Spring Break on the Florida Supreme Court

According to news reports from Florida, Governor Rick Scott nearly had the opportunity to replace three of the Florida Supreme Court’s liberal justices. The three justices — Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince — must stand before voters in a retention election this November, but apparently forgot about a key statutory deadline for filing forms relating to their candidacy. Then, in their haste to meet the deadline, they may have committed crimes by engaging state employees in campaign activity.  

The Tampa Bay Times describes the drama:

It was six minutes after 10 a.m. on Friday morning and, Dan Stengle recalls, “my life passed before my eyes.” The legal counsel for the merit retention campaigns of state Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince had just been told by the justices’ campaign treasurer that the three justices hadn’t completed all the paperwork needed to run in their merit retention election on the November ballot.  

To make matters worse, the justices were just minutes into a two-hour redistricting hearing — the only issue since Bush vs. Gore on which the court has scheduled a two-hour hearing. And the deadline to file was noon. Stengle, whose law office is five blocks from the Supreme Court building in the Tallahassee, called the courthouse, then ran over to it. . . . .

Stengle asked Goodner [the state courts administrator] if she could get the justices’ attention. Goodner said she asked Clerk of Court Thomas D. Hall to write a note to Chief Justice Charles Canady. Hall then slipped the note to Canady. “Justice Canady, Lisa Goodner has emergency she needs to discuss with BJP, RFL, PAQ (the initials for the three justices). You need to take break after first hour. Tom.” Canady obliged. The court took a break halfway through deliberations. Minutes stretched into more than an hour. Meanwhile, the justices were assembled in Goodner’s office, where Stengle addressed them.

The justices’ forms were filed minutes before the deadline, but apparently they used several state employees to complete and submit them.

Florida law provides that a candidate may not “in the furtherance of his or her candidacy for nomination or election to public office in any election, use the services of any state, county, municipal, or district officer or employee during working hours.” Violation of that provision is a first-degree misdemeanor.

The three justices were already preparing to face opposition campaigns, and I am guessing that this series of events will make it a tad harder for them to argue that they are the most qualified lawyers for the job. 

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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