Gov. Rick Scott formally asked one of the state's top seven justices to remove herself from the case that could determine whether he -- or Florida's next governor -- will name her replacement, after she and another justice were caught on an open mic suggesting that something related to the nominating process was "crazy."
In a motion filed Monday with the Florida Supreme Court, Scott argues he has "a reasonable basis to question her impartiality toward the governor in this proceeding" and "is reasonably in doubt that this case will not be decided fairly, impartially, and on the law alone."
He cited a the banter between Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga during a break in the proceedings, which was carried on the Florida Channel as well as a speech Pariente gave at the West Delray Beach Temple in May 2012, when she was campaigning in a retention election. She urged voters to retain her in office "because a vote against retention "will give Gov. [Rick] Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments."
The motion was filed by Dan Nordby, Scott's general counsel, who also sits on the Judicial Nominating Commission -- the body that will nominate someone to replace Pariente and Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince when they retire by law in January 2019.
The case has enormous political implications. Scott wants to be able to make the appointments to shift the balance of the court to 4-3 conservative and he has named Nordby, and his previous general counsel Jesse Panuccio, to the JNC to help him shape his legacy.
The League of Women Voters filed the lawsuit arguing that the court must clarify that the governor cannot name a successor until there is a vacancy. The vacancy on the court will occur days or hours after Scott's term ends in January 2019.
According to the exchange caught on the Florida Channel, Pariente can be seen shaking her head in apparent dismay and saying what sounds like the word “crazy,” then drawing Labarga’s attention to a piece of paper. Then Labarga is heard saying, “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.”
When it was discovered that the comments were caught on the Florida Channel, Nordby did a public records request seeking the document Pariente displayed. It was a list of the current JNC members, which included Nordby.
His motion described the exchange this way:
"After Justice Labarga reacted to the document by saying the name "Panuccio," Justice Pariente replied with the word "crazy." Justice Labarga then stated, "Izzy Reyes is on there. He'll listen to me " Pointing again to the document, Justice Pariente appeared to say, "Look whose pick they're getting...." Finally, Justice Pariente turned to Justice Quince, saying "did you see who..."