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Written by Olivia D. Liggio and published in the Florida Justice Association Journal [Issue #627) 

On June 16, 2022, Justice Barbara J. Pariente will be the first recipient of the Justice Barbara Pariente Award at the Florida Justice Association’s Annual Convention. This award is a permanent tribute to Justice Pariente. Her legal and judicial career epitomizes focused and determined leadership through persistent innovation and improvement of legal services and resources. We hope that those who will win this award in the future shall embody Justice Pariente’s tenacity and grit to truly deserve this honor.

Since my law school days, I have been privileged to know and become friends with Justice Pariente. In law school my first encounter with Justice Barbara J. Pariente was on paper. Her name, “PARIENTE, J.,” at the top of a Florida Supreme Court opinion was a shining beacon of hope for a female law student. As I would come to learn, not only was she the second woman to serve on Florida’s highest court, but she was also the first Jewish woman Justice, the second female Chief Justice, the first Justice to undergo treatment publicly (and bravely) for breast cancer, and represented so much more for marginalized persons, average Floridians, and even incarcerated individuals in both her opinions and her advocacy.

My second encounter with Justice Pariente came at the beginning of my second year of law school. She along with Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince were up for merit retention. This incredible trio were making rounds across the state to different law schools, local inns of court, business groups, newspaper editorial boards, and more. The three justices visited the James C. Adkins Jr. American Inn of Court in Gainesville, Florida, of which I was a member, to speak about the upcoming merit retention election. There was an intense, politically driven campaign by specially funded groups to remove the justices because they claimed the three justices were guided by political beliefs, and not the law. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I was captivated by Justice Pariente’s educational approach to the merit retention race. It was not an ego-pumping exercise for votes. Rather, she spoke from a civic education perspective across the state about informing, educating, and engaging the citizens, educating all she spoke with regarding what merit retention is: judges and justices, both appointed and elected to the bench across the state through merit selection, then face a yes or no retention vote in the first general election that falls after they have served a year, and every six years thereafter. Merit retention for appellate judges and Supreme Court justices was not intended to be a vote on the courts’ decisions but rather a vote on whether the justices and judges across our state have the qualities to render fair and impartial rulings.

All that you should want out of a judge, is that a judge is fair and impartial and not beholden to special interests.– Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Merit retention is intended to allow voters to remove incompetent or corrupt judges, not to allow for the intimidation of judges by political groups or special interests. Justice Pariente pointed out that democracy would be at stake if partisan groups and political parties were allowed to push a false narrative to oust judges and justices from their judicial offices.

Fortunately, the attempt fell flat, and all three justices were retained.

The judicial branch in Florida is one of the most highly regarded in the nation. Florida voters have made it clear that they are determined to keep it that way. I want to thank the many Floridians who stood up against the attack on the impartiality of our justice system. – Justice Barbara J. Pariente

I was finally able to meet Justice Pariente in my third encounter. In the spring of my second year of law school, I applied to work as an extern to Justice Pariente at the Florida Supreme Court for the fall of my third year in law school. As part of the application process, Justice Pariente required an interview of her potential externs. Fortunately, Justice Pariente was to be in Gainesville along with Justice Lewis, Justice Jorge Labarga, and Judge Frederick A. Hazouri to judge the moot court competition at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. We scheduled the interview and I nervously prepared by reading several of her opinions and doing a deep dive into articles on her background.

The evening of the interview arrived, and I was met by all three justices and Judge Hazouri. After initial pleasantries and friendly, teasing remarks about my father, Jeffrey M. Liggio, and their interactions with him over the years were crossed off the list, I was interviewed by all four of them as to why I was a good fit to work at the Florida Supreme Court and namely for Justice Pariente. She did not need gatekeepers or protectors, but you could see their friendship, respect, and admiration for their colleague and partner whenever she spoke or directed the conversation. To say it was an out-of-body experience for a second-year law student to be questioned by these judicial titans
is an understatement. To this day, I look back at that moment and cannot quite believe my luck. My fortune continued, and shortly thereafter I was informed I was being offered the externship for the upcoming fall semester. I was over-the-moon excited and nervous.

I truly enjoyed working with Justice Pariente during our years together at the Supreme Court and I learned a lot from her. She is brilliant with amazing analytical skills. No one works harder than she does. She truly cares about people, especially people who need help. I wish she was still there.– Justice Jorge Labarga

On my first day externing with Justice Pariente, I learned two important things about her. First, it is pronounced Parien-tee, not Parien-tay. Second, I was told that she was almost always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Often someone is either a hard worker or brilliant. Justice Pariente is both. Her energy is boundless and infectious. You simply want to work harder and be better when in her presence. I discovered that she has that uncanny
something you cannot quite put your finger on, but you know it is a once-in-a-lifetime quality.

Clerking for Justice Pariente was about so much more than developing legal skills. She cares deeply about people, and that was especially true for her law clerks. She really listened to our feedback on cases and drafts of
opinions, and she valued our input. She also never missed a birthday or a chance to celebrate a special occasion, including when I got married during my clerkship. From lunches to reunions to dressing up for Halloween as
characters from my favorite childhood movie, The Wizard of Oz, the memories I made while clerking for Justice Pariente — like my relationship with her — will last a lifetime.– Joe Eagleton, Esq.

She had a wonderful relationship with all courthouse staff, administrative staff and security personnel. You could tell that she saw you when she spoke with you. Justice Pariente deeply cared about her team. Not only did she remember personal details but she always took a moment to say hello and follow up with caring questions. Her relationships with those who worked for and with her were not just surface level, but rather truly meaningful and lasting relationships. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend one of Justice Pariente’s reunions with clerks, staff, and judicial assistants from her (at the time) combined 25 years on the bench at the Florida Supreme Court and the Fourth District Court of Appeal. These individuals were a diverse group who exalted Justice Pariente’s wonderful attributes. Namely, that she held you to a higher standard than you thought possible, all while still caring for you and asking about your family and friends, helping you to achieve your dreams and goals.

If I could start my career over again, I would choose to clerk for Justice Pariente every time. Each day, she poured her energy into her cases and her staff. In cases, she never lost sight of the humans whose lives would be affected by the outcome. For her staff, she fostered our growth as professionals by challenging us to reach our highest potential with every assignment. The brilliant, tough, and trailblazing Justice who started as my boss is now a lifelong friend and mentor.– Melanie Kalmanson, Esq.

In addition to my externship, I was inspired by Justice Pariente to volunteer my time to work on the Informed Voters Project of the National Association of Women Judges. Justice Pariente served as the Florida State coordinating committee co-chairperson for the initiative. The Informed Voter Project focuses on increasing the knowledge of citizens regarding the importance of a fair and impartial judiciary. As a result of my involvement, I was asked if I could drive Justice Pariente from Tallahassee to an Informed Voters Project event at the University of Florida. I jumped at the opportunity to spend uninterrupted time in the car with her. However, a stream of insecurities and fears floated to the top. What would we talk about for all that time? Turns out, we had endless topics of conversation, which she mostly steered toward me and finding out who I was and what my hopes and dreams were. She spoke of her advocacy work, especially for our state’s most vulnerable children. Her husband, Judge Hazouri, the absolute love of her life, their three children, and 11 grandchildren (and now one great-grandchild).

Who am I? I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a very proud grandmother. And also, I am a breast cancer survivor. I am an advocate for children. I have been a lawyer for [49] years and a judge for [25] years.– Justice Barbara J. Pariente

Since that first car ride together, we have since had many. I even got us lost driving around the Miami airport, twice. She was ever patient and kind while I was flustered and frustrated. During these one-on-one rides
together, I learned so much from her about humility, service, determination, kindness, and morality. She spoke of growing up, law school and her time practicing law. She told me about her past experiences and the moments that forever shaped her.

Justice Pariente was born in New York City and moved to a New Jersey suburb when still in elementary school. A rather sheltered environment with very few people of the Jewish faith, there she felt like a minority in that way, and never felt quite like she belonged. It was not until college at Boston University that she started to find her voice. She began her undergraduate degree with the express purpose of pursuing a career in communications. She was first a public relations major but then switched to broadcasting and film, hoping for a career in public television. “My academic training gave me an opportunity to communicate in different ways.” Watching Justice Pariente question appellate attorneys from the bench, you could see how her communications degree served her well.

While in college, Justice Pariente spent time working on a documentary on Harvard Legal Services serving the lower socioeconomic status community. She then spent a summer after her junior year working on the Lower East Side of New York, volunteering with a legal services organization. For the first time, she became excited about the prospect that the law could be a vehicle to help those who were disadvantaged and without resources. She was excited to see that one could help less fortunate individuals through the law. She graduated from Boston University with highest honors, compassion for those less fortunate, and a fire to succeed so that she could help more individuals. This spurred her to apply to and attend law school at George Washington University Law in Washington, D.C.

Throughout law school, Justice Pariente learned that the critical importance of the law was to protect individual rights from overreach by those in power. In her view, what she took from law school was “a real admiration for the United States Constitution, the fundamental principle of separation of powers, and in particular the Bill of Rights.” She worked with Legal Services in law school as well as the Public Defenders’ Office, teaming up with a criminal defense attorney and helping to defend a number of women accused of prostitution. She witnessed firsthand how there was no equal protection under the law when the women were being prosecuted, but the “johns” were not. She committed herself to exposing this injustice and worked tirelessly on these women’s behalf.

[H]er very compassionate heart never interferes with her objectivity. If you ask Barbara to review something, there will be no rubber stamp. She will give you a thorough review with an honest analysis and critique. – The Honorable Fred Hazouri

Justice Pariente graduated fifth in her class from law school, earning highest honors and membership in the Order of the Coif. She then moved to Florida and worked as a judicial clerk with United States District Court Judge Norman C. Roettger Jr., of the Southern District of Florida.

After her judicial clerkship, Justice Pariente settled in West Palm Beach, Florida, where she joined the law firm of Cone, Wagner and Nugent, P.A., as the first female attorney, and became a partner only two years later.

Eight years later, she formed the law firm of Pariente & Silber, P.A., with her law partner, Louis Silber. In both firms, she focused her practice on civil trial litigation. She earned certification by the Florida Bar as a Board-Certified Civil Trial Lawyer as well as national certification by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. She was also given an AV rating, the highest available, by Martindale-Hubbell.

Barbara has inspired so many lawyers, men and women, with her fortitude, courage and accomplishments. Barbara made it a point to keep in touch with most of her clients long after the case was over and the file was closed. This was especially true for the clients who suffered the most serious injuries or lost a loved one. Though our partnership ended prematurely, I was honored to practice law with one of the real giants of our profession, who I know made me a better lawyer and a much better person. – Louis Silber, Esq

During her 18 years in private practice, Justice Pariente served on the Florida Bar Civil Rules Committee, the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee and Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission. She helped to organize and put into motion Palm Beach County’s first Bench-Bar Conference. She is a founding member and master of the Palm Beach County Chapter of the American Inns of Court and has always been very active in the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, serving on its Board of Directors for many years.

In September 1993, Justice Pariente was appointed to the Fourth District Court of Appeal. She enjoyed that time immensely, as she found that she loved research and writing. She shared a passion for the law with several of her colleagues, including Judge Martha Warner and Judge Gross. During that time she learned so much more about the court system, including the newly emerging treatment-based drug courts through Judge Melanie May. She served on the Fourth District until her appointment by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles as the 77th Justice of the Florida Supreme Court on December 10, 1997.

During her time on the 4th DCA, Justice Pariente was the hardest working judge on the court. She was prepared on all cases, not just the cases assigned to her chambers. I enjoyed working with her and we collaborated on significant opinions. Some of these decisions later became the basis for opinions Justice Pariente wrote while on the FloridaSupreme Court. – Judge Robert M. Gross

In May 1998, during one of her first experiences as a newly appointed justice, Justice Pariente was asked to speak to students at Boca Raton Community High School. Through this remarkable experience in an auditorium filled with students, she received her own education on how to teach students from all walks of life about the importance of civics education and in particular the critical role of the judicial branch.

In September 2002, Justices Pariente and Quince, along with Annette Boyd Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, visited the Florida Institute for Girls in West Palm Beach, Florida. Justices Pariente and Quince had been concerned about the issue of the increasing number of girls entering the juvenile justice system in Florida. The visit, arranged in combination with the Supreme Court justices’ annual Constitution Week program, generated a restored commitment to further understand the increase in female juvenile crime.

Justice Pariente speaks of this visit as an incredible opportunity that assisted her in understanding that “despite their situation, the young women there were all different and yet the same in their experiences. Each girl showed interest and excitement at the prospect of learning something new.” The girls came from diverse ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds. Each was bright and eager to learn and ask questions. They all knew the three branches of
government, a testament to their teachers.

Related to this experience, Justice Pariente has actively supported programs that promote successful alternatives to incarceration such as Florida’s drug courts. For over a decade, she served as the liaison to the Supreme Court’s Task Force on Treatment-Based Drug Courts and was instrumental in organizing the first statewide conference on drug courts.

Justice Pariente chaired the Supreme Court’s Steering Committee on Families and Children in the Courts, which worked collaboratively to improve procedures for handling cases involving families and children so that the interests and needs of the child are paramount. During her time on the Florida Supreme Court, she met with family court judges and staffs throughout Florida’s judicial circuits, promoted judicial education on the unified family court, and stressed improved case management, case coordination, and nonadversarial methods of resolving these disputes.

In 2003, Justice Pariente was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially, upon being diagnosed, she wanted to keep it private, but she knew by sharing her diagnosis with the public, she could promote greater awareness of this disease that strikes one in eight American women and even a small percentage of men. She did not want people fighting cancer to hide in the shadows, but rather to stand proudly in their heroic fight. To say Justice Pariente has had a profound impact on the lives of countless Floridians is an understatement.

Justice Pariente has been an inspiration to me and so many lawyers around the state and country. She is a champion for justice and especially serves as a shining example for women lawyers. As a board-certified civil trial lawyer and one of the first female civil trial lawyers in this state, Justice Pariente paved the way for me to have those same opportunities in the practice of law. I am truly thankful for the example of excellence, grace and professionalism she has demonstrated for all of us. – Sia Baker Barnes, Esq

Based on her long-standing commitment to children, Justice Pariente has been a mentor to school-age children. She has served as a mentor to students through Take Stock in Children, a program for helping economically disadvantaged students earn a college scholarship. She is proud that one mentee, whom she began mentoring in ninth grade, has since become a wonderful mother, a successful practicing attorney, and is an active member of the Florida Justice Association, Doris Laing, Esq.

Justice Pariente has been intentional about our relationship since I was a ninth grader at Palm Beach Lakes Community High School in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has and continues to ground my expectations and to keep me honest through tremendous challenges. She consistently and selflessly gives me the gift of her; and I am grateful. – Doris Laing, Esq.

Justice Pariente was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 2008. She is the recipient of countless awards and honors, but I am most proud to have her as the namesake and first recipient of the Florida Justice Association Founder’s Justice Barbara J. Pariente Award.

On September 26, 2014, Justice Pariente swore me into the Florida Bar. Out of my many encounters with Justice Pariente, this one was the most magical. Over the years I have been her fan, extern, driver, personal IT department,
friend, mentee and most recently even confused as her daughter. I am honored to be one of her mentees and can only hope to have countless more encounters with Justice Pariente.

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