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Perry Officially Joins Florida Supreme Court

Amid an overflow crowd of friends and family from Seminole County, Florida Supreme Court Justice James Perry took the oath of his new office Friday and formally became the high court's 85th justice.

Perry, 65, was named to the Supreme Court in March, replacing Justice Charles Wells, who was forced to step down by the state's mandatory retirement age of 70 for Supreme Court justices. The fourth of Gov. Charlie Crist's appointments to the Supreme Court, Perry is part of what that may be Crist's most lasting legacy with the governor having decided to vacate his office after one term to run for the U.S. Senate.

Perry, a North Carolina native, was appointed to the 18th Circuit by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2000. He is a 1972 graduate of Columbia University Law school and married to Stetson University professor Adrienne Perry. He and his wife have three children.

"I'm deeply honored to be appointed as the 85th justice of the Supreme Court of the state of Florida to take this seat so ably filled by former Justice Charlie Wells for 15 years," Perry said after taking the oath administered by former Justice Joseph Hatchett. "I'm acutely conscious of the distinguished history of this court and the eminence of its justices." Another former African-American justice, Leander Shaw, participated in the ceremony.

Perry, appointed by a governor whose determination to see more diversity in Florida courts has led to a pitched legal battle, also spoke of the struggle to see more faces like his holding gavels. Four vacancies gave Crist wide leeway in reshaping the court, but instead of packing it with hard-line conservatives, he maintained throughout the process that he was mainly concerned with creating a racially diverse court.

When Crist made his third appointment, Jorge Labarga, the only minority on the court was Chief Justice Peggy Quince, who is African-American. Perry is also African-American and Labarga is Cuban-America; the other four judges are white. In addition to Quince, there’s one other woman on the court, Justice Barbara Pariente.

"I'm also aware that I would not be here if not for the service and sacrifices of civil rights leaders who turned stumbling blocks into stepping stones and paved the way of progress for me and our nation on a whole," Perry said. "I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge their heroic efforts."

But donning his robe in a cheering court room full of acquaintances acquired over a lengthy legal career in central Florida, Perry said his excitement about formally becoming a Supreme Court justice was slightly tempered.

"As thrilled as I am to be here beginning this new chapter in my life, I'm sure you'll understand when I tell you that it's somewhat bittersweet," he said. "I miss my friends and former colleagues...in the 18th judicial circuit."

Perry quickly added though that he was already getting along well with the justices of the Supreme Court.

"I'm confident without fear of dissenting opinion that while we will not always agree, we will maintain the collegial working relations that we all believe to be so important to the work of this court," he said.

Before Perry was invested and formally seated on the bench, Crist presented Justice Perry's credentials to Chief Justice Quince. Crist spoke about why he chose to appoint him to the court, praising Perry's humility and compassion.

"Justice, what a wonderful title," Crist mused during his speech. "Isn't that amazing that somebody would have the title 'justice.' We in our society only hope that justice will occur. That the right thing will happen. That whenever a controversy comes before a body, whether it's the Senate, whether it's this bench, whether it's an appointment by the executive branch, that justice will be done. This man is about to be formally known as justice himself."

Crist also raised the specter of the legal battle his quest for judicial diversity has created, saying if he had it to do over again, he would.

"I'm very proud of the diversity that this appointment represents," Crist said. "It means a lot to me. I've actually been embroiled with some challenge from other circuits, but that's OK. If it wasn't worth fighting for it, we wouldn't fight for it."

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