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.

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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:

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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

October 01, 2012

Police and fire unions blast GOP attack on court

The Republican leaders in two police and firefighter unions warned Monday that their party's attempt to oust three of Florida’s sitting justices is a “chilling’’ development that could lead to trouble for law enforcement.

“If successful, it could put active law enforcement officers in harm’s way,’’ said Jeff McAdams of the Gainesville Police Department, a Republican and the legislative chair for the Fraternal Order of Police. “Any time the courts, our judicial system, is challenged in such a fashion to bring discredit upon it, the public loses trust in government.”

The Fraternal Order of Police joined with members of the Florida Professional Fire Fighters to speak out against the decision by the Republican Party of Florida last month to oppose three justices who are up for merit retention.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince go before voters for a yes or no vote in November. Voters must decide whether they should be allowed to stay on the bench and, for the first time since the merit retention system was begun in 1976, a political party has taken sides on the issue.

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RPOF opposes justices but takes 'no position' on amendment to give power to Senate

In an interesting turn of events, the Florida Republican Executive Committee that voted to oppose the retention of the three Florida Supreme Court justices in November has also voted to support all but one of the 10 amendments on the ballot.

Which amendment did they take "no position" on?

The board voted to support all but Amendment 5 -- the one that would weaken the governor's powers over the judiciary by requiring that all justices to the Florida Supreme Court, as well as judges to the appellate courts, come before the state Senate for confirmation. The amendment placed on the ballot by legislative leaders as a compromise in a broader effort to reshape the Supreme Court.

Republican Party of Florida spokesman Brian Burgessconfirmed the board decided not to vote on the proposal but would not offer a reason why. "It's a grassroots vote,'' he said. He noted that the decisions to oppose the retention of R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince was unanimous. He said he did not know what the vote was on the decision to take no position on Amendment 5.

If the RPOF succeeds and the three justices are removed from the court, Gov. Rick Scott would have the power to appoint three replacements. If Amendment 5 receives 60 percent of the vote and becomes law, his appointees would have to also be confirmed by the state Senate.

If Amendment 5 fails, the existing process would remain in place: a panel of legal experts screens candidates and chooses nominees to send to the governor for each opening on the court. The governor's selects from that list and his appointee would not face a confirmation vote by the Legislature.

Opposition group releases new ad attacking Florida justices


Restore Justice 2012, the group formed to campaign against what they consider "judicial activism" by the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention, is out with a new web ad.

The two-minute video highlights the same 2003 murder case that was underscored by the Republican Party of Florida when it announced a "grassroots" decision at its last executive board meeting to oppose retention of Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and R. Fred Lewis. The party did not oppose the justices in 2006 when the justices were first up for merit retention after the same decision.

The justices "wanted to give this unrepentant killer another chance,'' the announcer says.

This will be the second ad aimed at attacking the justices since the party made its decision. Last week, the conservative Americans for Prosperity Florida chapter announced it was running an ad critical of the same justices for their decision to throw a flawed amendment off the November ballot that would have served as a referendum on health care reform. No details yet on the size of the ad buy and which media markets it is reaching.

Restore Justice 2012 has kept a low profile until now. It is organized as a 527 through the IRS and raised $60,000 through July 13, the last reporting period, with $41,000 of it coming from a Miami physician, Allan Jacobs.

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September 28, 2012

RPOF chairman pushes back with attack on justices as "red-faced" and angry

Hit with a barrage of criticism over the Republican Party of Florida siding with a right-wing conservative group in opposition to the state's three Florida Supreme Court justices, RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry roared back on Friday with an op-ed in a handful of newspapers and online sites.

Some news organizations, such as the Tampa Bay Times, have refrained from running it because they claim it includes false information.

"Here’s a riddle for Florida voters,'' Curry begins, in an opening laced with sarcasm. "Who wears a black robe, is sitting on a stack of a million greenbacks, and has a red face because voters get to decide whether or not they keep their jobs?"

He answers his rhetorical question by naming the state's three justices who are up for merit retention, Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. Then adds:

 "The three of them are sitting on a combined political war chest of more than a million dollars, given to them by special interest groups, trial lawyers and political activists.  And they are red-faced with anger that voters get to decide their fate at the ballot box."

Curry said the idea of opposing the three justices sprung from a "grassroots groundswell raised the issue ahead of a board meeting" and he denied persistent rumors that the issue was inserted onto the agenda at the urging of Gov. Rick Scott, who will be able to appoint replacements if the three justices are not retained. 

"They couldn’t be more out of touch with reality,'' Curry wrote. "...the governor had nothing to do with it."

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September 26, 2012

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.” 

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September 24, 2012

Justice Lewis speaks out, says independence of 'entire branch of government' is under threat

Justice R. Fred Lewis told the Hillsoborough County Bar Association on Monday that the Republican Party of Florida's entry Friday into the judicial retention campaign shifted what had been a whisper campaign against the three justices into a frontal assault on the judiciary.

"This is the most stressful time I've ever experienced in my life,'' he said, three days after the party announced it will oppose him and two other justices because of their "activist" and liberal views. "I'm embarrassed to have to plead for our court system. If we fail, we fail the people of Florida. There is an entire branch of government to protect and defend. We cannot sacrifice fairness and impartiality and the court system to political whims."

Lewis, who is under fire for voting with the majority on a controversial 2003 opinion in which he delivered the dissent, chastised the party for getting its facts wrong when it released its statement last week.

Continue reading "Justice Lewis speaks out, says independence of 'entire branch of government' is under threat" »