Despite concerns that proposed changes would further politicize Florida's courts, the House civil justice subcomittee on Wednesday passed bills that would require appellate judges to receive approval from 60 percent of voters to remain on the bench after their terms expire and make investigations of judicial misconduct public record. Both are changes proposed by House speaker Dean Cannon, who was irked that the Supreme Court last year struck from the November ballot three Constitutional amendments sought by the Republican legislature.
Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Democrat from Miami Beach, objected to the higher threshold for judicial retention, saying it would subject judges, who are supposed to be nonpartisan, to a more rigorous campaign for election.
"What we're really doing here is further politicizing the appellate court system which is extremely dangerous," Steinberg said. "I'm just astonished that this is before us."
Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Shalimar, responded: "It is comical to believe the court is not already political."
The panel also rejected complaints from Miles McGrane, who chairs the Judidial Qualifications Commission, about changes to the open records rules. He said keeping those records sealed allows the commission to get bad judges to resign rather than incur the costs of a trial.
Details of Cannon's proposal to split the current seven-member Supreme Court into two five-member courts, one for criminal cases and one for civil suits, also emerged at the hearing. Under the plan, the three senior judges, all appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, would serve on the criminal court. The remaining four, appointed by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, would serve on the civil court. Gov. Rick Scott would fill the vacancies.