Governor Rick Scott goes for cheap political points in ordering Supreme Court investigation

Florida Governor Rick Scott has ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to decide if three Supreme Court justices should be investigated for criminal actions, hoping to score cheap political points for what appear to be diminutive and petty allegations. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, alleges that three veteran Florida Supreme Court justices illegally used state employees to help finish election-related paperwork. Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince had their election paperwork notarized by court employees so they could turn it in on time to be eligible for the merit retention ballot in November.

Although a state law prohibits candidates for office from using state employees to help their campaign during working hours, it is unclear if this law applies to judges as well and has not been used against them in the past. As reported by the Associated Press, election records show that four justices on the ballot in 2010 also had their paperwork notarized by court employees. These clerical actions are not uncommon, nor are they something that the governor and other state legislators should be wasting their time worrying about.

It has also been alleged by some (including the ideological political advocacy group Southeastern Legal Foundation) that the justices are breaking judicial ethics codes by campaigning for their merit retention in November. Florida laws say that justices are not permitted to campaign or raise funds unless there is an organized opposition. An organization, Restore Justice 2012, clearly constitutes “organized opposition,” despite their arbitrary claims to the contrary. Their website includes a section labeled “Stop Judicial Activism” which explains decisions it does not support, there are events where Restore Justice will be speaking around the state, and the group even offers “campaign materials” for sale in their website store. Restore Justice is designated as a 527 organization for political purposes.

Using paltry allegations to rouse up the notion that these justices are somehow unfit to be retained in November is cheap political grandstanding. In reality, Governor Rick Scott and other lawmakers are doing more campaigning against these veteran justices than the justices are doing against their constant barrage of frivolous attacks. Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince do not deserve these flippant assaults on their character, and they certainly do not deserve to be voted out in November. It is abundantly clear that uber-conservative, Tea Party politics are behind these assertions, not a legitimate care for the future of Florida and a respect for the judiciary. Vote “yes” to retain Justices Pariente, Lewis and Quince, and ensure that Florida’s judicial system remains non-partisan for the foreseeable future.

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