Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Renatha Harris — grad of Jacksonville law school — appointed again to Supreme Court

Judge Renatha Francis.jpg
Wilfredo Lee
/
AP
Judge Renatha Francis speaks during a news conference on May 26, 2020, after Gov. Ron DeSantis first appointed her to the Florida Supreme Court.

A Palm Beach County judge — a graduate of a now-defunct Jacksonville law school — has been appointed to the Florida Supreme Court.

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday appointed Judge Renatha Francis of West Palm Beach, who has served as a judge in the 15th Circuit Court since 2019 and previously as a judge in the Miami-Dade County Court.

Francis received her law degree from Florida Coastal School of Law, a for-profit school in Jacksonville that closed in August after the U.S. Department of Education revoked its access to federal student loans.

The Education Department said Florida Coastal had "operated recklessly and irresponsibly, putting its students at financial risk."

"Too often, we see for-profit schools that try to take advantage of students, misuse taxpayer dollars, and skirt the rules to participate in federal student aid programs,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said at the time.

The American Bar Association also was scrutinizing the law school over admission standards and a low percentage of students passing the Florida Bar exam, according to a report from the Jacksonville Daily Record.

The Florida Times-Union reported this week that some Florida Coastal students were saddled with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after the school's false promises about their education and job prospects. Some wound up with law careers, but many did not.

Florida Coastal is one of more than 150 for-profit schools involved in a lawsuit alleging that students were deceived. A federal judge hearing the suit in San Francisco could order the Department of Education to cancel $6 billion in obligations for more than a quarter-million people, the Times-Union reported.

DeSantis hailed Francis, an immigrant from Jamaica, as the epitome of the American dream. He noted that she operated two businesses in Jamaica while serving as the primary caregiver for a younger sibling.

Francis "proves that those who come to our country have the opportunity to pursue their dreams and, through hard work and the application of their God-given talents, reach the highest heights of whatever field they choose,” DeSantis said. "When she takes her place on the Florida Supreme Court, I am confident she will serve our state with distinction.”

DeSantis appointed Francis to the Supreme Court two years ago, but Supreme Court blocked her appointment because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years at the time.

In a statement Friday, Francis said: "I’m incredibly honored and humbled by Governor DeSantis’ unwavering support for my ascension to the Florida Supreme Court. I may be taking my seat on the bench two years later than anticipated, but as a student of history I continue to be in awe of this country’s respect for the rule of law and the freedoms guaranteed in the text of the United States Constitution."

Francis’ appointment fills the vacancy of former Justice Al Lawson, who announced his retirement earlier this year. She will take her seat on the Supreme Court on Sept. 1.

Since he took office less than four years ago, DeSantis’ four appointments have secured a conservative shift on the seven-member court.

DeSantis, a Harvard Law School graduate, sketched out his judicial philosophy Friday morning at the Richard & Pat Johnson Palm Beach County History Museum, referring to the “founding fathers” as he introduced Francis.

“Our government here in the United States and in the state of Florida is supposed to be what’s called a government of laws, not a government of men,” he said, calling out judges who have “taken power away from people’s elected representatives” by having “legislated from the bench.”

Francis’ brandished her Federalist Society credentials on Friday with a quote from Alexander Hamilton’s admonition in the Federalist Papers that judges “exercise neither force nor will, but merely judgment.”

“We apply the law as written. This timeless principle of civil society not only promotes uniformity, predictability. It’s essential to preserving liberty. It restrains arbitrariness. It restrains abuses of power. And if history teaches us anything, is that as simple and enduring as this principle is, it’s evaded the vast majority of human history until this American experiment,” she said.

Information from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Randy comes to Jacksonville from the South Florida Sun Sentinel, where, as metro editor, he led investigative coverage of the Parkland school shooting that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for public service. He has spent more than 40 years in reporting and editing positions in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. You can reach Randy at rroguski@wjct.org or on Twitter, @rroguski.