Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

The Kiss-off: Donald Trump dubs Andrew Gillum strong warrior—in the ‘future’

President Donald Trump may have just directed his most damaging tweet yet at Democrat Andrew Gillum. He paid him a compliment.

“Congratulations to Andrew Gillum on having run a really tough and competitive race for Governor of the Great State of Florida,” Trump tweeted.

“He will be a strong Democrat warrior long into the future—a force to reckon with!”

While the tone read uncharacteristically kind, the grammar was decided past tense, serving as the latest and loudest of political assessments on the state of Florida’s gubernatorial race.

Namely, it’s over, whether Gillum concedes soon or not.

As President Trump’s words turned gentle, those of fellow Democrats grew increasingly loud. A growing number of leaders within Gillum’s party suggest in less subtle ways each day that this race is done.

“Every minute Andrew Gillum doesn’t concede at this point he looks worse and worse (or at least he does to me),” Democratic consultant Matthew Isbell tweeted Thursday. “It’s over. Move on.”

The gubernatorial vote this year did turn out historically close. Republican Ron DeSantis led Gillum by 33,683 votes after a machine recount, about 0.41 percent of more than 8.2 million ballots cast.

But the machine recount netted Gillum just one vote, and the margin, while close, wasn’t enough to trigger a hand recount, unlike the five other state elections that went to machine recount.

Gillum himself yesterday continued to urge voters to check on their absentee ballots. A lawsuit connected to the U.S. Senate recount led a judge to grant voters until 5 p.m. to verify their ballots.

But attorneys for the Division of Electionssay some 3,688 vote-by-mail ballots and 93 provisional ballots got rejected statewide for bad signatures. That’s not enough to make a meaningful difference in the gubernatorial election.

Gillum spokesman Kevin Cate stressed yesterday that the push to count every vote is about more than finding a path to the governor’s mansion for Gillum. “The @AndrewGillum campaign was doing something much bigger than just trying to win an election,” he tweeted. “And we did. And we still are.”

And Gillum has until the end of the month to challenge the election results.

DeSantis yesterday called results of the machine recount “clear and unambiguous,” and he marked the end of the recount by inviting Gillum to join him for a “conversation about the future of our great state.”

The only question still outstanding in the Governor’s race may be when Gillum feels ready for the talk—and when he finally speaks he will, once again, concede.

AP Photo - 2018 recount

Recount adds to Florida’s reputation for bungling elections

Mark Toepfer came to this spit of sand on the Tampa Bay shore to soak up the sun, drink a beer and maybe do a little fishing — not to talk about elections.

But talk he did when asked for his thoughts on whether Florida, as a judge recently put it, is “the laughingstock of the world” when it comes to voting.

“We’re the only state that has problems year after year,” the shirtless 58-year-old said, shaking his head. “Why is it like this? Is it the people in charge? Are our machines not like other states’ machines? Fraud? Incompetence? It’s hard to say.”

With races for U.S. Senate and governor still undecided, the state’s latest recount only adds to its reputation for bungling elections. To much of the world, vote-counting confusion is as authentically Florida as jam-packed theme parks, alligators on golf courses and the ubiquity of Pitbull (the Miami rapper, not the dog).

Florida’s history of election woes dates back to 2000, when it took more than five weeks for the state to declare George W. Bush the victor over Vice President Al Gore by 537 votes, thus giving Bush the presidency. Back then, punch-card ballots were punch lines. Photos of election workers using magnifying glasses to search for hanging chads and pregnant chads symbolized the painstaking process.

There are no chads this year, but there are plenty of cracks about flashbacks to the Bush-Gore contest. And, just as in 2000, the Republican candidates in the contested races have declared themselves winners and asked for the recount to stop.

Add to this a litany of other voting problems: Palm Beach County’s machines went on the fritz during the recount due to age and overwork. The electricity went out in Hillsborough County during a machine recount and resulted in an 846-vote deficit. Broward County missed the state deadline to turn in recount results by two minutes.

Those glitches led U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to ask why state officials have repeatedly failed to anticipate problems in elections.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” he said. Walker is presiding over one of several election-related lawsuits that have been filed since Nov. 6.

On Friday, election workers in all 67 counties began recounting by hand about 93,000 ballots that were not recorded by voting machines.

The entire spectacle drew late-night TV jokes. Ally Hoard, Broward county native and writer on “Late Night With Seth Myers,” was merciless in a video clip.

“How will Florida handle this recount? Not great,” she said. “Florida is a mess. The people are confused and the system is corrupt.”

But some others, like 74-year-old Dunedin resident Mary Sanders, said the “laughingstock” comment, and all the jokes, are unwarranted.

“I don’t think that now that I live here,” the New Jersey transplant said. “I guess I’m becoming more pro-Florida.”

Sanders, a volunteer with the League of Women Voters, spent Thursday in a windowless room at the Pinellas County election supervisor’s office with dozens of other observers, watching officials scrutinize ballots. She said the world doesn’t see the normal side of Florida during times such as this.

“Here in Pinellas County at least, it’s been a very well-run election,” she said. Indeed, the recount there has been run like clockwork, with election officials giving tours of the ballot warehouse and handing reporters detailed agendas of daily activity.

Paul George, a Miami historian, isn’t so certain about Florida’s reputation, or as charitable as Sanders.

“We’re a joke,” he said.

George thinks part of the problem is that, to some degree, people come to Florida to start over. The traditions and habits they had elsewhere aren’t the same in the Sunshine State.

“It’s different here,” he said. “If you’re back home in, say, Ohio, you know the people at the precinct.”

And the state has many new citizens, he said, along with confusing ballot designs. Or perhaps, he mused, election drama is something intrinsic to Florida.

“Are you aware of what happened in 1876?” he asks, with mirth in his voice.

That’s when the U.S. had a hotly contested presidential election. The winner wasn’t certain until March 2, 1877. Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote, and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes won the Electoral College. Allegations of fraud abounded.

Votes from three states were disputed. Which state had problems?

“MORE TROUBLE IN FLORIDA,” read an Associated Press headline from Jan. 6, 1877.

Investigation points to errors in FIU bridge design

Errors were made in the design of a 174-foot pedestrian bridge at Florida International University that collapsed in March and killed six people, the National Transportation Safety Board said in an investigative update Thursday.

The report said cracking seen before the collapse “is consistent with those errors.”

The bridge collapsed March 15 and crushed eight vehicles, including seven that were occupied. In addition to the six people killed, eight others were injured.

In part, the report said errors were made in the design of a portion of the span where two trusses were connected to the bridge deck.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the investigation is continuing.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Cabinet meeting reset for end of November

Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet will meet by phone on Nov. 30 to consider issues such as Florida Power & Light power-plant projects in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, according to an agenda posted online.

Scott and the Cabinet initially scheduled the meeting for Tuesday but canceled that meeting.

The agenda for the Nov. 30 meeting was posted on the Cabinet website Thursday.

No explanation was given for the change of dates.

Among other things, Scott and the Cabinet could sign off on a plan by FPL to build a power plant in Broward County and revisit a dispute about a nuclear project in Miami-Dade.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Supreme Court signs off on reprimand for judge

A Miami-Dade County judge will face a public reprimand for writing a letter of reference for a criminal defendant who was awaiting sentencing in federal court, the Florida Supreme Court said Thursday.

The Supreme Court approved a settlement agreement reached by Judge Deborah White-Labora and the state Judicial Qualifications Commission in which she acknowledged violating a judicial code of conduct.

Justices also approved part of the agreement that said she should face a public reprimand.

The investigation centered on a letter that White-Labora wrote on her judicial letterhead for the defendant.

“Although we recognize that Judge White-Labora’s conduct was well-intentioned, as Judge White-Labora understands by her agreement to the violations and discipline, her conduct is prohibited by the Code of Judicial Conduct,” the unanimous Supreme Court decision said. “Under our precedent, Judge White-Labora’s conduct warrants a public reprimand.”

The Judicial Qualifications Commission investigates alleged misconduct by judges, with the Supreme Court having ultimate authority to impose discipline.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Image via Miami Herald.

Supreme Court signs off on process to pick justices

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday declined to order the reopening of an application process for three upcoming vacancies on the court.

In a 4-3 decision, the court held that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission was acting within its authority to conduct a process that resulted in 59 judges and lawyers applying to replace justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The justices are leaving the court in early January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.

The Judicial Nominating Commission is scheduled to meet Nov. 27 in Orlando to select nominees for the vacancies. The retiring justices’ six-year terms end on Jan. 8, the day the new governor will take office.

The court majority rejected petitions from the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida that had sought to extend the application deadline and halt the current application process.

The petitions were filed after an Oct. 15 court order that said the next governor, now almost certain to be Republican Ron DeSantis, has the authority to appoint the new justices rather than outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott.

The majority opinion Friday said the state Constitution “requires the JNC to make its nominations no later than 30 days after the occurrence of a vacancy and does not prohibit the JNC from acting before a vacancy occurs.”

“Petitioners have requested that the JNC reopen its application period for the vacancies at issue in this case,” the opinion said. “We recognize that there is no impediment to the JNC reopening its application period.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson supported the majority opinion.

In a concurring opinion, Lawson rejected an argument that the nominating process should not start until the actual vacancies occur — which would be Jan. 8, in this case.

“Since their inception, Florida’s judicial nominating commissions have read this language as creating a deadline by which they must make nominations — and thereby allowing them to make their nominations prior to the date of a vacancy,” Lawson wrote. “That is the most reasonable reading of the language and is consistent with this court’s precedent analyzing similar language.”

In a strongly worded dissent, which was supported by Pariente and Quince, Lewis wrote that the Judicial Nominating Commission should not act until the vacancies occur.

“Instead of faithfully interpreting the language set forth in our Constitution, the majority presents flawed reasoning to support its desired result. Simply put, the Judicial Nominating Commission has no power to act without the occurrence of an actual vacancy, according to the plain language of the Florida Constitution and the JNC’s own rules of procedure,” Lewis wrote.

“I will not sit silently while the majority muddles — or disregards — our Constitution and related rules.”

In another dissenting opinion, which was supported by Pariente and Lewis, Quince said that while “the majority’s solution may be a pragmatic one, it is not a constitutional one.”

Quince said the JNC set an original application deadline of Oct. 8 in response to a request from Scott, who has no authority to make the appointments. As a result, she said she would support requiring the nominating commission to reopen the application process through at least Dec. 8.

One of the arguments made by the petitioners for reopening the process was that the current pool of applicants is “woefully thin” on minority and women candidates. The applicants include 11 women, six African-Americans and six Hispanics.

The Supreme Court appointments are attracting extra attention because they could shift the judicial direction of the state’s highest court for decades to come.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc that sometimes includes Labarga. The four justices have repeatedly thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature since Scott took office in 2011.

Federal judge rejects two election lawsuits

With a machine recount in the rearview mirror and a manual recount underway, the legal challenges over Florida’s elections are piled up.

In two rulings late Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker shot down an attempt to keep Republican Gov. Rick Scott from interfering in the recount process and nixed another challenge focused on the way county canvassing boards decide which ballots should be tossed.

The rulings, issued hours after Walker held hearings in a mash-up of cases, followed machine recounts in which Scott maintained a narrow lead of fewer than 13,000 votes over Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson in their race for the U.S. Senate. That lead was well within the 0.25 percent margin requiring a manual recount. Results of the manual recount are due to the state by noon Sunday.

In the days after the Nov. 6 election, Scott and his supporters repeatedly castigated elections chiefs in Broward and Palm Beach counties as ballots in the heavily Democratic regions continued to be tallied and Scott’s advantage over Nelson shrank.

Standing outside the Governor’s Mansion two days after the election, Scott held a news conference accusing Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes and her Palm Beach County counterpart, Susan Bucher, of ineptitude and fraud. The Governor also said he was asking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate. His campaign Twitter account later urged Florida sheriffs to be on guard for election irregularities.

Scott’s comments prompted the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida to ask the federal court to remove the Republican Governor and U.S. Senate candidate from the elections process.

One of Scott’s attorneys told Walker the Governor intends to recuse himself from the state Elections Canvassing Commission, which is set to certify election results at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

But during a Thursday hearing, Larry Robbins, an attorney for the voting-rights groups, told Walker that Scott should also be stripped of his authority to remove members of county canvassing boards, comprised of elections supervisors, county commissioners, and judges.

By urging “the cops to go out and see what these unethical liberals are doing,” Scott has showed a bias against Palm Beach, Broward and possibly other counties, Robbins argued.

But, in a ruling later Thursday, Walker said there’s a difference between “typical campaign-trail puffery” — which he called “increasingly bombastic, imprudent, and not necessarily rooted in objective facts” — and what a public official says and does in his official capacity.

“Here, Scott has toed the line between imprudent campaign-trail rhetoric and problematic state action. But he has not crossed the line,” Walker wrote.

Scott, as a candidate, has the right to make speeches outside the mansion. But the Governor can’t “undercut the count and mandatory recounts from his perch of public official,” the judge wrote, noting that Scott’s most “questionable conduct” occurred in his capacity as a candidate, not as governor.

In a separate lawsuit, Walker also refused to block state elections rules that outline the way ballots should be counted during manual recounts.

In a manual recount, county canvassing boards examine ballots with “undervotes” and “overvotes” that could not be tallied during a machine recount and determine which ones should be counted.

A rule from Secretary of State Ken Detzner requires a voter to have marked all contests in the same manner for a ballot flagged as an undervote or overvote to be counted. That means that, if a voter circles a candidate in one race but uses an “x” to indicate her preference in another race, her ballot wouldn’t be counted, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Another rule provides that a voter who fills in a selection for a candidate, crosses it out and indicates with “magic words” that he or she made a mistake will have the ballot counted. But ballots in which voters did not give any written instructions indicating how they intended to vote will be rejected, under the rule.

“Without relief from this court, these voters will be deprived of their right to vote, and to have their vote counted, in the November election,” Democrats argued in the case.

But, siding with the Scott administration, Walker found that the “reasonable and neutral rules” are constitutional.

“Indeed, without such rules, it would be impossible to determine the result of an election,” Walker wrote. “If a voter fails to follow reasonable rules — and having to fill in an oval is reasonable — the state has not burdened the right to vote.”

Similarly, a “neutral, reasonable, standard practice,” such as the consistency and “magic words” rule, is not a burden, the judge decided, noting that the manual recount is already underway.

“Canvassing boards have been trained and used these procedures in prior manual recounts. The rules are clear and provide examples. To enjoin the use of the rules at this point would likely create a bigger problem,” Walker wrote.

The two cases that resulted in Walker’s Thursday orders are among at least eight election-related federal lawsuits.

Siding with Nelson’s campaign and national Democrats in one case, Walker early Thursday gave voters until 5 p.m. Saturday to fix ballots that were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

During a lengthy hearing Wednesday, Florida Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews testified that 45 counties tossed a total of 3,668 mail-in ballots and 93 provisional ballots due to mismatched signatures. Two large counties — Duval and Miami-Dade — had not reported their results, and Walker estimated about 5,000 ballots statewide would have been rejected.

Walker’s ruling Thursday requires county supervisors to allow voters who were “belatedly notified that they had a mismatched-signature ballot to cure their ballots” by 5 p.m. Saturday. It is unclear how many of the estimated 5,000 voters whose ballots were rejected would be affected.

Scott’s campaign, through the National Republican Senatorial Committee, quickly appealed Walker’s ruling, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the appeal, meaning Walker’s ruling continues to be in force.


Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

After winning Governor’s race, Ron DeSantis seeks summit with Andrew Gillum

Republican Ron DeSantis, the 40-year-old former three-term Congressman, has defeated Democrat Andrew Gillum to become the next Governor of Florida after a mandated machine recount.

The win was just 0.4 percent, a spread of 33,652 votes.

The gubernatorial race, like the U.S. Senate and Agriculture Commissioner contests, had margins under the 0.50 percent threshold that triggers a recount. With the margin more than 0.25 percent, DeSantis is Governor-elect, after one of the most spirited campaigns in Florida in decades.

Now, the path forward.

DeSantis described the results as “clear and unambiguous” in a statement before discussing the contest of ideas that characterized the campaign and inviting Gillum to share ideas.

“Campaigns are meant to be vigorously debated contests of ideas and competing visions for the future. The campaign for Governor achieved this objective as evidenced by historic voter turnout from people of all parties across our state,” DeSantis said.

“But campaigns of ideas must give way to governing and bringing people together to secure Florida’s future. With the campaign now over, that’s where all of my focus will be,” DeSantis added.

“And, to this end, I invite Mayor Gillum to join me in the days ahead in a conversation about the future of our great state. We have both traveled the state and met Floridians from all walks of life. Sharing these experiences will, I believe, help us unite our state and build toward unity on behalf of the people of Florida,” DeSantis said.

However, even before the state released its results, Gillum said the count wasn’t done.

“A vote denied is justice denied — the State of Florida must count every legally cast vote. As today’s unofficial reports and recent court proceedings make clear, there are tens of thousands of votes that have yet to be counted. We plan to do all we can to ensure that every voice is heard in this process. Voters need to know that their decision to participate in this election, and every election, matters. It is not over until every legally casted vote is counted.”

Vote counting isn’t fully over, but there is little chance of the Governor race going into a second overtime.

County elections officials are scheduled to file their official returns to the state by noon on Sunday, with the state Elections Canvassing Commission meeting Tuesday to certify the results.

A ruling Thursday by a federal judge leaves open the possibility of more votes in the race. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued an order giving potentially thousands of Florida voters a chance to fix their ballots by this weekend if they were rejected because of mismatched signatures.

But Walker rejected a request from U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, who is trailing Gov. Rick Scott by about 12,600 votes in their Senate race, to extend the recount deadlines. Several counties reported they were unable to complete the machine recounts by the 3 p.m. Thursday deadline, including Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Gillum would need to cut the gap between him and DeSantis by more than 13,000 votes to get within the 0.25 percent threshold.

Gillum would also have up to 10 days after the certification of the election outcome on Tuesday to file a lawsuit contesting the results, according to state law. He had not done so as of Thursday afternoon.

However, his attorney Barry Richard told MSNBC earlier in the week that Gillum was “reviewing his options” on a lawsuit, expressing concern that the election showed that Florida’s laws are impacting “the fundamental right to vote.”

“He feels an obligation to ensure that votes are counted and not to sit back when we’re beginning to learn that they are not being counted for a number of reasons,” Richard told MSNBC.

DeSantis has been in Tallahassee frequently since Election Night, and he is already rounding out his transition and embryonic administration.

At least four people are in the running to become Ron DeSantischief of staffKathy MearsScott RossScott Parkinson, and Shane Strum, according to sources familiar with the interview process.

Campaign manager Susie Wiles, who guided the campaign down the stretch, is not in that mix; she will be returning to the private sector after helming the transition process.

Wiles and Parkinson are leading the transition process, with assistance from four heavy hitters: U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings, and former state House Speaker Richard Corcoran,

While DeSantis has promised continuity with the Rick Scott era, those who have covered state government throughout Scott’s eight years know that some of the harshest battles were between the populist right in the state House and the more pragmatic Senate.

On the campaign trail and in outreach, DeSantis contrasted himself with Gillum, suggesting the Tallahassee Mayor’s policies are too far left for Florida.

The Ponte Vedra Republican pledged to veto any and all tax increases for the next four years, contending that a state’s low-tax environment is its greatest asset for expanding the economy. In contrast, Gillum in part ran on a corporate tax rate hike.

DeSantis, who has described himself as a “Teddy Roosevelt-Republican,” is outspoken on environmental concerns.

He railed against his primary opponent Adam Putnam for not faulting the state’s massive sugar industry for the proliferation of toxic algae blooms plaguing the Treasure Coast. He has promised to expedite the construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, expected to help ease the amount of toxic overflow into nearby estuaries.

Adding weight to his environmental policy platform was support from The Everglades Trust.

While the rough outline of a DeSantis administration continues to emerge, less certain is the immediate future of Democrat Gillum.


Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe and The News Service of Florida contributed to this post.

Nikki Fried clings to recount lead; Matt Caldwell alleges Broward counted late ballots

Attorneys for Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell say Broward County collected and counted thousands of votes after the election was over.

That’s enough to chip at or even erase Democrat Nikki Fried’s current lead. Results from a statewide recount show the Democratic candidate leading Caldwell by 5,307 votes, a slightly narrower lead than the 5,326-vote gap reported in the initial tabulation of the race.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner ordered a statewide manual recount of the election. The margin between candidates represents 0.06 percent of more than 8 million votes cast, well within the 0.25-percent trigger for a hand recount.

Caldwell’s legal team sued last week for records from Broward County, the seeming ground zero for Florida’s latest statewide recount news extravaganza. Those records were only turned over last night at 8 p.m.

The records showed more than 17,000 vote-by-mail ballots came in on Election Day or after, said Caldwell attorney George LeMieux. Of those, 6,873 did not get logged until after 7 p.m., after polls closed.

“If they come in after 7, they are not a valid vote,” LeMieux said. “To count them after 7 p.m. would be breaking the law.”

The Agriculture Commissioner contest remains the closest of three statewide elections forced to machine recount this year, and the margin between Fried and Caldwell appears likely to tighten based on reports of recount results.

Miami Herald reporter Alex Harris reports the recount in Broward County produced a decline in Caldwell and Fried’s totals, with Fried’s dropping by 765 votes from the first tabulation.

Caldwell on Nov. 6 declared victory in the race at a time when he led by more than 40,000 votes statewide. He told Florida Politics he believed at the time his lead over Fried was insurmountable.

But late tabulations, mostly from heavily Democratic Broward and Palm Beach counties, chipped at that lead over the next two days, and Fried ultimately pulled ahead last Thursday.

Fried’s own team has decried Caldwell’s legal challenges as “false and specious.” They say any assertion of voter fraud on Caldwell’s part “smacks of desperation.”

“All Supervisors of Elections are legally obligated to count all the votes and certify the tabulation by the Saturday following the election,” said Fried attorney Ben Kuehne. “There has been no evidence of fraud and any votes that were legally cast should count. Florida has no place for misleading complaints raised by losing candidates.”

Supreme Court greenlights judge-lawyer Facebook friendships

A divided Florida Supreme Court has given judges permission to maintain Facebook friendships with trial attorneys, settling a divide between lower state appeals courts and siding with the majority of courts and ethics overseers in other states.

The majority opinion, by Chief Justice Charles Canady, noted that the court hasn’t considered actual friendships between judges and attorneys who appear before them ground for the judges to recuse themselves absent additional evidence of conflicts of interest.

Facebook friendships can be ever more attenuated, and the status “provides no significant information about the nature of any relationship,” Canady wrote.

“Traditional ‘friendship’ varies in degree from greatest intimacy to casual acquaintance; Facebook ‘friendship’ varies in degree from greatest intimacy to ‘virtual stranger’ or ‘complete stranger,’” he continued.

Justices Jorge LabargaAlan Lawson and Ricky Polston agreed.

“However, I write to strongly urge judges not to participate in Facebook,” Labarga wrote in a concurring opinion. “For newly elected or appointed judges who have existing Facebook accounts, I encourage deactivation of those accounts.”

Justice Barbara Pariente was even more vehement, arguing in a dissenting opinion in favor of automatic recusal whenever a judge is Facebook friends with a litigant.

“While Facebook and other social media sites have become more sophisticated, recent history has shown that a judge’s involvement with social media is fraught with risk that could undermine confidence in the judge’s ability to be a neutral arbiter,” Pariente wrote.

“For these reasons, I would adopt a strict rule requiring judges to recuse themselves whenever an attorney with whom they are Facebook ‘friends’ appears before them,” she continued.

“This rule does little to limit the judge’s personal liberty, while advancing the integrity of the judicial branch as the one branch of government that is above politics.”

Justices Fred Lewis and Peggy A. Quince signed Pariente’s dissent.

The high court heard arguments in June in an appeal by the Herssein Law Group of the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s refusal to disqualify Miami Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko from a dispute over attorney fees.

The law firm cited her Facebook friendship with Israel Reyes, an attorney representing the U.S. Automobile Association, the company on the other side of the case.

The Supreme Court took the case to resolve a split with the 4th DCA, which had disfavored such relationships. The Florida Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, or JEAC, first advised judges in 2009 against letting Facebook friends appear before them.

The majority opinion swept aside fears that Facebook or other social media connections raise automatic fears of conflict of interest.

“If traditional ‘friendship,’ without more, does not reasonably convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge, then surely Facebook ‘friendship’ — which exists on an even broader spectrum than traditional ‘friendship’ and is regularly more casual and less permanent than traditional ‘friendship’ — does not reasonably convey such an impression,” Canady wrote.

“The JEAC’s position simply cannot be reconciled with this court’s longstanding treatment of disqualification motions based on mere allegations of traditional ‘friendship,’” he concluded.

Still, judges who allow these relationships are, “quite simply, inviting problems,” Labarga wrote.

“I recognize that in this day and age, Facebook may be the primary means some judges use to stay in touch with family members, actual friends, or people with whom they have reconnected after many years,” he wrote.

“If this is the case, then at the very least, judges should carefully review their Facebook accounts and limit their ‘friendships’ to cover only such individuals.” Even so, “the safest course of action is to not participate in Facebook at all.”

Pariente, in support of her own position, cited language from the 4th DCA’s ruling on the topic: “Judges do not have the unfettered social freedom of teenagers.”

It can be difficult for litigants to find out how deep a relationship Facebook friendship really represents, Pariente argued.

Yet such friends have daily access to information about a judge’s personal and work information, photos, likes and dislikes, and more.

“Thus considered, judges’ Facebook ‘friendships’ with attorneys who appear in their courtrooms can easily cause an appearance of impropriety.”

Pariente recommended that judges adopt pages like the one used by the Florida Bar and similar institutions, which allow people to “follow” but not “friend.”

“Judges, unlike the general public and even other elected officials, accept the responsibility when they take the oath of office and don their black robes that many prior activities may have to be limited for the purpose of maintaining the integrity of our justice system,” Pariente wrote.

“One of these activities should include the use of social media to communicate, either actively or passively, with attorneys who appear before them. Because public trust in the impartiality and fairness of the judicial system is of the utmost importance, this court should err on the side of caution.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons