Just hours before the House started discussion of a bill to drastically remake the Florida Supreme Court, former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, attorneys and four former Supreme Court justices launched an initiative to stop the measure. At the behest of House Speaker Dean Cannon, HB 7111 seeks to add three justices to the high court and create two divisions, one for criminal cases and one for civil. The stated reason: Efficiency. Cannon, though has made no secret of the fact that he's irked that the court struck from the November 2010 ballot three proposed Constitutional amendments sought by Republican lawmakers. His proposal opens the door for creating a civil division in the Supreme Court with justices sympathetic to the GOP, in part by assigning the longest-serving current justices, appointed by a Democratic governor, to the criminal side and requiring Senate confirmation of new justices.
In a conference call Thursday morning to announce the launch of www.fairandimpartial.com, former Supreme Court justice Raoul Cantero declined to comment on any "nefarious motives" behind Cannon's efforts, but said there's no indication the court is inefficient.
"The fact is the caseload has decreased," he said. "There's no basis to say that the caseload of the court is such that we need addtional judges."
He noted the change would add $7 million a year to state expenditures and it would cost millions to move the Supreme Court to the new First District Court of Appeal building.
"There's just no justification for it," he said.
Graham also avoided talking about the politics behind Cannon's effort, but said he believes it threatens the independence of the state's judicial branch. He said if Cannon is unhappy that the Consitutional amendments didn't go before voters, he should work to put them on the ballot again. Reworking the court is the wrong approach, he said.
"The long-term implications of this are enormous," Graham said, noting that the suggested changes put the judiciary, which is supposed to be impartial, under the "tight control" of the political branches of state government.
"I assume that this proposal is the result of a comprehensive review of the efficiency of our court system," Graham said. "I have not personally seen that analysis, but I assume that exists."
No such analysis was presented in committee hearings on the bill.
Under questioning from Demcrats during floor discussion Thursday, Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, was unable to come up with any official report on court efficiency. He also had a hard to time responding to requests from Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to name anyone from the legal community who supports the concept.