The Headline Grabs Continue as Lawsuit is Filed Against Justices

An assortment of right-wing groups has continued their assault on the Florida Supreme Court, this time filing a lawsuit against the three justices up for merit retention. The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation (discussed below in “Merit Retention Sources to be Leery About”) has filed a lawsuit asking Secretary of State Ken Detzner to remove justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince from the ballot in November, and effectively from the bench. Their complaint is riddled with sensationalized assertions, representing the latest attempt by special interests to grab headlines in an attempt to inject politics into our judiciary.

The Georgia-based Southeastern Legal Foundation has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Lee County resident Bernard Long and Seminole County resident L. “Ron” Flores, claiming that the justices violated state law by using state employees to notarize election-related documents during office hours. The justices and many supporters claim that this is common practice; and election records show that four justices on the ballot in 2010 also had their paperwork notarized by court employees. Robin Rorapaugh, who has managed two gubernatorial races and two U.S. Senate Races, is heading the justices’ campaign against the constant mudslinging. Of the lawsuit, Rorapaugh stated: “This is clearly a headline hunt by the Southern Legal Foundation. Anyone can file false statements of facts and false statements of law in allegations just as this entity has in an organized attempt to besmirch the reputations of three Florida Supreme Court Justices.”

Thankfully, not everything is split along ideological lines. In this case, there are reasonable people from both sides of the aisle that are taking up arms to defend our independent judiciary. The group Defend Justice From Politics has been created with the goal of “protecting Florida’s Supreme Court from attacks by partisan politicians and special interests.” The group is headed by Miami businessman Stanley Tate, who also happens to be a staunch Republican. Tate succinctly states, “We cannot allow angry special interest groups or politicians to take over the Supreme Court in a blatant political power grab.” The group Justices at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign fighting for impartial courts, has joined the fight as well, featuring informational stories detailing Florida’s “political witch hunt.”

Governor Rick Scott has done nothing to quell the outrageous claims by these vocal minorities in Florida, instead choosing to flame the fires with his cryptic comments. First, the Tea Party-backed Scott ordered an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into the judges’ actions. Next, when asked about whether he thought the judges had broken the law, Scott said “They should comply with the law. It’s the Supreme Court. You’d think they would comply with the law.” These see-through annotations are not doing anything to remove the assumption that the campaign against these justices is just a protracted effort by Scott and the Tea Party to fill the Florida Supreme Court with new justices that share their conservative principles. This politicization of the bench is a threat to the independence of Florida’s judiciary; and seeks to upend the concept of justice as we know it.

These efforts to politicize the bench will likely only increase as we inch closer to the election in November, but we can quell some of the misinformation by supporting efforts like Defend Justice From Politics, Justices at Stake, and the educational campaign by the Florida Bar. If Florida residents understand that merit retention is not in place to boot out judges for being “too liberal” or “too conservative,” we will maintain our vibrant impartial judiciary for years to come.