Florida Supreme Court Archives - Florida Politics

‘The will of the people’: The coming brouhaha over sports betting in Florida

The next big debate over gambling in Florida could be on sports betting — with one top lawmaker already flexing his muscle regarding lawmakers’ say over it.

This month, voters approved Amendment 3, also known as the ‘Voter Control of Gambling’ amendment, by 71 percent. Its aim: To “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

But incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, says he doesn’t think the state constitution would be implicated in regulating and taxing sports wagering, if legislators want to do so. He met with reporters last week.

The amendment doesn’t list sports betting by name, but does define “casino gambling” as “any of the types of games typically found in casinos.”

At stake to states? Billions in tax revenue: Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling consulting firm, reports there are 18 states “with either proposed legislation or legalized sports betting not yet active … At a 15 percent tax rate and digital betting, these states could generate $1 billion-$1.4 billion in tax revenue.”

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door in May. It overturned a 1992 federal law that banned governments, including the states, from allowing sports wagering. (Sports betting no doubt is happening now in Florida; it just isn’t expressly legal under state law.)

FanDuel, the online fantasy sports concern, wants in on the action here. In an email to customers, it urged Florida voters to oppose Amendment 3, saying it “would stop any chance of bringing sports betting to Florida dead in its tracks.”

Galvano — an attorney and former president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States — said, “We’re looking at what opportunity is there.

It may require, if we decide to regulate sports betting and collect revenues from it, that we go back out to a referendum,” he added. “I’m not convinced it would require another constitutional amendment.”

Nope, says John Sowinski, president of Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment.

Florida’s Constitution and the will of the people are now crystal clear on this matter,” he said. “Only Florida voters, by constitutional initiative, have the authority to authorize any form of casino gambling, including sports betting.

“That’s not just our opinion,” he added. “That is the stated opinion of sports gambling advocates who opposed Amendment 3 with their millions, and with their communications on the subject.

“Any legislation that ignores Amendment 3 and its overwhelming voter support is patently unconstitutional and an affront to the will of the people,” Sowinski said.

Nonetheless, there’s another impetus for the state to get its hands around gambling on sports, Galvano said: “I think it would behoove us to bring stability with the Seminole Tribe as part of a bigger package.”

As a House member, he helped draft what’s known as the Seminole Compact. The agreement grants the Tribe exclusive rights to offer certain kinds of games, such as blackjack, in return for payments to the state. It fully owns the Hard Rock brand of hotels and casinos around the world and in Florida, including locations in Hollywood and Tampa. 

Tribal representatives have said that any tacit approval of sports betting and fantasy sports violates their exclusivity, however.

And though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

Among those, for example, are “pre-reveal” games. The electronic games found in bars play and pay out like slots.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in August upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the games are illegal slot machines, but companies behind the games have asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up the issue. That court has not yet decided whether it will, according to dockets.

Gary Bitner, longtime spokesman for the Seminoles, said it’s “good to hear Sen. Galvano talk about stability in connection with the Seminole Tribe. Stability has always been the Tribe’s primary goal.”

Lawmakers first meet in ‘Organization Session’ on Tuesday, when Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva will be officially named heads of their chambers. The first time committees will meet is Dec. 11-14, with the 2019 Legislative Session opening March 5.

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.

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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.

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.”

Praise for defendant brings rebuke for Miami-Dade judge

The Supreme Court has OK’d a public reprimand for Miami-Dade County Judge Deborah White-Labora, concluding she tarnished her position by writing a character reference for a defendant in a federal prosecution.

“Accordingly, we hereby command Judge Deborah White-Labora to appear before this court for the administration of a public reprimand at a time to be established by the clerk of this court,” the justices said unanimously Thursday in an unsigned opinion.

The Miami Herald originally reported that White-Labora used her official letterhead to seek leniency for Sam Konell.

He drew a 5-year sentence in February for illegally steering state defendants to a corrupt clinic, at a cost to Medicare of $63 million.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that he became an asset to virtually every judge in the building,” White-Labora wrote, according to the Herald. “He also helped hundreds, if not thousands, of mentally ill defendants.”

The judge, who once ran the county’s drug court and now presides over a domestic-violence calendar, had entered into a stipulation agreement with the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, or JQC, acknowledging wrongdoing and accepting the public reprimand.

“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 high court said.

The justices hold authority to “accept, reject, or modify in whole or in part” such decisions by the JQC, and concluded the punishment was in line with that meted out in similar cases in the past.

“By engaging in such conduct, Judge White-Labora failed to maintain the high standards of conduct necessary to preserve the integrity of the judiciary, violating Canon 1, and she acted in a manner that could potentially undermine public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, violating Canon 2A,” the court said.

“Further, in violation of Canon 2B, Judge White-Labora created the appearance of impropriety and partiality by improperly lending the prestige of her office to advance the private interests of the defendant for whom she improperly acted as a character witness.”

Supreme Court takes up battle over public schools

Two decades after voters approved a constitutional amendment that called for a “high quality” system of public schools, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday took up a legal battle about whether the state has properly carried out voters’ wishes.

An attorney for the group Citizens for Strong Schools asked the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that rejected the lawsuit. Attorney Jodi Siegel said the case should be sent back to a circuit judge to apply standards that would properly determine whether the state is meeting the constitutional requirements.

“We have current standards and current measurements that are showing significant disparities,” Siegel said. “We had 670,000 children that are failing reading. So this is not a child or two. This is a systemic failure.”

But Rocco Testani, an attorney for the state, argued that the Supreme Court should uphold the lower-court decision. Testani also said the state has made changes since 1998 that have led to significant improvements in the public-school system.

“It has been successful, it has worked,” Testani said. “It is not a system that anyone should be concerned is broken.”

The 1998 constitutional amendment said it is a “paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” The amendment fleshed that out, in part, by saying adequate provision will be made for a “uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system” of public schools.”

Citizens for Strong Schools and other plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in 2009, arguing that Florida has not properly complied with the constitutional amendment and pointing to issues such as many students not being able to read at grade level. After holding a trial, however, a Leon County circuit judge ruled against the plaintiffs in 2016.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last December upheld that ruling and said arguments about the state failing to adequately provide for public schools “raise political questions not subject to judicial review.”

Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson on Thursday also questioned whether courts should decide such issues, raising the possibility of violating the separation of powers with the legislative and executive branches.

“In order to have any separation of powers whatsoever, you would have to have a … very deferential standard of review,” Lawson said as he questioned Siegel. “Otherwise, we’re just going in and saying, ‘Spend the money here, do this, this is the right program,’ based on evidence that’s presented. And that, just to me, cannot be right given that we’re supposed to have three separate branches of government.”

But Justice R. Fred Lewis said courts are designed to interpret “principled concepts” in the Constitution and has long dealt with other difficult issues such as due process and civil rights.

“The Constitution here is the will of the people,” Lewis said while questioning Testani. “It may be difficult, it may be sticky and mucky. But what makes the difference with this (the education issues) as opposed to those other principled concepts?”

Siegel asked the justices to find that courts can resolve the issues about whether the state is properly carrying out the constitutional amendment. She also asked the justices to send the case back to circuit court with instructions about standards that should be used.

If ultimately successful, Siegel said the plaintiffs are asking that the state be required to provide a “remedial plan” for meeting the constitutional requirements.

The Supreme Court typically takes months to rule in such cases.

Ron DeSantis win paves way for conservative court

Ron DeSantis’ narrow win in Tuesday’s election for Governor will bring an unprecedented expansion of conservative Republican power in Tallahassee.

Democrats haven’t won a Governor’s race since 1994. They haven’t controlled the state House or Senate since the mid-1990s. They lost their last Cabinet member in 2010.

Now, with DeSantis’ election, that conservative Republican influence will extend to the Florida Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 liberal majority that has blocked many initiatives advanced by the Republican-led Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

As he takes office on Jan. 8, DeSantis, a 40-year-old former congressman from Ponte Vedra Beach, will have the power to appoint three new members of the state’s highest court, replacing three justices who are part of the liberal bloc and who have reached a mandatory retirement age.

DeSantis, a Harvard-educated lawyer, has said that he will appoint conservative justices who are “solid constitutionalists.”

Talking to reporters Tuesday night in Orlando, DeSantis said his court appointees “will be very, very smart, very principled people, but they’re going to understand that their role is to apply the law and not rewrite the law.” He said the appointments will bring an end to “judicial activism” on the court.

The appointments may also have a lasting impact since voters approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that will allow the new justices, as well as other judges throughout the state, to serve until they are 75 years old, up from the current mandatory retirement age of 70.

A conservative majority on the Supreme Court is likely to be more deferential to initiatives advanced by DeSantis and the Legislature, where the GOP on Tuesday maintained a solid majority in the House and at least 23 seats in the 40-member Senate.

But in his victory speech, DeSantis talked little about partisan politics and emphasized the need as the state’s next Governor to work with all Floridians, including those who opposed him.

“Political campaigns are a rough business and often about highlighting our differences. And, unfortunately, in this day and age they often spiral into outright demagoguery,” DeSantis said. “But governing is different. Governing is about getting things done on behalf of the people of Florida, keeping our economy going, improving our water quality and environment, promoting public safety and expanding educational opportunities.

“We need to build a Florida that is cleaner, safer, stronger and that will be my guiding light as governor,” he said.

DeSantis said one area where he might unite Floridians will be behind an effort to address the problems of toxic algae and red tide and on moving forward with plans to restore the Florida Everglades.

“I think the first priority in terms of what is really urgent for Florida is really getting us on a strong track on water quality and the environment,” he said.

DeSantis said he would use his relationship with President Donald Trump, who held campaign rallies for him, to advance the federal portions of the effort, including the creation of a reservoir near Lake Okeechobee to help divert and treat polluted water.

“I think you’re going to get tired of me calling you, asking you for things for Florida,” DeSantis said about Trump. “But I look forward to that. I think we’ll have a great partnership.”

DeSantis will also have willing partners in the Florida House and Senate. Incoming House Speaker Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican, was an early supporter of DeSantis. The newly elected Lieutenant Governor, Republican state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, a Miami, will also help DeSantis navigate the legislative process.

Lawmakers and the new Governor are likely to find common ground on issues such as tax cuts, opposition to expanding Medicaid and the creation of more educational “choice” programs like charter schools and scholarships to send students to private schools.

DeSantis is also a strong supporter of gun rights, meaning any gun-control efforts are not likely to advance, and is open to restrictions on abortions. In the Republican primary, he voiced support for a “heartbeat bill,” which would prohibit doctors from providing abortions if fetal heartbeats can be detected.

As U.S. Navy veteran who served in the Iraq war, DeSantis will also find legislative support for his efforts to support active military members and veterans in the state.

One of DeSantis’ biggest challenges will be moving from a legislative branch, where he served nearly three terms in Congress, to the chief executive of the nation’s third-largest state.

DeSantis is taking over a huge enterprise, and one of his first tasks will be shaping a state budget proposal for 2019-2020 that is likely to be in excess of $89 billion.

He also must appoint a host of state agency heads overseeing areas such as education, health care, transportation and prisons.

Even prior to Tuesday’s election, DeSantis said he was putting together a transition plan for taking over from Scott, who leads in a U.S. Senate race that is expected to require a recount.

“You have to put together a government. I mean that’s a lot of work,” DeSantis said. “We have been doing this quietly behind the scenes, not to be presumptuous, but just because you don’t have enough time. You have to start doing it.”

Alan Lawson wins retention on the Supreme Court

Florida voters Tuesday agreed to keep Justice Alan Lawson on the state Supreme Court.

More than 71 percent of voters supported retaining Lawson, who was appointed to the state’s high court by Gov. Rick Scott in 2016.

Also, they voted to retain 17 judges on district courts of appeal. Voters in 1978 agreed to use a merit-retention system for Supreme Court justices and appellate judges.

Under the system, justices and appellate judges are appointed to the bench and later go before voters to determine if they should be retained. Jurists face an initial retention vote in the first general election after their appointment.

If retained, they serve six years before facing another retention vote. No justice or judge has failed to be retained since the system was adopted.

Lawson succeeded Justice James E. C. Perry, who was forced to retire due to an age limit.

The Florida Constitution establishes a mandatory retirement age for justices on or after their 70th birthdays.

The exact date of retirement depends on when the 70th birthday occurs. If the birthday occurs during the first half of a justice’s six-year term, then the mandatory retirement age is the same as the birthday. If the 70th birthday occurs in the second half of a term, then the justice can remain on the bench until the full term expires.

Voters on Tuesday also approved a constitutional amendment, known as Amendment 6, that raises the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

For local officials, there is no offseason

Sports coaches are fond of saying, “championships are won in the offseason.” It pays homage to the hard work and dedication that goes into preparing for the season ahead. It also means that for winning teams, there really is no offseason.

The same is true for Florida’s mayors, council members, commissioners and local elected officials. Year-round, we’re working to deliver results — collecting trash, keeping the power on, filling potholes, and developing innovative solutions to local economic, environmental and public health challenges.

Yet every year in Tallahassee, as the state legislative session begins, a new season kicks off — the state legislative session. And instead of referees calling pass interference, it’s state lawmakers passing interference over local communities.

That interference, in the form of pre-emption bills that block local governments from passing common-sense local laws, prevents us from doing our jobs and improving our communities. It silences local citizens and puts local democracy at risk.

Florida lawmakers have grown fond of proposing dozens of one-size-fits-all solutions. The list of shortsighted schemes to rein in local communities is as long as it is ridiculous.

In just the past two years, Florida’s legislators have tried to interfere with: short-term rentals, local hiring laws, 5G wireless technology, ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, community redevelopment agencies, immigration policies, towing and storage fees, stormwater management, dogs in vehicles, back in parking in parking garages, tree-trimming, anti-discrimination laws, development impact fees, affordable housing, red light cameras and debris from storms.

It would be one thing if genuine differences of opinion drove these heavy-handed pre-emption laws. But the truth is this: big-money special interests are behind this trend toward replacing citizens’ rights with corporate rights. Lobbyists and corporations know it’s easier to turn state legislatures into one-stop shops for thwarting local authority, than to work with 67 counties and 400 municipalities to advance their agenda.

We’re fed up. We’re fighting back. And that action begins in the offseason, before the Legislative Session.

Local officials have an obligation to keep our residents safe. That’s why earlier this year, more than 30 cities and counties joined a lawsuit challenging the state’s super-preemption law on firearms — a law that allows special interests to sue mayors and commissioners, have them fined and even removed from office, just for voting for common-sense local gun safety measures.

And just this month, the Florida Supreme Court announced it would take up the City of Miami Beach’s challenge to the state’s minimum wage pre-emption law. $8.25 goes further in some of our communities than others, and local residents deserve the right to enact a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

Your local elected officials are raising awareness through public education, informing our citizens about the threat state interference poses to their voices and their rights. We need our residents to understand that their wages, jobs, paid sick leave, clean air and water, diversity, and public health and safety are at risk — and we need them to fight back with us.

Numerous organizations, like the Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, are working to help communities stand up, speak out and make themselves heard. They’re sharing tools to organize, educate, and inform our neighbors about preemption’s threat to their quality of life.

But the most important tool? Your voice — and using it now, before state lawmakers head into the special interest-fueled frenzy of the legislative session.

Elections have consequences. Just like us — your local mayors and commissioners — your state legislators work for you. It’s crucial that we speak up now. Contact your state senator and representative. Tell them you believe in local solutions to local problems. Ask them to protect local democracy.

For sports teams, the hard work done in the offseason can be the difference between a good season and a great season. What we all do now together in the offseason can be the difference between healthy, vibrant local communities and communities with less opportunity, less vitality and less freedom.

Let’s put in the hard work together and win.

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Shevrin Jones represents House District 101; Daniella Levine Cava is County Commissioner of Miami Dade County; James D. Simmons is Mayor of Melbourne Beach; Dan Daley is Vice Mayor of the City of Coral Springs; Helen Warren and Adrian Hayes-Santos are City Commissioners of Gainesville.

Rick Scott seeks another shot at screening Supreme Court nominees

Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider allowing him to begin screening replacements for three of its justices, arguing the court may have “misapprehended” his arguments that he holds that authority.

The court issued an order Oct. 15 declaring that only the next Governor has the authority to replace Justices R. Fred LewisPeggy A. Quince, and Barbara Pariente, who face mandatory age-related retirement at midnight between Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, as Scott’s term ends.

“On its face, the order suggests that the court may have overlooked or misapprehended the relief sought by the petitioners in this proceeding,” Scott argues in a motion filed Tuesday evening by his general counsel, Daniel Nordby.

“The petition … filed in this case did not ask this court to determine the scope of the gubernatorial appointment power. Instead, the petition is directed entirely to the nomination process,” it says.

“As a result, the parties’ briefs in this case did not address the scope of the appointment power. And the Governor had no occasion, in this case, to present legal argument on the significant and disputed constitutional question that was the subject of previous litigation between the parties.”

Scott wants the court to rehear the case to clarify that point.

The three justices at issue are members of the court’s more liberal wing, so their retirements open an opportunity to reshape the court — depending on whether a Republican or Democrat next occupies the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott had asked the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin screening applicants and posited the possibility of huddling with his successor to choose among candidates.

That’s what the late Gov. Lawton Chiles (a Democrat) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (GOP) did when this issue arose in 1998. That process resulted in Quince’s ascension to the high court.

“The petitioners have provided no basis at this time to foreclose even the possibility of a similar agreement between Gov. Scott and his successor,” Scott’s motion argues.

“If this court does not clarify the Oct. 15 order … the order should be clarified by recognizing that Gov. Scott — like Gov. Chiles — has the authority to make the appointments in question with the consent of the governor-elect chosen at the November 2018 general election.”

Parties including the League of Women Voters of Florida were behind the legal challenge to Scott’s attempt to fill the seats.

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