Hiram Rafael Cancio (1965-1974)

Hiram Rafael Cancio  (1965-1974)Hiram Rafael Cancio1965-1967 (ARTICLE I)1967-1974 (ARTICLE III)

Judge Hiram Rafael Cancio was born on August 20, 1920 in San Sebasti√°n, Puerto Rico, the fifth child of Miguel Cancio Cores and Camelia Vilella Malaret. This illustrious pepiniano spent his early childhood years in Guayama, however, where his father, a pharmacist, owned a drug store, before his family moved to San Juan. He married his sweetheart, Carlota Alfaro Bou, with whom he has raised three children, Camelia Margarita, Hiram and Rosa Matilde. He was blessed with seven grandchildren and three great grand-children.

Judge Cancio was very proud that he was a product of the public schools of Puerto Rico. Like many of his generation, he graduated from Central High School. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1942 and his law degree in 1948, also from the University of Puerto Rico. He was admitted to the Puerto Rico Bar that same year.

Between his college and law school years, he served as a Sergeant in the United States Army during World War II, until 1946. After World War II, he joined the Veterans Administration in San Juan, working as a vocational advisor and psychometrist until 1947.

In 1948, he began to work with the Puerto Rico Labor Relations Board, first as a Trial Examiner and eventually serving as the Chief of the Board's Legal Division from 1949 to 1952. In 1952, he became the Chairman of the Wage and Hours Commission, created pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and served in that position until 1958. During those same years, Judge Cancio served as the Director of the Labor Relations Institute of the University of Puerto Rico (1952-1955), Dean of Administration of the University (1955-1959) and Professor of Labor Relations and Labor Law at the University from 1959-1962.

In 1962 he was named the Commonwealth's Attorney General (Secretario de Justicia), and served as such until 1965.

President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Judge Cancio to the federal bench on July 21, 1965 to fill the second seat which had been created by Congress in 1961. Because the district court was a court created by Congress pursuant to Article I of the Constitution, Judge Cancio's appointment, like the appointment of all the district judges who preceded him, was for a fixed term. He was sworn in by Judge Clemente Ruiz Nazario in the hospital room where Judge Ruiz Nazario was convalescing.

Three months after Judge Cancio's appointment, on September 12, 1965, Congress enacted Public Law 89-571, which granted life tenure to appointments to judgeships for the District of Puerto Rico, placing the court in the same status as other United States District Courts.

On January 16, 1967, President Johnson nominated Judge Cancio to become the first Article III Judge to serve in Puerto Rico with life tenure, or as the Constitution states, "during good Behaviour."  After a short, but intense, confirmation hearing during which he responded clearly and succinctly to pointed questions about the court's heavy caseload and its case management, Judge Cancio was confirmed by the Senate on June 12, 1967 and received his Commission that same day. When Judge Ruiz Nazario retired, Judge Cancio became Chief Judge.

Not very many people know that Judge Cancio presided over a death-penalty case in 1968. The case involved a woman who was accused of stabbing her husband, who was in the military, in Fort Buchanan. Judge Cancio gave what are considered brilliant jury instructions. After two days of deliberations, the jury failed to reach a verdict. Judge Cancio dismissed the jury and scheduled a new trial. The defense requested a peremptory acquittal, but the United States Attorney dismissed the charges.

In 1970, true to his principles, sincerity and firmness of conscience, this veteran of World War II symbolically sentenced a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War to imprisonment for one hour and suggested it be served in the United States Marshals Office.

Judge Cancio resigned on January 31, 1974 after a successful and busy tenure, and engaged in the private practice of law until his retirement.

His physical imprint on the Courthouse remains literally visible. The flag of Puerto Rico is displayed together with the flag of the United States at every bench and behind every judge's desk in the district court because Judge Cancio ordered it that way.

On July 10, 2008, during the unveiling of his portrait, Judge Cancio was inducted into The Federal Bar Association as a Life Fellow. He died peacefully on December 16, 2008 at the age of 88.