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Cannon lashes out at GOP critics and Florida Bar in merit retention fight

Outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon, a vigorous critic of the Florida Supreme Court , chastised critics of the Republican Party of Florida, which has come out in opposition to the three justices up for merit retention.  

“It is political speech,’’ Cannon said Wednesday. “The very people who are opposing the merit retention process now, asked for this system back in the 70s and 80s and they who consider themselves the defenders of free speech and political participation should be ashamed of themselves for criticizing people for or against justices,’’ he said.  

Last week, the Republican Party of Florida took the unprecedented step of entering into the debate on a merit retention vote for Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barabara Pariente and Peggy Quince, who are each on the November ballot. State law requires that the justices come before voters every six years to determine whether they continue to demonstrate the qualities needed to render fair and impartial rulings. 

The decision of the party to get involved has come under fire from critics on both sides of the aisle, as well as Justice Lewis who warned that the judiciary is under assault because of partisan politics.   

Cannon, a lawyer who is in the process of moving his law firm from Winter Park to Tallahassee, has been a critic of the high court since the court struck down three constitutional amendments written by the Legislature in 2010. He said it is “ludicrous” for people to argue that it is inappropriate for a political party to enter into this debate.

He said that “merit retention is one of the only accountability checks on the judicial branch left. I think it was wise that we stopped having elected justices back in the 70s or 80s, or whenever it was, but frankly merit retention is intended to be an accountability check on justices. As such, the very reformers that are criticizing the participation in the process -- they created it.” 

Cannon called out Sandy D’Alemberte and Dick Batchelor, two former Democratic state legislators who have criticized the Republican Party of Florida for politicizing the debate by opposing the retention of the three justices.

D’Alemberte was one of the architects of the merit retention system, which was approved by voters in 1976 as one of several judicial reforms put in place in the wake of corruption on the Supreme Court and to remove the party politics from the judicial system.

 “They asked for it, they got it,’’ Cannon said.

D’Alemberte and Batchelor, however, have not criticized all opposition to the justices. Instead, they argue the merit retention system is not designed to be a referendum on judicial rulings – as Cannon and others suggest -- but instead a check on whether the justices demonstrate the qualities needed to render fair and impartial rulings.

Cannon also lashed out at the Florida Bar, which has conducted an education campaign to instruct voters about the merit retention process.

“They are using $300,000 of our bar dues for a so-called merit retention campaign, which is a thinly-veiled effort to support the justices when they certainly didn’t do that when (Justice Charles) Canady and (Justice Ricky) Polston were up two years ago,'' he said. "I think the bar is in fact political. I think it is acting politically and it is hypocritical when they suggest this is about the politicization of the judiciary.”

Canady and Polston were both appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, then a Republican, and were successfully approved in a merit retention election in 2010.

That same year, three justices were removed from the Iowa Supreme Court after outside conservative and religious-backed groups financed last minute attack ads criticizing the justices for ruling that an Iowa law barring same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

Iowa legal scholars said it was a misuse of the state’s merit retention and selection system.

Cannon criticized the court as his first act as speaker in 2011, claiming that it did not have the authority to strike down the legislature’s amendments from the 2012 ballot. Late in the legislative session, he then pushed a proposal to dramatically change the state court system by adding three justices to the court and then splitting the court into two five-member courts, with one handling criminal cases and the other civil cases.

Cannon withdrew his proposal when it was clear there weren’t the votes to pass it in the state Senate but he succeeded in getting a compromise plan through that would put an amendment on the 2012 ballot that would give the the legislature more authority over judicial appointments.

Under the plan, the Senate would be given confirmation power over the governor’s nominees to the Supreme Court and the House would get access to the investigative reports of the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Supporters say the measure, Amendment 5, will make the appellate court system run more efficiently and add a layer of accountability before Supreme Court justices are appointed. Opponents counter that it is a dangerous attempt to inject politics into the judiciary by giving legislators more authority.

Cannon said that the opponents of Amendment 5 are “missing the fact that it will actually put the Florida system more in line with the federal Constitution.”

He said he “would be supportive of going for a complete federal system – where they are appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Senate and serve until their mandatory retirement age.’’

The Florida Bar created the education campaign in part as a response to the 2010 Iowa vote, hoping to educate voters about the need to protect judges from fearing for their jobs if they follow the law but make an unpopular ruling. Part of the group’s campaign includes a video statement from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who was appointed to the court by former President Ronald Reagan.

In it, O’Connor says that many people may not know the names of the justices and judges on the November ballot but “there is something you do need to know about. Retention elections in Florida are very important.”

She said that for fair and impartial justice to be continued in Florida, justices appointed must be able to operate “without fear of retaliation for making a decision. That’s called judicial independence and judicial independence is very hard to create or establish and it’s easier for most people to imagine to damage or destroy.’’

O’Connor commended the current merit retention process saying that “for more than three decades, Florida’s merit retention system has helped buffer decisions” but, she added, “in order for the system to work, the voters in Florida have to educate themselves and to make informed decisions. This is a very important and historic moment for the Sunshine State of Florida.”


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who cares what dean cannon thinks. He's a corrupt politician that is acting like a sore loser. good riddance.

JP Knight

Speaker Cannon makes some good points about the Florida Bar, to which all lawyers must belong. One could reasonably argue that if the Bar had not gotten involved to support the 3 justices then RPOF would not have jumped in. Of course at this stage it's impossible to know for sure. All too often the Left pretends no "politics" are involved as long as only the Left's point of view is being heard - but then screams "politics!" the second a conservative voice enters the debate.


JP is correct. And Cannon is right about those who set up an election process for retaining justices are a pile of steaming hypocrisy for now complaining that political forces are motivating the citizenry to use that process to register their disapproval.

Even so, it is a waste of Republican money to target justices instead of targeting other politicians who are a greater threat to our well-being. (Do not doubt for one second that state supreme court justices are political animals.)

And when it comes to the Florida bar, it is a professional guild that owns an entire branch of government. That's not only anti-democratic, it's corrupt and corrupting.

Letting only lawyers be judges who get to decide what the law is, is like letting only gardeners decide what we should grow in our yards and requiring all of us to hire only gardeners to work in those yards.


Let me preface this by saying I am not a fan of Dean Cannon - at all. But he is 100% correct on these points. Sandy D'Alemberte and the rest of the liberals who sit on and control the Florida Bar Board of Governors are complete hypocrites. They indeed asked for this system.

You know, its amazing. Anytime liberal judges like Pariente are critizized, its "politicizing the court". But when liberals attack Cannady, all you hear are crickets from the Bar.

These justices have put themselves in this position by being allied with the plaintiffs bar 90% of the time, and against business owners in this state, inventing laws, throwing out constitutional and reasonable reforms like the caps on attorneys fees in workers compensation.

They have gone out of their way as activists to promote liberal causes and strike down laws passed by the Legislature anytime Dexter Douglass, Sandy, Fred Levin - and other liberal lawyers bow up.

I dont know if this will succeed - I believe it will not, and personally I will be voting to retain Justice Quince, who I believe is too liberal, but fair. But the Bar's hypocricy makes me sick. I wish I could stipulate my dues not be used for this "campaign".


I mistakenly implied Sandy sits on the Bar Board. I didnt mean to imply that.


What part of seperate but equal branches of government; does he not understand? Of course, if "I" felt that any court was overtly political, and it wasn't leaning in my direction, I'd whine as well I suppose. When was the last Justice appointed by a Democrat? Floriduh is already the laughing stock of much of America, and deservadly so. Floriduh, has been statistically shown to be the most politically corrupt. So, why wouldn't Cannon want this buffer? If you have a sitting court, controled by a sitting legislature; you are down to two branches of government. No checks, no balance; you then are no longer a democratic republic. Say what you will, we need three branches of government to survive; otherwise, why have elections?

Jack Thompson

The Bar's "merit retention education" effort is an illegal campaign contribution to these three justices. It violates a unanimous US Supreme Court ruling in Keller v. State Bar of California that strictly prohibits such expenditures by state bars.

Pariente, Lewis, and Quince all lied in formal documents filed with the Secretary of State in asserting their retentions were opposed by public organizations back in January of this year. There were absolutely NO groups opposing their retentions at that time.

This lie by these three justices then allowed them, illegally, to raise campaign funds used to advertise for their retentions. This lie must lead to their removal from the ballot, since they have raised one million dollars illegally.

Pariente started this partisan fight with absolutely stupid, false comments to the HOA in Delray Beach, so she is getting the GOP blowback that she stupidly incited. Jack Thompson, Miami, Florida

Doug E.

Mr. Thompson,
As if often the case with tea partiers, you are simply wrong. A quick review of sunbiz.org (http://www.sunbiz.org/pdf/12425552.pdf) demonstrates that Restore Justice, inc., the front group created by Jesse Phillips and his undisclosed backers was incorporated in September 2011. Dean Cannon, whose attempts at packing the court failed in March of 2011, is likely involved in Restore Justice. Cannon took these actions because the court in a 5-2 ruling prevented him from putting a misleading amendment on the ballot in an effort to avoid the mandates of the Affordable Care Act. Because Dean Cannon is a child and didn't get his way, he decided he was going to do what children do - throw a temper tantrum that persists until this day.
There is a reason that all three of these justices received scores over 90% from the lawyers of this state. Because whether they agree with their rulings or not (half of the lawyers appearing before them necessarily lose), the lawyers universally respect their legal acumen, work ethic, and professionalism. No one is in a better position to judge whether these Judges deserve to be retained than the people that practice before them. To suggest otherwise is to acknowledge that your motivations are solely partisan, and not in the best interests of the state. There is a reason that there are hundreds of republican critics attacking this move. It is wrong, regardless of who is in power. To test this theory, ask yourself if you would support this effort if a democratic governor was selecting the replacement judges? If your answer is no, then you should not contribute to this dangerous precedent to undermine the independence of the only part of our government standing between you and the whims of whatever party is in power. The judiciary is not designed to be a rubber stamp. If we misuse the merit retention process in this fashion, we will be creating a judiciary that is simply a rubber stamp for the legislature. That is an outcome we must avoid at all costs, regardless of which party is in power.
And "Stuart", your comments are most unfortunate. As a lawyer, you should know better. You are also in the extreme minority of less than 10%. that should tell you something.
Finally to Cannon's question why didn't the Bar support Canaday and Polston when they were up two years ago? BECAUSE NO ONE CAME OUT AND OPPOSED THEIR MERIT RETENTION, YOU PETULANT CHILD.

Beaux Jingles

Like all humans, judges make decisions based on what they feel is right and then in some cases use "equity" or constrained interpretations of statutes to back up their feelings. These techniques appear very lawyerly and meritorious but still lead to a bad and often politically charged decision. So while 90% of the lawyers vote positively (btw, what was the turnout on that vote?) for these incumbents, the rest of us say, Are you kidding? Supporting homosexual adoption can be done in a meritorious manner? Refusing to inform a parent of a child's medical procedure aka abortion is entitled to judicial deprecation? I'm with Canon. Judges, you continue to vote your consciences on your cases, I'll vote mine on your decisions. That IS MERIT based! And RPOF, and any other entity that has guts to speak up, please tell me about the good, the bad ,and the ugly decisions that aren't getting reported on by the media. Florida Bar give the money back for the "education campaign" to retain the incumbents and register as a PAC and seek donations rather than TAKING the members money without due process of the law (You almost sound like a voluntary organization...youre not ! you are government...comply with the Sunshine law while your at it !). And God Bless Jack Thompson for using your full name....Hope you're not an attorney!!!

Doug E.

Yes, because you, Mr. Beaux Jingles are better suited to determine what the law is than lawyers and Judges. Who needs law school anyway? The Bible is the only law that matters to you. You do understand that our country was founded in response to people like you, who would subjugate the law to religion? Oh wait, who am I kidding, of course you don't understand that. You are a Tea Partier. You understand nothing.

Jack Thompson

Dearest Doug E:

I'm not in the Tea Party. I don't even like tea. You call me a "petulant child." You are the tea kettle calling a pristine, unused tea pot black.

Restore Justice is not opposed to the retention of these three justices, nor can it be, prohibited from doing so by the IRS code. You really need to check your laws there, dude.

Since Restore Justice is not opposed to their retention, but is merely a voter education entity, I and others formally asked the lawyer for the three justices to identify what "organizations publicly opposed to their retention" are. Note that the Justices certified to the Secretary of State that there was not just one but multiple organizations opposed to their retention.

The lawyer refused to answer, and because he and the justices were caught in this lie, that there were multiple organizations (plural) as formally asserted to the Secretary of State, their lawyer then said, "We can raise money for their retention even without any opposition." That is utterly, absolutely, incontrovertibly FALSE. Even The Florida Bar has formally and publicly admitted that NO money can be raised by the justices unless there is a group that is actively opposing their retentions.

So, the justices lied to the Secretary of State, and they will be successfully denied their seats on the court even if retained because of pending ethics complaints against them pointing out that they lied.

Really, Doug E. (you're afraid to identify yourself fully because you are a typical liberal coward), you have your facts wrong, your law wrong, and your epithets wrong.

I'm not a petulant child. But you are... Jack Thompson

Jack Thompson

And by the way, it's not "merit retention." It's "retention." These leftwingnut clowns can be not retained for any reason whatsoever. Here's a good reason: They don't care what the Constitution of this state or this country say. Heck, they don't even care that they can't raised money for their retention campaigns. They are three scofflaws, who should be bounced simply because they're tyrants. Jack Thompson

Doug E.

I was calling Dean Cannon a petulant child, not you. But it is abundantly clear that you are no better than Cannon. Thanks for disclosing that you are part of the group behind this assault on the separation of powers. Good luck with your ethics complaint. That should be as successful as the legal challenge based on the notarization of their signatures. Your contention that Restore justice isn't opposed to the retention of the three judges is as laughable as your contention it isn't merit retention. One need look no further than restore justice's website, which has "merit retention" all over it. And, of course, "Stop Judicial Activism" under pictures of the 3 judges isn't a call to oust them at all.
And then there is this: "I don't have a fundamental objection to the justices raising money," said Jesse Phillips, who is leading Restore Justice 2012, the campaign seeking to oust the three justices. http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/state-regional/bumpy-road-to-retention-for-florida-supreme-court-/nN3WK/
n organization called Restore Justice 2012, whose leader, Jesse Phillips, is close to Plakon, is working to deny Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince another six-year term on the court in merit retention this year.
So whose payroll on you on Jack, Americans for Prosperity, Charles and David Koch? Gosh, I wonder why they would take such an interest in this election.
You and your billionaire backers are once again trying to take advantage of low information voters and trick people into doing something against their interests by deceiving them. They wouldn't do it if it didn't work. But I have a feeling the unanimous opposition you are facing from newspapers throughout the state, and many in your own party, who know that this is nothing more than a blatant power grab in an effort to advance your corporatist agenda. Only an Anti-American corporate apologist such as your self would use an Orwellian invocation of the Constitution in your effort to destroy the independence of the judiciary.
I'd suggest you have trouble sleeping at night. But you probably sleep very well on the big pile of cash you sold your soul for.


Mr. Thompson, if you are the Jack Thompson that I think you are, then I know EXACTLY why you are saying what you are. You sir have a vendetta against the Florida Bar Association and the Florida Supreme Court.


This is my favorite part of that article:

"In July 2008, Thompson was permanently disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court for inappropriate conduct, including making false statements to tribunals and disparaging and humiliating litigants."

Doug E

Sounds like you got the right guy, Melissa. Good work. I see Mr. Thompson is continuing his fine tradition of making false statements wherever he goes. The bottom line is that anyone in favor of this effort to polticize the judiciary is either woefully misinformed, hiding a self serving agenda or both. There is no fourth option.



Notice that he hasn't come back since I posted that? He hates that he has been "outed".

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