Aside from those who acquire a Juris doctorate, few can imagine the rigor and dedication necessary to persevere through law school and eventually become a licensed attorney. For Florida State Law school graduate, Jose Godinez-Samperio of Hillsborough County, his dedication may never pay off. Godinez-Samperio is like any other law school graduate with one exception; He lacks proper residency documentation. After taking and passing the Florida Bar exam last year, Jose hoped he would be able to become licensed and go on to practice immigration law. However, once the Florida Bar of Examiners realized that he was an illegal immigrant without even a visitor visa, they turned to the Florida Supreme Court for an opinion on the matter. With his attorney, mentor, and former professor, Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte by his side, Godinez-Samperio has come before the Florida Supreme Court to stake his claim that his residency status should be overshadowed by his upstanding “moral and character fitness”.
Many of the Justices view this case with great skepticism and unease. One justice in particular, Justice Charles Canady has voiced concern which cites Federal law prohibiting any state agency, in this case the Florida Bar, from licensing an undocumented immigrant. Firing back at Canady, D’Alemberte reminds the court that a state Supreme Court is not subject to federal law, and that every state has a constitutional right to decide who practices law in their courts. For Godinez-Samperio, this is the culmination of a very long journey that began when his parents brought him to Florida from Mexico when he was just 9 years old on a visitor visa that soon expired. His family made the decision to stay and work to help put him through undergraduate school at New College of Florida. Under the recent executive orders of the DREAM act, twenty-six year old Godinez-Samperio could qualify for a work permit in time, allowing him to remain in the country.
With this in mind, many sympathetic judges across the state are suggesting that the Board issue a temporary license that would allow for Godinez-Samperio to practice law, giving him the necessary credentials to apply for a work permit in the future. If he is issued a license to practice law in the state of Florida, this would set a precedent that could potentially allow for the licensure of two other undocumented immigrants fighting for state bar certification – Sergio Garcia of New York and Cesar Vargas of California. While the Judges have not officially made a ruling, Jose is optimistic, stating that this battle “has a sense of history […] I think this is very similar to when the first African-Americans, or the first women, were admitted to practice law.” A final decision has yet to be rendered by either the Supreme Court or the Florida state bar.