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Florida Republican Party Wades Into Supreme Court Fight as Justices Curtail Fund-Raising

| September 24, 2012

Justice Barbara Pariente is one of three Florida Supreme Court Justices under the Republican Party of Florida’s gun. (Village Square)

The Republican Party of Florida injected itself into a heated battle over the future of the state Supreme Court on Friday, issuing a brief statement saying the GOP opposes three justices who form the backbone of the court’s left-of-center majority.

The paragraph-long statement said the party’s executive board unanimously voted this week to oppose Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince in November’s retention elections. The justices do not face opponents, but must get the support of a majority of Floridians to hold onto their posts.

“While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day,” said the statement, issued by RPOF spokeswoman Kristen McDonald. “These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire.”

McDonald appeared to be referring to the case of Joe Nixon, who was convicted in the 1984 murder of Jeanne Bickner in Leon County. The Florida Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nixon in 2003 during one of several appeals, finding that his lawyer erred in essentially conceding Nixon’s guilt during the trial without a getting a statement of approval from Nixon. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned that decision.

The statement did not say when, precisely, the RPOF board held its vote.

Supporters of the trio blasted the GOP move, portraying it as an effort by Republicans to seize control of the courts. If the justices get defeated, successors would be selected by Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican.

“The Legislature wants to politicize the court so that it is no longer independent but the handmaiden of the Republican Legislature,” said Dick Batchelor, a former lawmaker with Defend Justice from Politics.

Groups like Batchelor’s have rallied to the justices’ side since an organization called Restore Justice 2012 began an effort to push Lewis, Pariente and Quince off the court. No sitting Supreme Court justice has ever lost a retention election.

Restore Justice and other groups say that the jurists are activist judges who have overstepped their power. But supporters of the judges say they have followed the law and that the merit retention elections are meant to remove justices for misconduct, not because of judicial philosophy.

“The announcement that the Republican Party is engaged in this effort would shock those wonderful Republican statesmen who helped create the merit selection and merit retention processes,” said Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former lawmaker and former president of the American Bar Association. “Surely we do not want to go back to the broken past.”

Meanwhile, as they face opposition, the three justices curtailed fund-raising this summer for their merit-retention campaigns, according to state campaign finance records.

Lewis, Pariente and Quince raised a combined $40,758 between Aug. 10 and Sept. 14, reports filed Friday show. Since July 7, they have raised a combined $92,693.

Those totals are dramatically different from the first half of the year, when each of the justices raised about $300,000. Some conservatives have long said they would try to defeat the justices during merit-retention elections in November, but the effort got a potentially huge boost Friday when the state GOP announced its executive board had unanimously voted to oppose the justices — describing them as “liberals” who had been involved in extensive “judicial activism.”

While it was not immediately clear how aggressive the party will be in trying to oust the justices, Friday’s announcement raised the profile of the usually sleepy merit-retention elections and could send a signal to Republican voters who have long complained about what they perceive as liberal judges.

If the justices lose merit-retention elections, Republican Gov. Rick Scott would appoint replacements. Lewis and Pariente were appointed to the court by former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, while Quince was a joint appointment by Chiles and former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Campaign-finance records show that the justices have received most of their contributions from attorneys and law firms. Lewis has raised a total of $333,460, Pariente has raised $352,920, and Quince has raised $332,843 — with each reporting Friday they had slightly more than half of those amounts still on hand.

While the state GOP opposes their retention, the justices have received at least some support from well-known Republicans or conservatives. As an example, former Justice Raoul Cantero, a Bush appointee to court, has been a prominent supporter. As another example, Ballard Partners, a high-powered Republican lobbying firm, contributed $500 to each of the justices’ campaigns in June, the records show.

Before the Republican Party announcement Friday, an Orlando-based organization called Restore Justice, Inc., had been the primary voice of opposition to the justices. During the first half of the year, Restore Justice received almost all of its contributions from South Florida physician Allan Jacob, who chipped in $59,250, according to the group’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

In August, state records show, Restore Justice also filed in Florida as what is known as an “electioneering communications organization,” a type of group that can try to influence races by doing such things as running ads. The so-called ECO raised $1,075 between Aug. 13 and Sept. 14.

Justices must come up for merit-retention votes every six years, but the elections usually draw little attention. In 2006, Lewis, Pariente and Quince each received more than 67 percent of the vote.

But Florida conservatives could be trying to follow the lead of Iowa, where voters in 2010 removed three justices who had supported legalizing gay marriage in the state. An attempt is underway to try to oust another Iowa justice in November’s elections.

–Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida

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9 Responses for “Florida Republican Party Wades Into Supreme Court Fight as Justices Curtail Fund-Raising”

  1. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    A Judges job is to referee between 2 lawyer teams to assure that a trial and the evidence presented to a jury of citizens deciding a persons guilt or innocence is based on facts, which are put forth from testimony and evidence. Somewhere along the line I think we have lost that philosophy and they now are tasked with being ringmasters of the circus of their own making.

    I firmly believe that our Judges should and must be separate from our executive, and legislative branch’s, however they must also be focused on reflecting the will of the people they represent and are fed by.

    I am not voting to retain any judge in this election.
    Not that any are specifically bad, but that the judges need a serious wake up call.
    They are lawyers who politic the lawyers and other government officials and the ones liked the best from that select group, are then “promoted” to judges. There is no scorecard of overall performance, there is no tally or watching of opinions from time to time only specific cases.

    My feelings are they need to wake up and join a real world.
    Understand and respect what they represent when they are a judge.. Not the other lawyers, or the political friends that helped them get there, but the people who feed and keep them there year after year.

  2. Dorothea says:

    If the Republican Party of Florida succeeds in removing these three judges, the extreme right wing of the Republican Party will control Florida totally; the governorship, the legislature, and the judiciary. Regardless of your party affiliation, don’t let this happen. Lewis, Pariente, and Quince are excellent judges and should not be removed. Note that even honest conservative Republicans are supporting these three judges, recognizing what would happen to Florida if we allow the takeover to happen. Vote to retain Lewis, Pariente, and Quince.

  3. Alex says:

    That is good enough for me.

    If the Part of NO oppose the judges, I will vote for them to be retained.

  4. Jim Neuenfeldt says:

    Do you not understand Representative Government? The Republican Party doesn’t “RULE” anything… The voters decide who to elect and have represent them. You think the Gov. Senators, and such were elected because they were appointed by a political party that casts the votes?

    I get what you are saying about having Judges from other administrations still in office as a balance, and it has a point. However look how are judges operate and what they have produced? Our justice system is in shambles despite having built a Palace in Tallahassee to house them at work. Billions of waste each and everyday.

    Did you happen to read this article?:
    Do you think the judges that have handled this young mans cases so far have acted in his best interest, the publics best interest, or the lawyers involved best interest?

    I strongly encourage everyone to look realistically at court cases handed down in the past 20 years…
    Obama Care… Voting Rights…. Immigration…. Remember the lawmakers can write anything they want, however it is the judges job and profession to make sure that the law of the land is equal for everyone and assures access to everyone…. Is that what we really have received from them? I don’t feel like we have at all, but alas that is just my opinion, and I encourage you to research, learn and form your own opinion.

  5. Dorothea says:

    @Jim Neuenfeldt

    If you believe that Florida’s gerrymandered election districts that brought us such unbalanced representation are an example of representative government, than I have this bridge….

    This editorial from the Tampa Bay Times explains why we need to retain these three judges better than I can. Here is an excertpt:

    “It’s understandable why Gov. Rick Scott and his Republican allies have no love for the courts. After all, their batting average is pretty low in trying to overturn laws they don’t like and defending their own extreme lawmaking. But the state Republican Party’s unprecedented call for voters to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices is a frontal assault on the judicial branch for no reason other than political intimidation. Reasonable Republicans ought to speak out against this attack on the courts and support the nonpartisan merit retention process, and all Florida voters should stand up for an independent judiciary.”

  6. w.ryan says:

    I wish we had the opportunity to cancel the appointments of those Republican judges that have made a mockery of the Nations Supreme Court. Why is it that for Republicans that when they want to see activist Judges they cannot see what their appointed or elected Judges are doing?

  7. Anonymous says:

    The JOB of a judge is to FOLLOW the Laws not to put their own personal opinion when makeing a ruleing on the law. The Law says what it says.

  8. Dorothea says:


    Correction to your comment. The job of a Supreme Court judge is also to determine if if a decided lawsuit adheres to the Constitution. There are two basic and legitimate ways to follow the law, by an act of the legislature and by a decision of the upper courts.

    Thereafter “stare decisis” applies:

    (stah-ry dee-sigh-sis) Latin for “let the decision stand,” a doctrine requiring that judges apply the same reasoning to lawsuits as has been used in prior similar cases.*

    *Definition provided by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.

  9. This is payback by the far right against Three Honorable Justices who after years of court battles finally held a last minute effort to save the life of Terri Schaivo by a last second new law was unconstitutional. The case is called BUSH v MICHAEL SCHAIVO, and was decided in 2004. At that time Terri had been in a persistent vegetative state on life support since 1990. He rhusband Michael got a court Order to withdraw her feeding tube. Her parents got the Congress involved , and tried to get the US Supreme court to take the case.

    The sting of losing this case is behind this precedent setting effort by a respected political party to politicize the remaing branch of government . I strongly oppose politicization of the Court and recommend the Justices be approved in the November election. Otherwise, politics will forever be a part of the Judicial branch of government.

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