Florida Gov. Rick Scott loses bid to disqualify justice
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s unusual push to disqualify a sitting state Supreme Court justice from a pending case has been quickly rejected.
The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday denied Scott’s motion in a one-sentence ruling. The high court did not explain its decision.
Scott last week filed a motion that contended that Justice Barbara Pariente may be biased against the Republican governor. The motion was based on comments made by Pariente, including one caught on a court microphone shortly after a recent hearing in a case on Scott’s appointment power.
The groups who are suing Scott in the case asked the court to reject what they called a “frivolous” motion that was filed too late to be considered.
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, said in a statement that “it is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification or explanation for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”
The League of Women Voters of Florida and the government watchdog group Common Cause filed a petition with the Supreme Court back in June challenging Scott’s power to appoint three new justices.
Age limits are forcing three justices to retire on the day Scott leaves office in January 2019 because of term limits. Scott has said he plans to name their replacements that same morning.
The decision could change the balance of the court for decades. If Scott gets his way, the seven-member court will be stacked with six conservative judges as more liberal justices Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince step down. Pariente was appointed to the court in 1997 by then-Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.
Scott’s general counsel cited two incidents in the motion asking for Pariente to be disqualified. One came from 2012 when Pariente asked voters to keep her on the bench. She was quoted during a campaign event as saying “a vote no will give Gov. Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”
The other incident occurred in early November right after the court held a hearing in the judicial appointment case. Pariente was seen on the state’s public access channel talking to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and pointing to a document. That document was a list of the members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. At one point Pariente can be heard saying “crazy.”
Lawyers for the League and Common Cause contended in a legal brief that the “hot mic” moment was largely “unintelligible” and “had no possible relevance to the case that had just been heard.”
This is not the first time Scott has clashed with justices. Five years ago, Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the actions of Pariente and two other justices after they nearly missed qualifying for the ballot that year. That investigation showed the justices had campaign forms notarized by state employees during working hours. FDLE’s investigation determined that the other four justices also used court personnel to notarize financial disclosure forms — a practice largely for convenience.