To say Barbara Lagoa’s parents were thrilled when she was made student president was an understatement.
Antonio and Araceli Lagoa took out a full page senior ad in the youngster’s high school yearbook to congratulate their only daughter, writing: ‘You have come a long way, and we are very proud of you, Barbie.’
Their playful homage compared an adorable picture of Barbara in her kindergarten play with a photo of her blossoming into a sophisticated young woman.
But the full significance of their loving words was not lost on peers and teachers in Hialeah, the blue-collar enclave outside of Miami where Antonio and Araceli settled after fleeing their native Cuba in 1966.
Barbara Lagoa, 52, is one of the front runners to fill the Supreme Court seat vacated by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on last week at age 87
‘Barbara takes time out to powder her nose,’ her yearbook read. Lagoa grew up in Hialeah, Florida, the blue-collar enclave outside of Miami where Antonio and Araceli settled after fleeing their native Cuba in 1966
The baby-faced teen is pictured in her 1985 yearbook trying on makeup and fooling about with fellow student council members
Banned from studying law when he refused to swear allegiance to Fidel Castro’s stifling communist regime, Antonio pledged instead to give his own children every chance in life.
Born one year after her parents arrived in the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs, their beloved Barbie has indeed come a long way since those tender words of encouragement.
The baby-faced teen, pictured elsewhere in her 1985 yearbook trying on makeup and fooling about with fellow student council members, is now a trailblazing attorney turned federal appeals court judge.
And this weekend she could be announced as President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg on the US Supreme Court.
Lagoa is the daughter of Cuban exiles Antonio and Araceli Lagoa
‘It’s the classic American dream story,’ Justin Sayfie, a Republican lobbyist and close friend, told DailyMail.com.
‘To go from fleeing your homeland in one generation to being considered for the highest court in the land in the next is remarkable.
‘Her parents arrived here with very little but their hard work and sacrifices have made all this possible’.
Graduating from Monsignor Edward Pace High School the same year as Lagoa was Tom Duffin, a former friend and now the school’s Athletic Director.
‘Most of the kids I went to school with had someone in their family, a parent or a grandparent, who had fled the communist regime in Cuba,’ Duffin told DailyMail.com.
‘She stood out for me because she was so kind, so motivated, she had a wonderful smile. I figured one day she would run for office or some top governmental position.
‘The Supreme Court is right up her alley. In my opinion she was made for it.’
Lagoa graduated from Florida International University in 1989 and Columbia Law School in 1992, before working for the next decade as an associate attorney for a string of Miami law firms, representing banks, insurance companies and corporates.
She was first thrust into the public eye when she joined a group of lawyers representing pro bono the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez, a five-year-old Cuban boy rescued off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving 1999 after his mother drowned trying to reach the US.
Lagoa (pictured in her high school yearbook) graduated from Florida International University in 1989 and Columbia Law School in 1992, before working for the next decade as an associate attorney for a string of Miami law firms, representing banks, insurance companies and corporates
Lagoa is pictured fresh faced with a headband and short hair in her 1985 high school yearbook
Banned from studying law when he refused to swear allegiance to Fidel Castro’s stifling communist regime, Antonio pledged instead to give his own children every chance in life and he followed through as his only daughter Barbara is a potential Supreme Court nominee
Antonio and Araceli Lagoa took out a full page senior ad in the youngster’s high school yearbook to congratulate their only daughter, writing: ‘You have come a long way, and we are very proud of you, Barbie’
Becoming a cause celebre for Miami’s Cuban diaspora, Elian was soon at the center of an international custody battle involving the Castro government and the boy’s Cuban father.
The US courts eventually decided his relations had no legal right to keep him and Elian was returned to Cuba after federal agents snatched him during a surprise armed raid on his great uncle’s house.
Lagoa was first thrust into the public eye when she joined a group of lawyers representing pro bono the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez, a five-year-old Cuban boy rescued off the coast of Florida on Thanksgiving 1999 after his mother drowned trying to reach the US
‘For Janet Reno to say that negotiations had broken down at the time of the raid was an utter, utter lie,’ Lagoa said afterwards in a fiery interview with Fox News, directing her fury at then-Attorney General Reno and the Bill Clinton administration.
Elian had been found floating in an inner tube off the coast of Fort Lauderdale by fisherman Donato Dalrymple, who became firm friends with his Miami-based family as the tug of war unfolded.
Dalrymple was seen cradling the terrified little boy in an iconic news photograph capturing the moment a gun-toting Border Control agent stormed the bedroom where they were hiding.
‘Yes, I remember her. I shook her hand and thanked her for what she did,’ he told DailyMail.com this week. ‘I’m sorry how it all turned out but I think she would be great on the Supreme Court.’
Lagoa continued to cut her legal chops as a prosecutor before being appointed to a Miami-area appeals court by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, where she would serve 12 years, according to her Florida bar biography.
A devout Catholic, conservative-leaning jurist, she made history in May 2019 as the first Hispanic and Cuban-American woman appointed to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Lagoa was sworn in by her father-in-law, retired US District Judge Paul C. Huck, with her attorney husband, Paul C Huck Jr, and their daughters, Claudia, Eloise and Camilla, two of whom are twins, stood at her side.
‘Many of those in this room are the children and grandchildren of individuals who fled from dictatorship. For many of us first-generation Americans, our parents took whatever job they could find in order to provide for us,’ Lagoa said.
Graduating from Monsignor Edward Pace High School the same year as Lagoa was Tom Duffin (pictured), a former friend and now the school’s Athletic Director who said Lagoa always stood out
‘Is she qualified to serve on the Supreme court? Absolutely. Does she bring a different life experience to the Supreme Court? Absolutely,’ said Justin Sayfie (left). Principal Ana Garcia (right) hopes that Lagoa will pop back to the Catholic secondary school in Miami Gardens one day soon to recount her inspirational journey
Joined by her family, Barbara Lagoa, third from left, Governor Ron DeSantis’ pick for the Florida Supreme Court in 2019. She is considered a DeSantis protege
‘And while their lives may not have been what they dreamt of when they were growing up, their dreams did not die. Through hard work, education, faith, and a strong community, they succeeded.’
She added: ‘Because of the shared experiences of our parents and grandparents many of us in this room have a special appreciation for the rule of law.
‘Because we understand what it means when individual liberties, respect for private property, and basic human rights are abandoned by a government.’
Lagoa and her husband still live in Miami where their five-bed colonial style mansion is a short drive from the modest, single-story family home where Lagoa’s elderly parents have lived since 1987.
A caregiver who came to their door this week told DailyMail.com that Antonio, 81, and Araceli, 88, were both feeling unwell and were unable to speak with reporters, though she said she was optimistic the couple would get better soon.
Public records state that Antonio worked for the IRS and was a field agent for the US Treasury. Araceli was employed by Miami Dade County, according to records.
‘The granddaughters are always coming over to the house,’ a neighbor told DailyMail.com. ‘They are lovely people.’
Lagoa was on the Florida Supreme Court for less than a year before she was tabbed by Trump for the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 2019, covering Florida, Alabama and Georgia. The Senate confirmed her by a vote of 80 to 15.
Indiana Judge Amy Coney Barrett is viewed as the narrow favorite to secure Trump’s Supreme Court nomination but he has hailed Lagoa as an ‘extraordinary person’ and assured her supporters Wednesday: ‘She is on my list.’
Leading Florida Republicans, including DeSantis, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are reportedly trying to persuade the President that nominating a popular Cuban-American would boost his reelection prospects in a must-win state where the Hispanic vote could prove pivotal.
Trump’s determination to fill the seat so close to the November General Election has sparked outrage among Democrats but longtime admirers say Lagoa’s humble immigrant backstory should inspire people of all political hues.
Barbara Lagoa, 52, is among the front runners for Trump’s Supreme Court nomination. The Cuban American is pictured here with her three daughters and husband
Trump said he is ‘seriously considering’ five or four different people for the job, as a person familiar with the process said the White House narrowed it down to four women – Amy Coney Barrett, Barbara Lagoa, Kate Todd and Allison Jones Rushing
‘Is she qualified to serve on the Supreme court? Absolutely. Does she bring a different life experience to the Supreme Court? Absolutely,’ added Sayfie, a Florida attorney who met Lagoa around 20 years and had become a close friend because they both have twins.
‘The political pluses and minuses are there for all to see so I’m not going to get into that. But on a personal level I can tell you she is a devoted spouse, a devoted daughter and a devoted mother to her three beautiful daughters.
‘To both have successful careers while raising three kids, that is no small feat in itself. For me, she would be an exceptional choice.’
At Monsignor Edward Pace High School, the kids and educators are on tenterhooks ahead of Trump’s announcement, which should come Saturday.
Regardless of the outcome, principal Ana Garcia hopes that Lagoa will pop back to the Catholic secondary school in Miami Gardens one day soon to recount her inspirational journey.
‘Our hearts are exploding with pride, with joy and honor,’ Garcia told DailyMail.com ‘As an educator, a fellow alumni and a Hispanic woman, I’m so proud, whether she gets the nomination or not.
‘I’ve always told students to dream big, shoot for the stars, don’t set limitations on yourself. The fact that someone who comes from such humble beginnings can reach this level of success really tells us that in the United States our freedoms are such that we can be anything we want to be.’
Barbara Lagoa’s biggest cases & controversies
FELONS MUST PAY
Lagoa was part of a 6-4 federal appeals court majority this summer that ruled that Florida felons were barred from voting until they paid off fines and restitution.
The decision enraged Democrats who complained that many of the Sunshine State’s 800,000 former criminals – who were expected to lean heavily towards Joe Biden – couldn’t afford to pay.
Critics including Biden’s running mate Sen. Kamala Harris also said Lagoa should have recused herself because she ruled on a similar matter one year earlier in the Florida Supreme Court.
Florida felons have been eligible to vote since 2018 but Lagoa agreed that Gov. Ron DeSantis had acted lawfully when he introduced what critics decried as a ‘pay to vote’ amendment.
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg has since revealed he contributed $16m to the Florida Rights Restoration Collation to pay fines and get felons back on to voting rolls in time for the election.
Lagoa with with Ron DeSantis
Judge Lagoa also wrote the majority opinion that backed the decision by Gov. DeSantis to suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his department’s ‘incompetent’ response to the 2018 Parkland school shooting.
DeSantis said the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School might never have happened had Israel led his department adequately.
Deputies, including school resource officer Scot Peterson, dithered outside the building while gunman Nikolas Cruz went on the rampage inside, killing 17 people with a semi-automatic rifle.
DeSantis wielded the axe after a public commission concluded that Israel’s deputies were inadequately trained for active-shooter scenarios and overlooked warnings about Cruz.
Israel argued that DeSantis had overstepped his authority but Florida’s Supreme Court sided with the Florida Republican.
Elian Gonzalez was found floating off the coast of South Florida in 1999 in an inner tube after his Cuban mother drowned in a storm while trying to reach the US.
Lagoa was among a team of attorneys who worked pro bono for Elian’s Miami-based family members, all Cuban exiles who insisted the boy’s mother Elizabeth Brotons Rodriquez wanted him to grow up in the US.
Backed by Fidel Castro, Elian’s father Juan Miguel Gonzalez Quintana demanded, however, that the five-year-old be returned to his communist homeland.
Despite the best efforts of Lagoa and her fellow attorneys, the Clinton Administration sided with the father and eventually had Elian forcible removed from his great uncle’s house by federal agents.
Ironically it was the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – where Lagoa now sits as a judge – that ruled that Elian was too young to file for asylum and therefore only his father could decide what was best for him.
MURDERERS, PEDOPHILES RELEASED ON TECHNICALITIES
Lagoa regards herself as a ‘originalist’, a legal philosophy that believes in a strict application of the law exactly as it was intended by its authors.
In her time a Florida appeals court judge, this meant talking difficult decisions that overturned the convictions of several dangerous felons.
In 2018 Lagoa authored an opinion that reversed the conviction of Adonis Losada, a Spanish-Language TV comedian who was jailed for 153 years for possessing child porn.
Adonia Losada (left) and Randy Chaviano (right)
Lagoa agreed that Losada was denied his legal right to defend himself after the trial judge couldn’t make sense of his replies and instead appointed a public defender.
The warped comic spent ten years in prison in Palm Beach County for related offenses but was released in April ahead of a retrial in Miami.
She also ordered a retrial for Randy Chaviano, convicted of shooting Carlos Acosta dead in 2005, after a court stenographer accidentally erased transcripts from his trial.
Chaviano eventually pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was jailed for 25 years.