For the Love of Law: Celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the Cuban-American Lawyers Program

My alma mater, UF Law, had created a mechanism for Cuban lawyers in exile to become practicing attorneys in the United States. Established in 1973, the Cuban-American Lawyers Program (CALP) gave these foreign lawyers the opportunity to attend law school on a part-time basis and sit for the Florida Bar Exam. The narratives of the pioneer CALP graduates are quite remarkable. Yesterday, the school honored those early legal pioneers.

Right after Fidel Castro came to power in 1959, Jose “Pepe” A. Villalobos arrived at a Cuba Supreme Court ceremony where lawyers were required to swear allegiance to “The Fundamental Law” as issued by the Council of Ministers. Villalobos had just earned his degree from the Universidad de Villanueva, and no sooner was it awarded than the regime made his qualifications dependent upon an oath.

“I refused to swear allegiance to the constitution,” Villalobos said by telephone from his Miami law office at Akerman Senterfitt.

With a few choice words, he expressed his displeasure with the new document. Pro-Castro militiamen at the court used their fists to express displeasure with Villalobos. So he fled the island nation for Miami and took up a career as a roofer for Sears & Roebuck. In 1973, Villalobos enrolled in the UF Law Cuban-American Lawyers Program eventually becoming one of its 314 graduates.

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