A federal judge who’s been highly critical of how the state has handled elections struggled Monday to find a fix to a lawsuit filed by ousted Broward County elections chief Brenda Snipes, who was removed from her job by outgoing Gov. Rick Scott after she submitted her resignation.
Following a series of election mishaps and demands for her resignation, Snipes — a Democrat appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush and subsequently re-elected four times — announced Nov. 18 that she would step down from her post, effective Jan. 4.
But on Nov. 30, Scott issued an executive order suspending Snipes and replacing her with his ally, Pete Antonacci, whose past roles with the governor’s administration have included serving as Scott’s general counsel.
The day after the executive order, Snipes held a news conference and rescinded her resignation. Seeking to regain her job, Snipes later filed a federal lawsuit against Scott and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.
Snipes filed the case four days after Galvano said the Senate, which has the constitutional authority to remove from office or reinstate suspended elected officials, would not take up the matter. The lawsuit alleges that Snipes has “suffered a significant deprivation” of her rights as a result of her suspension and the Senate’s refusal to consider her case. Snipes is asking to be reinstated, or to have the Senate hold a hearing or appoint a special master to consider her future.
“She has been publicly humiliated by being closed out of her job and further not being paid during the suspension,” the lawsuit said. “At this point, Governor Scott’s allegations have gone unchallenged as he sits high on a ‘throne’ utilizing state resources to continually humiliate Snipes. Due process clearly applies.”
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who is given to Southern colloquialisms and who frequently gives attorneys a tongue-lashing from the bench and in his orders, peppered lawyers representing all sides — the Senate, the governor and Snipes — with questions throughout a two-hour hearing Monday. He did not immediately issue a ruling.
Walker appeared to take umbrage at the state’s position that there was little legal recourse for Snipes after Scott ousted her.
“I don’t understand how the governor could say anything he wanted about a public official, remove them, and, because it’s done at the end of their tenure … it doesn’t matter how unfair it is,” Walker said. “You’re just out of luck. Hard to square that with due process.”
Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel, told Walker that Snipes could publicize a response to the accusations about her competence that Scott made in the executive order, which stripped her of a post she had already quit.
But, Nordby maintained, her “resignation introduces an insurmountable obstacle here” in terms of a possible court-ordered cure.
Pushing back, Walker said officials should have a chance to publicly respond, “so that you don’t just get to scum me.”
“So, my forum is the Tampa Times. You get to say you’re the worst human being in the history of time and you’re removed, and your remedy is to go to the newspaper and say, here’s my written response?” the judge asked.
Nordby said Snipes could also write letters to Scott or to incoming Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will be sworn in Tuesday.
Scott narrowly defeated Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in the Nov. 6 election, which required machine and hand recounts because of the slim margin. Amid the recounts, Scott and his supporters blasted Snipes over her handling of ballots from Broward, a Democratic stronghold.
Scott’s executive order outlined a series of alleged wrongdoings by Snipes. According to the order, she “demonstrated repeatedly that she was unable to accurately respond to basic requests from candidates, news media, and the general public regarding the number of ballots that had been cast, the number of ballots that had been counted, and the number of ballots remaining to be canvassed.”
A circuit judge ruled that Snipes had failed to provide public records requested by Scott’s campaign and others, Scott noted in the order.
Snipes also improperly permitted staff to open provisional and mail-in ballots that had not been examined by the county canvassing board and failed to keep ballots that had been accepted and rejected by the board “appropriately segregated,” Scott’s executive order said.
While the Broward canvassing board completed a machine recount before a state-ordered deadline, Snipes failed to submit the results to the state Division of Elections before the deadline passed, Scott’s order said.
Snipes also said more than 2,000 ballots had been “lost, misplaced, or misfiled” between Nov. 6 and Nov. 15, but that the missing ballots were “somewhere ‘in the building’” but has not provided an explanation, the governor wrote.
But Snipes’ lawyers accused Scott of trying to embarrass and humiliate the long-serving elections official.
Scott’s executive order “throws some things in that had some kernel of truth but other things that are not true at all,” Burnadette Norris-Weeks told Walker.
At the end of the hearing, Walker hinted that Snipes, who is black, might have been targeted because of her race.
The federal judge asked Norris-Weeks whether any supervisors were suspended for accepting “faxed-in ballots.” At least one elections supervisor in North Florida accepted ballots by fax after early-voting sites were destroyed by Hurricane Michael.
“No, your honor,” Norris-Weeks said.
“Do you know the gender or race of any of the right-leaning supervisors of elections in the Panhandle?” Walker queried.
They were all white males, Snipes’ lawyer, who is also black, replied.
“So whose ox is getting gored, that’s what” is at play, Walker asked.
Norris-Weeks said the suspension was “intended to embarrass and humiliate Snipes,” who sat beside her lawyers.
The ousted official deserves due process, Snipes’ lawyer Michelle Austen Pamies said.
Due process “is an opportunity to be heard,” Pamies said.
“It can’t be that she provides her own opportunity and sends a letter,” she said.
–Dara Kam, News Service of Florida
This woman’s incompetence cost the tax-payers of Florida tons of money and compromised the electoral process. She seems determined to continue to cost Florida tax-payers money, whether it be out of ego or because she is hoping to score a settlement from the state to make everything (including herself) go away. I don’t know who is “advising” her, but if her current legal action is determined to be frivolous, both she and her “backers” should be made to pay the costs of them. Justice is important. The compromises we sometimes make for the superficial sake of appearing to be “politically correct” are a waste of a lot more than just time.
The Voters of Both Broward County and ALL of Florida have been treated unfairly, By this WOMAN and her ineptitude. I don’t care if you have a little R or D, if you can’t do the job you were elected to, You should be removed immediately. This is her second, “bite at the apple” if you will. And that only goes to what is actually known. Who knows how many times she has actually conducted “shady” elections in Broward. Past actions the best indicator for future actions.
Keep Flagler Beautiful says
It’s so predictable that she would get a lawyer and try to shake down the taxpayers for one last payday. No shock there. It seems these days the only way to get rid of an incompetent employee is not to hire them in the first place. Flagler County has plenty of incompetent loafers on the payroll. It’s not a situation that’s unique to south Florida.
incompetence is an understatement! I could not agree more with the statement made by ASF.
Were the Voters of Broward Cty. And St. Of Fl. Treated unfairly should be the question/Title. She’s failed numerous times move on alresdy.
This firing is one of the few actions by Scott that I applauded. Snipes needed to be removed from the Broward county building asap given her poor performance in the November election. Give her whatever additional pension benefit she is looking for and be done with her.
Another liberal that’s trying to shake down the state when she should be refunding her pay for impersonating an election official. She’s one of these YOU OWE ME liberals. Another Pelosi wanna be.
Concerned Citizen says
It’s really quite simple.
When you are elected or hired you are expected to do your job. You are given a list of responsabilties and duties to carry out.
In the corporate/private indiustry world the ability of you continuing to work is usually contingent on work performance. Apparently this is not the case for our appointed/elected officials. Especially here in Flagler County with 2 major scandals going on right now.
This woman had a history of poor job performance. She also had issues in her office that she failed to correct. Leadership starts at the top and she failed in that aspect.
If you or I continued to have work performance issues we would eventually be held accountable for them and would no longer be employed.
This needs to start happening more in the government sector. Time to stop riding th tax payers bank accounts.
She is the BIGGEST joke for an elected official in the state of Florida. That doesn’t say much for the people who had voted her in office after she screwed up the FIRST time in Broward County. Maybe those people should be taking a LONG HARD look in the mirror.
Sandra L. says
I don’t understand why this woman lasted this long working for us, the tax-payers. She’s has shown that she cannot be trusted by her incompetence and dishonesty. She has a lot of nerve to think she’s been treated unfairly. Is she kidding?? She proved that she should not have been hired for the job to begin with. We need people who are capable and honest, regardless of their party affiliation.
Daniel Floyd says
Is anyone really asking if this incompetent fool was treated unfairly? What more do you have to do to prove that she cheated to advance the democrats agenda? She had 1 job to do and she either failed miserably or cheated to try and elect democrats. She’s lucky she’s not in jail.
The recount in Broward County–indeed, any vote count involving Brenda Snipes–was just as much a mess as the original. The judge she pleaded her case to this past Monday was cited by the Miami Herald as being “central to the recount effort”, which begs the question “Should he recuse himself from making such a decision?” As far as I’m concerned, the answer to that question is a resounding YES.
And, as several others have noted, this is not the first time Snipes has had major issues with overseeing elections. The candidate Tim Canova sued her office over the 2016 primaries, and she was found to have destroyed ballots. Additionally, he has appealed to both Governor DeSantis and to Congress, to intervene here, over this election.
It is unbelievable to me that anyone thinks the woman should be let anywhere near an election to work, in any capacity. She has no business trying to weasel her way back into serving the voters of Broward County, Florida. They deserve better, and so do the rest of the citizens of this state. I expect our new Governor to do something about this, to put a stop to it. I have called and emailed his office, and urge you all to do the same.
I can see it now. She is trying to become Martha Stewart. I bet she already made reservations for her federal prison sentence in the Hamptons. Shes gonna release two “cook books”. One for votes and who knows what else she’ll cook up. Ignorance is Bliss, How to Cook Whatever You Want!
Mr. G says
She should be REMOVED from Office … CROOKED AS THEY COME….