Corporate America is working hard to control the judiciary in every state throughout the country. That’s a sad state of affairs. Recent events in Florida and Iowa, and in other states, should alarm folks who believe all courts should be open, independent and fair to all litigants. I strongly believe that the independence of the judiciary is a goal worth fighting for. The attacks against three Supreme Court justices in Florida are completely unjustified. Those justices are being opposed for purely political reasons, which puts fairness and impartiality in jeopardy. That shouldn’t be tolerated.
On September 21st, the Republican Party of the Florida Executive Committee, with the strong encouragement of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, voted unanimously to actively oppose the merit retention of Florida Supreme Court Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. A few days later – and not by chance – Americans for Prosperity, the conservative activist group affiliated with the Koch brothers, announced a political campaign to attack the judicial voting records of the three justices. Millions of dollars will now be made available in the sunshine state to influence the removal of three highly respected Supreme Court justices whose recent approval ratings by the Florida Bar poll of lawyers were 92%, 89% and 90% respectively. Lawyers in Florida are totally familiar with the job performance of the justices.
Florida, like Iowa, faces a direct and unjustified attack against Supreme Court justices standing for merit retention. The sole criteria for retention is supposed to be whether the justices have remained impartial, ethical and qualified, not whether the Governor disagrees with some of their opinions. Florida’s appellate court merit retention system and the judicial appointment system were set up by a prior governor and by a constitutional amendment following the serious questions about favoritism by some members of the Florida Supreme Court. In the succeeding years, under merit selection and retention, there have been no such issues. The system has worked very well.
The attacks on the three justices thus far has been over a “right to counsel reversal of conviction” in an old criminal murder case. The ruling actually occurred before these justices last appeared, and were retained, on the merit retention ballot. It was said that this attack on the justices is following the approach used in the infamous “Willie Horton” ads.
If successful, the campaign would eliminate the only two women on the court, and eliminate Justice Lewis, who created the highly praised Justice Teaching civics education program. Friends in Florida say the real reason these justices are being opposed is purely political. They participated in a ruling against Gov. Scott, who attempted to seize Florida’s rulemaking power by Executive Order shortly after he took office. The justices participated in a ruling against a ballot issue misleadingly drafted by the Republican controlled legislature. The Court has cases pending before it in which the Governor’s agenda of limiting public pensions and privatizing prisons is under review. Gov. Scott and the Republican Party of Florida are attempting to intimidate the court on matters before it, and attempting to remove those justices and stack the court to protect their agenda.
These are dangerous times for the constitutional principle of separation of powers if the fairness and impartiality of the courts can be overcome by a large fund of out of state money devoted to slanting the real records of supreme court justices in Florida. The Internet addresses for Defend Justice from Politics, an organization devoted to stopping the political power grab launched in Florida, and the addresses for each of the Supreme Court Justices merit retention campaigns are www.defendjusticefl.com; www.voteyesjusticepariente.com; www.voteyesjusticequince.com; and www.voteyesjusticelewis.com.
I encourage our readers who believe in a fair and independent judiciary to get involved in this fight. It’s really more than just a “Florida battle.” The outcome there will affect all states where judges are still elected. I suggest you contact Michael T. Callahan, a lawyer with Callahan & Martinez in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Wayne Hogan, who is with the Terrell Hogan firm in Jacksonville, Florida, if you need more information on the situation in Florida. They would be happy to discuss this matter with you. The vote will be on November 6th and it’s important for all Floridians to vote “yes” for each justice.
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