Judge Jorge Labarga

Saturday, March 1st, 2003

The CCRKBA Gun Rights Defender of the Month Award for March goes to Cuban-born Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga of Palm Beach County, FL.
 In late January, Labarga set aside the outrageous $1.2 million verdict against the Valor Corporation for distributing the firearm used by 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill to murder his teacher over two years ago.
 “Judge Labarga,” said CCRKBA Chairman Alan M. Gottlieb, “has allowed common sense and the rule of law too prevail over emotion. The Valor verdict defied logic by holding the Valor Corporation responsible for the willful act of a young thug. Nathaniel Brazill, who stole the pistol used to gun down Lake Worth Middle School Teacher Barry Grunow, is solely responsible for that crime, and not the distributor.”
 Jorge Labarga received his bachelor (1976) and law (1979) degrees from the University of Florida. He began his career as an Assistant Public Defender in West Palm Beach in 1979 where he served in the appellate, misdemeanor and felony divisions. In 1982, he joined the State Attorney’s Office where he served in almost all divisions.
 Five years later, Labarga joined the law firm of Wagner, Nugent, Johnson, Roth, Romano & Ericksen, P. A. in West Palm Beach where he specialized in personal injury cases. In 1992, Judge Labarga participated in the creation of the law firm of Roth, Duncan & Labarga, P. A. in West Palm Beach where he continued to practice in the areas of personal injury and criminal defense. 
 Judge Labarga carried an “AV” rating by Martindale-Hubbell while practicing law. 
 Governor Lawton Chiles appointed Labarga to the Circuit Court of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in 1996. He presently is assigned to the civil division where he serves as the administrative judge of the division. Labarga also has served in the family division.
 In the recent case before Judge Labarga, Grunow’s widow, Pamela, represented by lawyers from the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, had sued Valor, claiming that the distributor could have made the .25-caliber Raven semiautomatic pistol safer by installing some type of locking device. 
 The jury ruled that the gun was not defective. Judge Labarga ruled that their monetary award to Grunow was not consistent with that finding. 
 “Once again,” said Gottlieb, “the Brady Center’s attempts to hold the firearms industry responsible for the vicious acts of criminals, regardless of their age, have been thwarted.  Valor distributed a product that was not defective. Installation of a trigger lock or some other device may or may not have prevented the young killer from using that particular gun, but it likely would not have stopped him from committing murder.”
 Brazill, noted Gottlieb, “clearly demonstrated his intent by stealing the gun in the first place. He took the unloaded pistol and ammunition, deliberately loaded the gun and went to school. Claiming Valor was in any way responsible for that, financially or otherwise, is beyond logic, and we’re delighted that Judge Labarga understood that.”
 Brazill was sentenced to 28 years in prison for shooting Grunow in a confrontation outside of the classroom.
 “Nathaniel Brazill, not Valor or anyone else,” said Gottlieb, “pulled the trigger and took Barry Grunow’s life. Justice has been served twice, the first time by sending Brazill to prison, and now by setting aside a ridiculous and contradictory jury verdict.”
 It was in May of 2001 that Brazill was convicted of second-degree murder in the shooting of his 35-year old teacher and sentenced to 28 years in prison.  Although in the civil case the jury found the gun was not defective, it did find that Valor was negligent for not supplying a lock with the handgun. It was because of that inconsistency that Judge Labarga threw out the monetary award. It is likely that the plaintiff, the teacher’s widow, will appeal that ruling, according to nationally-syndicated columnist David Limbaugh.  Raven, the actual manufacturer of the gun, is out of business and was not named in the suit.
 Judge Labarga has lectured numerous times in seminars in the areas of personal injury and criminal defense and has lectured in courses offered during the yearly Advanced Judicial Studies seminar offered by the Conference of Circuit Court Judges. Judge Labarga also has served as an Associate Judge with the Fourth District Court of Appeal and has authored a number of appellate opinions.
 Judge Labarga was born on Oct. 21, 1952 in Havana, Cuba. He and his wife, Zulma have two daughters, Stephanie and Caroline.