November 02, 2012

Campaign for justices shatters $5 million mark as opposition ads barely materialized

When the Republican Party of Florida launched its “grassroots” offensive against the three justices of the Florida Supreme Court, it unleashed a sleeping giant.

The state’s legal community galvanized in defense of the justices and opened its wallets. According to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections and the IRS, lawyers are on track to raise $4 million to defend the justices in their bid to remain on the court in the November retention campaign.

The list of campaign contributions is a Who’s Who of elite law firms in Florida, including top lawyers who are politically connected with both parties. The three justices, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, also will have collectively raised another $1.5 million in their individual campaign accounts.

The $5.5 million war chest shatters any previous records for a judicial campaign in Florida.

In just three weeks, dozens of law firms ponied up checks as large as $100,000 to an electioneering and communications organization set up to defend the justices. The organization, called Defend Justice from Politics, used the cash to pay for mailers, robo-calls, ads on social media and four to six weeks of television ads in the state’s largest media markets.

Supporters are predicting victory. “It’s over,” said Neil Roth, a Miami trial lawyer who has quietly coordinated the campaign to defend the justices. He predicts the justices are going to win the 50 percent plus one margin to be retained on the bench another six years. More here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/02/3079019/campaign-for-justices-is-on-track.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/02/3079019/campaign-for-justices-is-on-track.html#storylink=cpy

October 26, 2012

Prosecutor in murder case at center of retention fight says justices are being unfairly targeted

The prosecutor in a controversial murder case that has galvanized opposition to the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention said Friday that the criticism  of the justices is “offensive and unfair” and they are being “attacked for overtly political reasons.”

Curtis M. French was a senior assistant attorney general in 2003 when the court ruled against him and ordered a new trial for Tallahassee murder Joe Elton Nixon. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Florida court ruling and now, nine years later, the Florida Republican Party has used the high court’s decision as its rationale for ousting the three justices from the state Supreme Court. Nixon remains on death row.

French not only has no hard feelings against the justices, he told the Herald/Times, he believes the criticism of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince is “politically motivated” and unjustified.

The Republican Party of Florida, as well as the conservative-leaning Restore Justice 2012 organization, have accused the justices of “judicial activism” for their ruling on the case. The party’s executive committee unanimously voted to oppose the justices retention because of this case and others.

 “They’re using the case that I worked on as a means to give Republicans the opportunity to appoint more right-leaning justices,’’ French said.

Continue reading "Prosecutor in murder case at center of retention fight says justices are being unfairly targeted" »

October 24, 2012

Report from conservative legal group: Florida justices are not activist

A Florida professor commissioned by the conservative Federalist Society to review controversial cases of the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention concluded Wednesday that some of the most loaded charges used by opponents against the justices are unfounded.  Download Federalist Society

“There does not appear to be a pattern of unprincipled decision-making by any of the justices of the Florida Supreme Court,’’ wrote Florida International University profressor Elizabeth Price Foley after analyzing nine controversial cases since 2000. “There are disagreements, true. But disagreements do not suggest that those with whom you disagree are unprincipled.”

Although the Federalist Society does not take a position in the merit retention races, Foley said in a conference call with reporters that her review found that the controversial rulings “are in fact supported by some prior precedent and they do involve acceptable methods of legal reasoning.” 

Opponents who want to accuse them of judicial activism, she said, are “going to have a hard time making that label stick.’’ 

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are on the ballot in a yes or no vote and, for the first time, the Florida Republican Party has mounted a campaign to encourage voters to reject them.

Continue reading "Report from conservative legal group: Florida justices are not activist" »

October 18, 2012

Court appears skeptical of Bernard's Florida House primary appeal

From the News Service of Florida:

UPDATE: The News Service of Florida corrected a mistake in the third paragraph of this report, clarifying that if 40 absentee ballots were thrown out in the case it potentially could put Rep. Mack Bernard over the top in the race. Initially, the report said that the action would put Bernard in the lead.

Democratic Senate candidate Mack Bernard's quest to overturn his 17-vote primary loss in August met a trio of skeptical appellate judges on Thursday, as they seemed unwilling to second-guess a lower court's decision rejecting the challenge.

A three judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal heard arguments in a case pitting Bernard against fellow Democrat Jeff Clemens to see who will represent the strongly Democratic Senate District 27 in Palm Beach County.

Though they didn't rule, the judges said they would be hard-pressed to overturn a decision last month by Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis. The circuit judge let stand a Palm Beach County canvassing board decision to throw out nearly 40 absentee ballots that, if accepted, could potentially have put Bernard over the top in the tight race.

Citing a 2011 state election law, appeals-court Judge Nikki Clark seemed to echo the sentiments of her colleagues that Lewis appeared to fulfill a clearly defined obligation to compare the signatures on questionable ballots with those on voter registration records and determine if the canvassing board had abused its discretion by invalidating the votes.

Continue reading "Court appears skeptical of Bernard's Florida House primary appeal" »

October 15, 2012

Thurston calls out Bondi and Cannon, urges rejection of merit retention attacks

Rep. Perry Thurston, a Democrat from Plantation and the the incoming House Democratic Leader, issued an Open Letter to Floridians Monday, urging them to reject attempts to politicize the judiciary, as well as oppose Amendment 5, which would require Senate approval of judicial appointments.

In his statement, Thurston also urged Floridians to "call on state Attorney General Pam Bondi to reject the Republican Party of Florida’s attack on the independent judiciary" and his letter chastised outgoing House Speaker Dean Cannon for double-talk.

UPDATE: Cannon responded to Thurston with these comments: “I appreciate the irony of the most irrationally partisan Democrat leader in recent years accusing everyone else of partisanship.” 

Continue reading "Thurston calls out Bondi and Cannon, urges rejection of merit retention attacks" »

October 12, 2012

Sens. Garcia, Dockery and Jones speak up against GOP decision on merit retention

Two outgoing Republican senators and one returning member joined a growing chorus of prominent Floridians Friday and signed a joint statement opposing the Republican Party of Florida's executive board decision to oppose the merit retention of Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

"The Justices who are up for merit retention on the November ballot have served ably and honestly in their roles as Supreme Court Justices,'' wrote Sens. Rene Garcia of Miami, Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Dennis Jones of Semnole, in a joint letter. Dockery and Jones are retiring because of term limits this fall. Garcia was elected withouth opposition.

They urged the party "to reconsider this unprecedented insertion of politics into what has been a system that has served Florida and her citizens well."

Here's their letter:

Continue reading "Sens. Garcia, Dockery and Jones speak up against GOP decision on merit retention" »

October 09, 2012

Committee to defend justices launches first television ad

 The Committee to Defend Justice from Politics, the political committee operated by Republican Stanley Tate and former City of Coral Gables general counsel Elizabeth M. Herhandez, is up with its first ad in Tampa, Orlando and Miami today defending the three Supreme Court justices up for merit retention.

"What do the politicians in Tallahassee want?'' asks the announcer in the 30-second spot. "Absolute power,'' he answers. "Even over our courts." The announcer then quotes a series of newspaper editorials critical of the Republican Party of Florida's decision to get involved in the issue and asks voters: "Want to stop the politicians from trying to take over the Supreme Court? Then stand up for our justices against this political power grab."

The problem with the accusation is that there is no politician in Tallahassee who has openly admitted to being out to get the three justices up for merit retention.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz both said they were not consulted before the RPOF's executive board took it's unanimous vote to oppose R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

Continue reading "Committee to defend justices launches first television ad" »

Former Republican judge and 2 US Attorneys to FL GOP: it's a "mistake" to politicize Supreme Court justice fight

Former U.S. Attorneys Roberto Martinez and Marcos Jimenez joined with Allison DeFoor, a former judge and GOP Lt. Gov. candidate, want the Republican Party of Florida to stop actively campaigning against three Florida Supreme Court justices whose rulings have irked conservatives. The three lawyers all say it's bad for government. Here's their Oct. 1 letter:

We, respectfully and as Republicans with long standing credentials, including former service by one of us as the Vice-Chair of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), suggest a reappraisal of the decision by the Executive Committee of the RPOF formally opposing the merit retention election of three Supreme Court Justices. We request that you deliver this letter to each member of the Executive Committee.

Judges should not decide legal cases based upon partisan politics. That is fundamental to our nation's system of government. To enhance the judiciary's neutrality and independence from partisan political activity Florida's legislature has placed legal restrictions on the type of political activity that may occur in a judicial election.

Florida Statute 105.09 makes it illegal. punishable as a criminal misdemeanor, for political parties to endorse, support, or assist a candidate for judicial office. Florida Statute 105.701 makes it illegal. subject to the payment of a civil fine, for any person to use a party affiliation in connection with a judicial election, including in merit retention elections.

The RPOF was within its legal right to express its position publicly. But, just because it has that legal right, does not mean it was right for it to do so. The retention of Supreme Court Justices should not be turned into partisan political affairs.

Continue reading "Former Republican judge and 2 US Attorneys to FL GOP: it's a "mistake" to politicize Supreme Court justice fight" »

October 08, 2012

Women lawyers: vote for justices based on ethics, not high profile cases

The number one factor voters should consider when deciding whether or not to vote for a judge in a merit retention race is the judge's ethics and integrity, according to an August polls of members of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers.

The 3,000-member organization said that lawyers surveyed said that the next top factors voters should consider when deciding whether to retain justices is the judge's impartiality, commitment to the law, judicial temperament and demeanor and legal abilities. The least important factor, according to 75 percent of those surveyed, was the judge's ruling in high profile cases.

Florida Supreme Court Justices, Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and R. Fred Lewis, along with 15 appeals court justices, will appear on the November 6, 2012 ballot. The survey was part of an the organization's effort to educate its members on merit retention. The Florida Association of Women Lawyers is a a voluntary bar association that provides a statewide voice for Florida’s women lawyers.

From its statement:

Continue reading "Women lawyers: vote for justices based on ethics, not high profile cases" »

October 07, 2012

Florida justices learn the art of fighting back as retention race heats up

The host committee for the campaign fundraiser at the DoubleTree Hotel here in June included former Gov. Reubin Askew, five former Supreme Court justices and some of Florida’s most prominent lawyers and lobbyists.

But unlike most Tallahassee political gatherings, the beneficiaries were not politicians. They were three justices of the Florida Supreme Court: R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince, who each face yes or no votes in next month’s statewide merit retention election.

The justices have now rid their robes to play politics in response to what has become the most politically-charged merit retention election in state history. They are fighting for their judicial lives as they fend off attacks from several conservative groups who want them booted from the high court’s bench.

In Florida, tea party groups and the Republican Party of Florida are targeting justices, with one conservative group even financing television ads.

To combat the attacks, the justices have hired political consultants, created web sites and established political committees to raise money. Their supporters have raised at least $330,000 for each justice — more than most candidates running for the state House.

The once sleepy, non-partisan, merit retention campaigns are now expensive political battles.

“We had to speak out and educate, otherwise the attacks would go unanswered,’’ Quince explained to voters at a forum at Florida State University College of Law on Friday. More here.


Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/10/06/v-fullstory/3037663/fla-supreme-court-justices-fight.html#storylink=cpy