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.

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Gaetz and Weatherford say they weren't consulted on on RPOF court decision

The decision by the Republican Party of Florida's executive committee last week to oppose the retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices in November was done without the approval of Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, the Republican leaders said Monday.

"I was not consulted about that decision and there is no reason why they would consult me,'' said Gaetz, R-Niceville, who is designated to be the next president of the Senate in November. "I'm focused on Senate races and we're locked in some tight ones."

Gaetz would not say whether he personally supported or opposed the justices but he told the Herald/Times that the millions raised to elect Republicans to his chamber will not be used to back any attempt to oust Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

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July 03, 2012

Judge declines to rule on prison health care dispute

The state's circuit court will not rule on whether legislators broke the law in their push for what would have been the country's most sweeping overhaul of the prison healthcare system, leaving the year-long dispute unresolved.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll declined to give an opinion Monday on whether lawmakers violated the constitution by using fine-print budget language--called proviso-- to issue a massive outsourcing of inmate health care.

Lawmakers hoped the change would cut prison health care costs by 7 percent. But two employee unions sued the state for tucking such a massive change into the budget rather than vetting it through the Legislature's long-standing committee structure.

Carroll's order says any court opinion would be moot because the 2011 budget, which contains the language on prison health privatization, expired Saturday. There is no provision in the 2012 budget that calls for privatization of inmate health services.

Plaintiffs also asked the court to forbid the Department of Corrections from future outsourcing of prison health services, but Carroll refused the request.

"The law is clear in Florida that the circuit court cannot give advisory opinions," the ruling states.

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May 10, 2012

FL Supreme Court hears foreclosure appeal

TALLAHASSEE — In a case that could impact thousands of homeowners facing foreclosure, Florida's Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday on whether a judge can revive a dropped case when the plaintiff is suspected of fraud.

The justices took up Pino vs. The Bank of New York, a Palm Beach County case in which drywall hanger Roman Pino accused his bank of fraudulently backdating documents used against him in foreclosure proceedings.

The bank dropped the case, corrected the paperwork, and re-filed five months later. The parties reached a settlement, but justices still wanted to rule on whether a plaintiff's right to drop a case trumps the court's obligation to penalize for fraud.

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May 03, 2012

Justices fire back in controversy over their campaign paperwork

Florida's three Supreme Court justices, who are under fire for using court staff to assist them in their last-minute completion of their paperwork needed to meet the deadline for their merit retention campaigns, shot back on Thursday with a letter from a well-regarded constitutional law expert.

Lawyer Barry Richard, who has presided before the court on numerous cases and represented George W. Bush in the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, sided with the justices that they did nothing wrong.

"It has been common practice in Florida for many years for deputies and employees in the officers of supervisors of elections and court clerks to notarize documents filed in such offices when requested by members of the public,'' Richard wrote in in a legal opinion sought by the judges' campaign counsel. "...Such notarization is offered as a public service" and "does not indicate that the notary endorses the candidacy of the person filing the documents'' Download Opinion_letter_to_DStengle[1]

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