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The bow-tied justice bows out to applause

By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 8, 2002

Florida's legal community said goodbye to Supreme Court Justice Major B. Harding on Friday.

For Justice Leander Shaw, it was a chance to tell a story from the days when he was a young lawyer in Jacksonville arguing a case before then-Circuit Judge Harding.

Seconds after Harding awarded custody of a child to his client, Shaw stepped across the room to take the baby from the arms of a woman who reached into her pocketbook "and pulled out the biggest handgun I've ever seen in my life."

Shaw grabbed the baby and ran.

"The truth is," Shaw said Friday, "I looked to the bench for guidance and direction and there was no judge to be seen, and as good trial lawyers, we assumed the court had been prematurely adjourned."

It was but one story among many as lawyers, judges and old friends from his hometown of Jacksonville gathered to say goodbye to Harding and his wife of 44 years, Jane. Harding gave the credit for "a privileged life" to his wife and his God.

One of his sons, the Rev. David L. Harding, pastor of the newly formed St. Petersburg Presbyterian Church, gave the invocation.

His fellow justices and Gov. Jeb Bush all wore bow ties, a Harding trademark, and praised him for his integrity, decency and compassion.

"I didn't tie it and I don't know how to get it off without scissors," Bush joked. After the ceremony, Harding untied it for the governor.

Harding, 66, started working when he was 12 years old, delivering newspapers. He is retiring well before the mandatory age of 70 and will remain in Tallahassee, where he moved after being appointed to the court in 1991.

Bush noted that Harding swore him into office in 1999 and jokingly referred to the justice's role in the 2000 presidential recount. Harding, the only Independent on the court, voted on the losing side of a 4-3 ruling against George W. Bush, a decision later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The governor will decide who replaces Harding. On Friday a Judicial Nominating Commission sent five names to the governor for consideration. Bush said he'll appoint a committee to interview the candidates and hopes to make a decision in about a month.

It is Bush's first opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice all on his own. The last person to join the court, Justice Peggy Quince, was a joint appointment with outgoing Gov. Lawton Chiles.

Bush could appoint the court's first Hispanic.

If so, it is likely to be Raoul G. Cantero III, 41, a Miami lawyer who was born in Spain to Cuban parents who fled there before moving to Miami. He was educated at Florida State University and Harvard Law School and was a Fulbright Scholar in Panama before clerking for U.S. District Judge Edward B. Davis in Miami.

Oddly enough, Cantero also is a registered Independent and says he has never been active in politics. He heads the appellate division at Adorno & Zeder.

Bush said he wants someone who is "qualified and has a judicious temperament." He said he won't question the candidates' politics or how they stand on hot-button issues like abortion.

"The questions will be broader than that," he said. "I have generally had a commitment to find people with a judicious temperament that work hard and represent the diversity of the state."

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