Florida Justices Seek to End Witch-hunt ASAP

Seeking to put a temporary end to the ludicrous witch-hunt mounted by ultra-conservatives, the three Florida Supreme Court Justices up for merit retention have sought to postpone depositions in the pending lawsuit against them. The lawsuit, which alleges that the justices broke state laws in filing election paperwork and seeks to remove them from the November ballot, is being fought by the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation on behalf of two Florida citizens. The justices have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, and have now filed a motion seeking a protective order that would halt discovery (the taking of depositions) until a judge rules on their motion to dismiss the case.

The Atlanta-based law firm wants to take 22 depositions, including the three justices, Secretary of State Ken Detzner, law clerks, judicial assistants, and others involved in the case. The justices’ attorneys said, “Plaintiffs’ demand to take 22 depositions prior to the court deciding the motion to dismiss is oppressive and unduly burdensome.” For a lawsuit that seems frivolous, given the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s recent decision to not file charges on the same case, it would certainly be unreasonable to waste the time of so many state employees on a case that might be struck down.

The campaign against the judges has frequently been blasted by legal experts, in influential Florida newspapers, and by organizations such as Defend Justice from Politics and the Florida Bar. It has been analyzed at face value as a brazen attack on the bench by political leaders, ideologues, and others who wish to repopulate the bench with more conservative justices. This is not the intended function of the merit retention process, and it is worried that a hijacking by partisans could threaten the rule of law in Florida and reverberate across the country.

According to Tallahassee.com, focus groups have indicated that approximately 9 out of 10 people don’t understand the merit retention process, and that many associate the term with teacher merit pay. Organizations such as Restore Justice 2012 and The Southeastern Legal Foundation are banking on this dearth of information and are using cryptic tactics to persuade voters to vote “no” on merit retention. Although the lawsuit against the justices may indeed be struck down, the campaign against their retention will only heat up as the vote inches closer. In an attempt to stave off this unreasonable barrage of misinformation and inflated partisan rhetoric, multiple organizations are seeking to educate Floridians on merit retention; including the Florida Bar. If the average Floridian understood the purpose of merit retention, the risk of hijacking by special interests would be greatly mitigated.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, through this petty lawsuit, is harping on a small misstep by the justices in an effort to tarnish their image and convince voters to misuse the merit retention process as a way to reformulate the bench. This same conservative legal group also moved to disbar Bill Clinton, overturn campaign finance reform, and is a skeptic of global warming. The justices are right to seek a quick dismissal of the lawsuit and postpone the taking of depositions to minimize the damage that the Southeastern Legal Foundation is attempting to generate. Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince don’t deserve this irresponsible witch-hunt, and likely look forward to the day when they can escape the overwhelming political bedlam and return to what is really their job: judicial impartiality.

Rule of Law Reigns; Scott, Tea Party Unhappy

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has concluded that three Florida Supreme Court Justices up for merit retention did not violate state law when they used a court employee to notarize campaign documents. State Attorney Willie Meggs wrote a letter to FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey informing him that no charges would be filed in the case, effectively ending the investigation ordered by Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) and referred by Governor Rick Scott. Scott and other Tea Party supporters were unhappy with the ruling though, as it meant they would be unable to replace Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince with their own harmonious nominations.

Meggs was resolute in his letter, saying “common sense should be used in deciding cases” and that “In this case, notarizing a signature is a minor act which was likely accomplished in less than a minute.” He continued further, saying that at most the violation by the judges was “minor…It is well established that the law does not concern itself with trifles.” According to the Orlando Sentinel, two lawyers for the justices also said that the judges had “cooperated fully with FDLE during the investigation, and were certain there was no impropriety nor violation of any law.”

Governor Scott responded sarcastically, saying “According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is ‘common practice.’ Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal. Whatever the ruling, we will accept it and act accordingly.” This bitterness is illustrative of the stance Rick Scott has taken since the merit retention fight heated up, that of an instigator. Throughout this process, Scott has haphazardly defended partisan politics and taken the side of special interests against the rule of law.

The bipartisan group Defend Justice from Politics, mentioned in a previous post, responded with a scathing criticism of Governor Scott’s assessment of the investigation’s outcome. “Before the investigation was completed, he was on the record with his own determination of guilt – leveraging the mere existence of an investigation he choreographed to further smear the Justices with suggestions that they ‘ought to follow the law.’ Now he appears ready to reject the State Attorney’s conclusion that no law was violated, giving greater credence to a lawsuit filed by partisan ideological out-of-state lawyers funded by special interests. Governor Scott makes a habit of ignoring any outcomes that don’t play to his advantage. A fair and impartial judiciary is our last defense against politicians who will be satisfied with nothing short of absolute power.”

Although the investigation by the FDLE has been closed, the fight is not entirely over. A conservative Georgia-based organization, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, has file a lawsuit on behalf of two Florida residents claiming that without the notarization from court officials, the three judges would not be allowed on the November ballot. The lawsuit is seeking to force Secretary of State Ken Detzner from placing the three Justices on the ballot, effectively removing them from the bench and allowing Scott to nominate his own like-minded judges.

Aside from a very small minority of Tea Party-backed ideologues, much of Florida and the legal community have risen to the defense of the three justices up for merit retention. It is unmistakably clear that partisan beliefs and desires are fueling these inane attacks on the merits of these well-respected justices, and many groups have come forward to fight this campaign of misinformation and deafening rhetoric. Given Governor Scott’s acrimonious response to the Department of Law Enforcement’s decision not to file charges against the justices, it is obvious that the opponents of the bench have no respect for the rule of law. Although this fight will likely continue, the residents of Florida would be wise to ignore this background noise and make an educated decision. With full information and an understanding of the process, it is abundantly clear that Justices Lewis, Pariente, and Quince objectively deserve a “yes” on merit retention.