do so now. Even though the Vatican has flatly opposed capital punishment, Cantero contends that “there is a debate going on” within the Catholic Church on the issue. “We have [capital punishment] in Florida, and as a justice I am obligated to apply it in a honest way,” he says. He recognizes that the death penalty is going to take up a lot of his professional attention. While studies show that appeals in capital cases account for only 3 percent to 5 percent of the Florida Supreme Court’s caseload, they take up nearly half the justices’ time. “We decide life and death issues,” Cantero says. “I expect that to be the most difficult aspect of the job.” BIAS QUESTIONS PERSIST Fair or not, Cantero’s blood ties to pre-Castro Cuba and his controversial representation of Cuban exile extremist Orlando Bosch could raise questions about possible personal bias in cases involving Cuba or terrorism. Bosch was imprisoned in Venezuela for his role in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner, in which all 73 passengers were killed. Although jailed for 11 years, the Cuban-trained pediatrician was not convicted of participating in the attack. In 1988, he returned to Miami without a visa, and was jailed here for violating parole in 1974 in connection with a conviction for taking part in a 1968 bazooka attack on a Havana-bound Polish freighter docked at the Port of Miami. As a young associate at then Adorno & Zeder, Cantero represented Bosch in 1989 in his successful fight to remain in the United States. Cantero spoke on Spanish-language radio stations to rally support for his client. During one of those interviews, Cantero reportedly called Bosch a “Cuban patriot” and described the bazooka attack a “political statement.” As a result of Cantero’s representation and defense of Bosch, Miami radio host Francisco Aruca mounted a campaign this year to block Cantero’s nomination to the supreme court. In addition, the St. Petersburg Times editorialized against his appointment, as did the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, which called on Cantero to repudiate his remarks in supporting Bosch. (Just before Cantero left Adorno & Yoss, Bosch asked the law firm to represent him in another matter. But founding partner Hank Adorno says the firm has made no decision on whether to take the case.) Cantero calls the criticisms of his role in representing and defending Bosch unfair. “I don’t have a transcript, and I don’t remember making those statements,” he says. “I was a young associate with the firm, given a case to work on. And Bosch renounced any terrorism. We represented him in an immigration case. It is unfair to criticize a lawyer for representing a client. That’s what lawyers do.” But Aruca says he isn’t satisfied with that explanation. “Basically, he was the spokesman for a public relations campaign to make Orlando Bosch into a hero,” says the talk radio host. “And since he has not rejected those opinions, he is not right for the court.” Gov. Bush rejected those criticisms. Now Cantero and his wife are house hunting in Tallahassee, relying on advice from the other justices. They plan to leave their long-time hometown by Aug. 24. “It is definitely a sacrifice for us to leave,” he says. “We have a large, close family, and everybody is here. But we thought this was an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. I’m looking forward to seeing some old professors, getting involved with the law school, helping students and faculty.” On the bench, Cantero predicts, “I’ll have questions. I have always been a questioner. I can’t wait to get started.”

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.