Florida Supreme Court Archives - Page 2 of 38 - Florida Politics

Charles Canady may be off Donald Trump’s Supreme Court wish list

The Above The Law legal website is “handicapping Donald Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist” – and Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady isn’t on it.

“In case you missed it over the holidays, Jan Crawford of CBS News, one of the most plugged-in Supreme Court reporters around, revealed Trump’s five finalists” to replace the late Antonin Scalia, who died last February.

In alphabetical order, they are Judge Steven Colloton (8th Cir.) of Iowa; Judge Thomas Hardiman (3d Cir.) of Pennsylvania; Justice Joan Larsen of Michigan; Judge William Pryor (11th Cir.) of Alabama; Judge Diane Sykes (7th Cir.) of Wisconsin, according to Crawford.

“These five judges all appeared on Trump’s first SCOTUS list of 11 names, suggesting that his supplemental list of 10 names might represent something of a second tier,” ATL reported.

Canady’s name was on that second list.

The former lawmaker has been one of two reliable conservative votes on the state’s highest court, along with Ricky Polston. But now joining them is conservative jurist C. Alan Lawson, replacing retired Justice James E.C. Perry.

Canady, a Lakeland native, served three terms in the Florida House of Representatives (1984-90) and four terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1993-2001) as a Republican, rising to chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution.

He became general counsel to Gov. Jeb Bush, who later appointed him to the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland in 2002, the bio says.

Gov. Charlie Crist then named him to the state Supreme Court in 2008. Canady also served as the court’s chief justice in 2010-12.

 

Survey finds dissatisfaction with Florida’s workers’ compensation system

How confident are stakeholders that Florida’s workers’ compensation system strikes the right balance between protecting injured workers while keeping costs under control?

Not very, according to a survey released this week by the Division of Workers’ Compensation.

Nearly 66 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the system strikes the right balance. At nearly 40 percent, “strongly disagree” got more votes than any other category.

Nearly 18 percent agreed the balance was right, and a little more than 6 percent strongly agreed.

“The words ‘complex,’ ‘litigious,’ ‘outdated,’ and ‘overregulated’ were most often used in describing the system,” division assistant director Andrew Sabolic said.

Sabolic presented the findings Wednesday to the Three-Member Panel — its actual name — which sets reimbursement policies and payment levels for health care providers, pharmacists, and medical suppliers working with workers’ compensation claimants.

The findings recalled the Florida Supreme Court’s April ruling in Castellanos v. Next Door Co., in which the court complained “the workers’ compensation system has become increasingly complex to the detriment of the claimant, who depends on the assistance of a competent attorney to navigate the thicket.”

The court struck down limits on attorney fees in that ruling, one of two decisions blamed by many in the business community for a 14.5 percent in workers’ compensation premiums that began taking effect last month. The 1st District Court of appeal is weighing whether that increase was calculated in violation of Florida’s open-government laws.

The division surveyed 4,468 people on its electronic notification list, including representatives of carriers; attorneys for workers, employers, or carriers; and health care providers or facilities.

Only 447 responded, but Sabolic hopes for better results next time.

The findings are presented here (scroll down to Exhibit 1 on Page 18).

“Going forward, I think we’re going to periodically ask these same questions, so we have a benchmark to see how things change,” Sabolic said.

The survey presented a list of words and asked respondents to pick the one that best describes the workers’ compensation system. The top pick was “complex,” at 20.8 percent.

Next came “litigious” at about 20 percent; “outdated” at a shade over 19 percent; and “overregulated” at nearly 17.9 percent.

Only 5.3 percent thought the system “fair to all parties,” and 6.7 percent chose “self-executing.”

The system is designed to provide a self-executing way for injured workers to recover lost wages and health care costs, without the need for attorneys and lawsuits.

Under Florida law, workers give up their right to sue in court in exchange for assurances they’ll be taken care of.

“Of all the descriptor words you used in the survey, the one that is statutory is ‘self-executing,’ and only 6.7 percent of your respondents agreed with you that it was a self-executing system,” said Tamela Perdue, a senior vice president for Sunshine Health, who represents employers on the panel.

“I think that’s pretty telling about where the system is and where it’s supposed to be,” she said.

Asked whether “carriers and health care providers collaborate to provide the best medical care for injured workers,” 29.4 percent strongly disagreed; nearly 27.6 percent disagreed; 23.8 percent agreed; and 4.4 percent strongly agreed.

In other findings:

— 43.55 percent of respondents thought the system favored employers, and 27.4 percent workers.

— Nearly 47.5 percent thought indemnity benefits were about right; 36 percent too low; and 16.5 percent about right.

— 52.8 percent thought medical reimbursement payments were too low; 35.8 percent about right; and nearly 11.4 percent too high.

— Asked, “Is overutilization a major medical cost driver in Florida’s workers’ compensation system?” the largest group, at a little more than 27 percent, agreed; 13.4 percent strongly agreed; 24 percent disagreed; and 13.4 percent strongly disagreed.

— Just shy of 29 percent agreed that carriers timely authorize medical treatment.

The largest response was from health care providers, at 42.4 percent. Next was employers at 26.2 percent; carriers at 11.4 percent; employee attorneys at 7.4 percent; health care facilities at 2.2 percent; and attorneys for employers or carriers at 1.1 percent.

“Other” respondents accounted for 9.2 percent.

Closing statement: Florida Supreme Court justice steps down

Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry has reached his final day in office.

Perry

Perry is stepping down Friday because he reached the mandatory retirement age for justices.

Perry was appointed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist to the court in 2009. He was the fourth black justice appointed to the court.

During his tenure, he was part of a group of justices that has issued rulings that angered the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott.

Perry last week issued a lengthy dissent that asserted the state had applied the death penalty in a “biased and discriminatory fashion” and that there was no way it could be carried out in a constitutional manner.

Scott earlier this month appointed C. Alan Lawson, the chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal, to replace Perry.

High-profile Supreme Court cases still hanging fire at year’s end

With the Florida Supreme Court‘s opinion releases on winter break till Jan. 12, several high-profile cases will remain unresolved in 2016.

Here are a few, starting with the court’s official case summary:

— Debaun v. State of Florida: “This case asks whether laws governing sexually transmissible diseases apply only when the parties involved are a man and a woman.”

Gary Debaun is trying to have a charge dismissed under a 1986 law designed to prevent the spread of the human immunodeficiency virus.

The case, argued in February, involves the definition of sexual intercourse in a case involving a gay man charged with not letting a partner know he was HIV-positive.

Lawyers for Debaun argued the law says it’s illegal not to disclose an HIV infection before “sexual intercourse,” but that definition only appeals to traditional sex between a man and a woman—not two men.

A lower court judge dismissed the charge against Debaun, but an appeals court reinstated it saying the law was clearly intended to include other sexual activity where there is a risk of transmitting the virus.

— Florida Department of Revenue v. DirecTV: “This case challenges a state law that taxes satellite television providers at a higher rate than cable TV.”

The question here is whether satellite-television service be taxed at a higher rate than cable. Oral argument was held in April.

Satellite TV companies, including DirecTV, want the court to uphold the 1st District Court of Appeal’s 2-1 decision last year, which said that taxing the two services differently is unconstitutional. The state’s Revenue Department and Florida’s cable TV industry want it overturned.

At issue is the state’s communications services tax (CST), which charges “direct-to-home satellite service” at a total rate of 11.44 percent. Cable TV, however, is taxed at a total of 7.44 percent. (The state reduced the CST effective last July 1.)

The lower court’s majority ruling held that different tax rates violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause because they tend to benefit in-state cable companies over out-of-state satellite companies.

— Gretna Racing v. Department of Business & Professional Regulation: “This case asks whether local voters can authorize the operation of slot machines in counties outside of Dade and Broward.”

A horse track in Gretna, Gadsden County, about 30 miles west of Tallahassee, is asking the court to let it have slot machines because voters approved them in a local referendum in 2012.

If the court rules favorably, it could expand slot machines to counties where voters passed slots referendums: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, and Washington. That could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

Marc Dunbar, the track’s attorney told justices that the Legislature intended to allow for an expansion of slot machines in the state, saying counties were empowered under state law to decide whether to allow slots.

— Norman v. State of Florida: “This case challenges the constitutionality of Florida’s statute restricting the ‘open carry’ of firearms.”

Also in June, the court heard the case of Dale Lee Norman, which could uphold or overturn Florida’s ban on openly carrying a firearm. The National Rifle Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief.

Norman was arrested by Fort Pierce police in February 2012 after having gotten his concealed weapon license earlier that day, according to his initial brief.

“A concerned citizen noticed Mr. Norman’s firearm on his right hip and called police,” the brief said. “The State’s sole allegation in this case is that Mr. Norman carried a firearm conspicuously and openly rather than concealed.”

His attorney, gun-rights activist Eric Friday, said the ban should be stricken because it “infringe(s) on the fundamental individual rights of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves, their families, and the State.”

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission. 

Joe Henderson: Separation of powers there to keep legislators from running amok

Politicians have long been outraged – OUTRAGED, I tell you – about so-called “activist judges” who make them follow that pesky thing known as the law.

I guess it’s logical, therefore, for frustrated lawmakers to try and beat judges at their own game.

FloridaPolitics.com reported that State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Republican from Venice, filed two bills to address this issue. If passed, voters would be asked to approve a constitutional amendment to basically allow the state to thumb its collective nose if a judge just says no.

If enacted, it would allow the Legislature to over-ride rulings by a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling.

Interesting gambit.

The bills by Gonzalez take aim at both state and federal judges who, in the words of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, are the best example “of people putting power above principle …”

“We need judges who respect the Constitution and the separation of powers; who will reject the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected, super-legislature,” Corcoran said during a speech at his swearing-in ceremony.

“The problem with holding the same office for, in essence, life, is you start to think that the office is far, far, far less important than the person in it — which is why we need 12-year term limits on judges, so we can have a healthy judicial branch.”

Well, hold that thought for a moment, Mr. Speaker.

The separation of powers Corcoran embraces was never designed to be a judicial rubber stamp for lawmakers. It’s in there so judges can keep lawmakers from running amok – kind of the way Florida has done with its gerrymandered congressional boundaries and state House and Senate districts.

That was done against the will of voters, by the way. They approved separate constitutional amendments in 2010 that ordered districts “may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.”

And then, Republicans drew new districts that favored, well, Republicans. There was lawsuit by the League of Women Voters, which led to a ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that the boundaries of two districts broke the law.

To me, that is the textbook example of the separation of powers.

The same was true when the state Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty law was unconstitutional. Note, the court didn’t say capital punishment itself was unconstitutional – only that the law saying only 10 of 12 jurors had to vote for death didn’t meet the legal standard.

That may be annoying to prosecutors and lawmakers who like to brag they’re tough on crime, but forcing them to work harder before sentencing a murderer to death is not unconstitutional.

Yes, judges sometimes make wacky rulings. Legislators also sometimes propose wacky bills that can become law.

When that happens, the only recourse is in the courts. Crying foul about “activist judges” who don’t see it their way is a weak argument from lawmakers who probably were trying to pull a fast one.

Even if these bills pass through the Legislature and makes their way to the governor’s desk for his signature though, opponents shouldn’t worry too much. They can probably get them overturned by appealing to one of those activist judges.

Legislation would allow lawmakers to override judges’ rulings

Lawmakers could override court decisions they don’t like under bills filed Tuesday.

State Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, filed two pieces of legislation, one aimed at state judges and another at federal judges who interpret state laws.

The first measure (HJR 121) would allow the Legislature to review judicial rulings that declare legislative acts void. If approved in the 2017 Legislative Session, it would allow lawmakers to put the issue on the ballot and amend the state Constitution.

That means that if “the Supreme Court, (any) district court of appeal, circuit court, or county court” overturns a law, the Legislature could salvage it with a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has made judicial reform a top priority during the next two years.

He has called for the state to impose a term limit for judges; in a November speech on the House floor, Corcoran said the state needs “judges who respect the Constitution and separation of powers; who will reject the temptation to turn themselves into some unelected, super-legislature.”

Gonzalez, an orthopedic surgeon by trade, also is taking aim at the feds, filing what’s known as a House memorial (HM 125).

“It is my concerted view that such provisions, if enacted by the people would curtail the tendency of activist judges to manipulate the law to suit their political views and agendas,” said Gonzalez in a statement on his website explaining his decision to file the measures. “Equally as importantly, this would force the people to engage the legislature in enacting rectifications to current laws that they see as objectionable or flawed, restoring the natural relationship between the people and their legislative bodies. This would also force the electorate to more carefully look at their candidates and their actions during times of reelection.”

It urges Congress to propose a constitutional amendment to “deem a law that has been declared void by certain federal courts active and operational.” Such measures, if passed, are non-binding.

It says the judicial branch has taken “an increasingly activist role aimed at molding legislation according to the political beliefs of its members.”

The U.S. Supreme Court “currently possesses ultimate and unchecked authority on matters of the constitutionality of the United States’ laws such that its opinion on such matters has the same effect as amending the United States Constitution,” the measure says.

“Thomas Jefferson foresaw the dangers of ‘allowing judges to be the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions,’ calling this ‘a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of oligarchy,’ ” it continues.

“And … the presence of such unchecked and plenary authority on determining the constitutionality validity of a law of the United States must be dismantled for the sake of our republic and for the continued empowerment of its people.”

__Tallahassee-based reporter Jim Rosica contributed to this report.

 

After Asay decision, anti-death penalty advocates call for commutations

The state’s leading death penalty opposition group is calling for more than 200 Florida death row inmates to have their sentences reduced to life imprisonment.

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP) says a Florida Supreme Court decision on convicted killer Mark Asay out Thursday means that many are “entitled to be resentenced.”

The court determined that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hurst v. Florida, requiring Florida juries—not judges—”to (determine) the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death” does not apply retroactively to Asay and many others.

But the opinion can be retroactive for certain death-sentenced inmates whose “cases were not final” when another related U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Ring v. Arizona, came out in 2002.

That’s when the court first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty. As of Friday, there were 384 convicts facing capital punishment in Florida.

Resentencing efforts could cost Florida taxpayers more than $100 million, said Mark Elliott, FADP’s executive director, in a statement.

“Florida taxpayers could spend more than $500,000 for each complex death sentencing phase that may or may not result in a sentence of death,” he said.

“Commuting these death sentences to life in prison without the possibility of parole would save many millions of critically needed criminal justice dollars,” Elliott added. “These funds could be reallocated to hire and train more law enforcement officers and better protect those who protect us.

“Now is the time to be both tough on crime and smart with taxpayer dollars.”

A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott said the governor’s lawyers would review the ruling but did not immediately indicate when executions will resume.

The last person put to death in Florida was Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. in January. Scott holds the record for presiding over the most executions as Florida governor – 23 – since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, according to the Department of Corrections.

In Mark Asay case, court says death penalty ruling isn’t retroactive

Mark Asay will remain on the state’s death row, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday, likely to become the “first white person executed for the murder of a black person in this state.”

Asay, Mark
Asay

Its 80-page opinion also determined that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hurst v. Florida, requiring Florida juries—not judges—”to (determine) the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death” does not apply retroactively to Asay and many others.

However, the opinion can be retroactive for certain death-sentenced inmates whose “cases were not final” when another related U.S. Supreme Court ruling came out in 2002.

In Ring v. Arizona, the court first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty. As of Thursday, there were 384 convicts facing capital punishment in Florida.

But Thursday’s decision further suggested a court that continues to be fractured over the state’s death penalty. Most recently, Florida’s high court this October also said death sentences require a jury’s unanimous vote.

The controlling opinion in Asay’s case was a plurality of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy A. Quince and Ricky Polston. The latter two often are polar opposites in opinions, with Quince leaning left and Polston a reliable conservative vote.

But Labarga and Polston also weighed in with separate concurring opinions, as did Justices R. Fred Lewis and Charles Canady, who agreed with the result only.

Justice Barbara Pariente wrote a mixed-bag opinion, concurring in part with the opinion but also dissenting, and Justice James E.C. Perry, who retires at the end of the month, dissented with a stunning admission.

“The majority’s decision today leads me to declare that I no longer believe that there is a method of which the state can avail itself to impose the death penalty in a constitutional manner,” he wrote, echoing Justice Harry Blackmun that he “no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

“I would find that Hurst v. Florida applies retroactively, period,” Perry wrote.

Asay, a white supremacist sentenced to death for gunning down two people in Jacksonville in 1987, had asked the court to review his case. He was on parole at the time of the shootings.

Asay, his brother, and another man were in downtown Jacksonville looking for prostitutes when a confrontation with Robert Lee Booker, who was black, turned deadly. Asay later that night shot and killed a transgender prostitute, born Robert McDowell, “a black man dressed as a woman” whom Asay had hired for sex.

“As to both murders, the trial court found Asay’s age of 23 at the time of the murders to be the only mitigation for his offenses,” the opinion said.

Asay, now 52, was sentenced in November 1988 and Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant this January. The court lifted a stay of execution in Asay’s case entered on March 2.

His latest claims include questioning firearms evidence used at trial and not having a lawyer when Scott signed his death warrant “and for the previous 10 years.”

Asay also argued he should be re-sentenced because of the Hurst decision, requiring juries to determine the factors that support a death sentence. And he said prosecutors had suppressed new evidence in his favor.

The plurality opinion dismissed each of his arguments, including saying Hurst can’t be applied retroactively, in part because “this Court, the State of Florida in prosecuting these crimes, and the families of the victims had extensively relied on the (then-)constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty scheme.”

Moreover, “there are a substantial number of death sentences the finality of which would be upended, nearly half of those defendants committed their crimes and had their sentences upheld decades ago,” it said.

Then, in a classic example of what law professors call a “negotiated paragraph,” the court reaches its main result.

After weighing all the applicable legal tests, it “conclude(s) that Hurst should not be applied retroactively to Asay’s case,” then says “we limit our holding to this context.” The justices immediately add, however, the tests “weigh against applying Hurst retroactively to all death case litigation in Florida.”

In her opinion, Pariente later explains the ruling “limit(s) the retroactive application of Hurst v. Florida to those cases that were not final when the United States Supreme Court decided Ring,” calling that unconstitutional.

Polston wrote that “the majority opinion has incorrectly limited the retroactive application of Hurst” in the context of the Ring case, that first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty.

The majority “bar(s) relief to even those defendants who, prior to Ring, had properly asserted, presented, and preserved challenges to the lack of jury fact finding and unanimity in Florida’s capital sentencing procedure,” he said. “This Court need not tumble down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing ….”

“Every pre-Ring defendant has been found by a jury to have wrongfully murdered his or her victim,” Polston said. “(T)his Court now limits the application of Hurst, resulting in the State wrongfully executing those defendants.

“It seems axiomatic that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’; yet, this Court essentially condones that outcome with its very limited interpretation of Hurst’s retroactivity and application.”

And Labarga said separately, “our decision today does not apply to those defendants whose death sentences were imposed … solely as a result of a judicial override,” that is, a judge who imposes death over a jury recommendation of life imprisonment.

“There are only two death row defendants who satisfy this criteria—Matthew Marshall and William Zeigler Jr.,” he writes. “The impact of Hurst … upon their death sentences is an issue for another day.”

Rick Scott picks C. Alan Lawson for Supreme Court

Conservative appellate judge C. Alan Lawson will become the next Florida Supreme Court justice, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday morning.

Lawson

Lawson, who will replace retiring Justice James E.C. Perry, is chief judge of the state’s 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach. Perry’s retirement is effective Dec. 30; Lawson’s first day is the 31st.

“He’s got a 20-year track record, he’s been a public servant, he clearly believes in following the rule of law,” Scott said, standing next to Lawson – his first ever Supreme Court pick – and his family. “He is going to do a good job … and he’s not going to legislate from the bench.” (Video of announcement here.)

Lawson now makes a third conservative vote on a seven-member state Supreme Court that often splits 5-2 on matters of public policy. To date, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston have been the court’s most reliable conservative voices.

In a statement, both men “applaud(ed)” the appointment, calling Lawson “a true leader (who) brings strong conservative principles” to the court.

Conservative lawmakers and business interests have long derided the court – specifically its liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis – for “judicial overreach,” saying the court often breached the separation of powers between the lawmaking and judicial branches.

Recently, they denounced decisions chipping away at protections afforded business owners in the state’s workers’ compensation law, striking down caps on attorney fees and ordering disability benefits extended for injured workers.

The state’s highest court also becomes more white; Perry is black. With his departure, Quince is the now the lone African American on the court.

This isn’t Lawson’s first attempt to join the court. Perry, whom Lawson is replacing, beat him in 2009 for the opening created by the retirement of Justice Charles T. Wells.

Lawson appeared with his wife Julie and son Caleb, as well as his father and mother, Charles and Velma Lawson, sister Laurie Lawson Cox and brother-in-law Thomas Cox.

Lawson, whom Scott had first mistakenly introduced as “Lanson,” told reporters that the judiciary’s mandate to interpret laws “came with a promise, that it would be exercised with judicial restraint.”

“There are a lot of precedents from the Florida Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court that details what judicial restraint means and is not supposed to mean,” he added. Many critics have noted that “judges and courts have moved away from what is clearly laid out … that says, ‘this is what courts are supposed to do.’ “

When asked if he could name decisions in which judges have “overreached,” he said, “No. It’s not ethical for judges to comment on issues that could come before the Supreme Court.”

Lawson was then backed by “religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association,” wrote politics reporter William March in a February 2009 story for the now-defunct Tampa Tribune, while Perry was favored by “liberal groups and black leaders.” Those backers were largely silent this time around.

The appointment created a quandary for then-GOP Gov. Charlie Crist, March wrote, “pit(ting) conservatives in his own party (then Republican) against a minority community Crist is courting.” He eventually picked Perry, who joined the court the next month.

Lawson, born in Lakeland, grew up in Tallahassee. He graduated from Tallahassee Community College and later Clemson University with a degree in Parks, Recreation & Tourism Management, according to his online bio. He got his law degree from Florida State University in 1987.

He was in private practice for several years before becoming an assistant county attorney in Orange County and then a circuit judge in 2002.

Lawson also was a Florida Bar exam question writer and grader. He moved to the 5th District appellate bench in 2006. Both his judicial appointments were by Republican former Gov. Jeb Bush.

In 2012, he was a member of a three-judge appeals panel that considered a custody battle between two women who were formerly in a relationship.

The majority said both women have parental rights, but Lawson wrote “a blistering dissent,” in which he said a child can have only one mother, according to the Associated Press.

The court shouldn’t recognize two mothers “unless we are also willing to invalidate laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, bigamy, polygamy, or adult incestuous relationships on the same basis,” Lawson said. In a 4-3 opinion, the state Supreme Court later said the non-birth mother could seek shared custody.

Scott picked Lawson over two other conservative finalists for the post: Wendy W. Berger, another judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal, and Dan Gerber, an Orlando civil-trial defense attorney.

Scott “had three excellent candidates to consider,” Florida Bar President William J. Schifino Jr. said in a statement.

“I applaud the governor, the Judicial Nominating Commission and the process, and very much look forward to working with soon-to-be Justice Lawson in the future,” Schifino said. “He has demonstrated himself to be an excellent jurist and someone who has the best interests of all Floridians at heart.”

Business interests also commended the pick.

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a group created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said Lawson’s appointment is a “reaffirmation of our system of checks and balances between the three branches of government.”

Scott “based his decision on the precepts that judges should strictly adhere to the rule of law,” he said in an email. The governor’s “thoughtful choice in this solemn duty will have a profoundly positive impact on Florida for a long time.”

Tom Feeney, CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, added that his members have been “anxious for the day that a majority of the Florida Supreme Court can restore respect for the constitutional separation of powers, including legitimate powers of the popularly elected members of the legislative and executive branches.”

“If the Florida Supreme Court will exercise only those legitimate judicial powers, such as deciding controversies of fact and enforcing the language of our duly enacted statutes and Constitution, as opposed to arbitrarily injecting their personal and political preferences, a constitutional balance can be restored.”

Scott could have the opportunity himself to put a conservative majority on the bench. Pariente, Quince and Lewis face mandatory retirement in early 2019, and Scott said he plans to replace them before he leaves office that January.

“I will appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” he said.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz quickly reacted, saying she was “deeply troubled” by Scott’s position.

“The Supreme Court is no place for political gamesmanship,” she said in a statement. “If Gov. Scott follows through on this assertion, he risks setting off a contentious legal battle with his successor that would mar the transition process and throw our state’s highest court into uncertainty.

“The governor should look to the example set by Govs. Buddy MacKay and Jeb Bush in 1998 and do the right thing on behalf of Floridians,” she added, referring to their joint appointment of Quince.

Tallahassee residency case becomes statewide issue

Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox lives in the City of Tallahassee. While that should not come as man-bites-dog news, it’s not that simple in Florida’s capital.

The residency of the former Tallahassee Mayor and Florida Democratic Party Chair was challenged in court by Dr. Erwin Jackson, a frequent city government and Maddox critic. Maddox maintains two domiciles; a rented home within the city limits and another larger residence outside the city, which he owns.

The home outside the city limits was put on the market in 2012 while Maddox was a candidate for the Commission and was put on the market again as he sought re-election this year. Jackson points to that and questions other indicators he says makes the case Maddox lives in the home outside the district.

Second Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled in Maddox’s favor on three occasions only to be overruled and scolded for “abuse of discretion” by a three-judge panel of the First District Court of Appeal (DCA). After Dodson had recused himself, colleague Karen Gievers drew the short straw and was assigned the case.

In her 28-page ruling, Gievers said Jackson “has offered neither documents or testimony that establish Maddox’s legal residency on August 30, 2016, at the time of the election was somewhere other than the North Adams Street (city) address.”

She further ruled the “overwhelming credible evidence” shows Maddox lives in the city and that he did not try to “game the system.”

Gievers addressed several questions posed by Jackson and his legal team. Among those were the registrations of vehicles registered to Maddox using the county address between 2000 and 2015.

All eight were changed to the downtown address during calendar year 2016. Gievers admitted the registration changes were “not as timely as the statutes provide,” but that fact still does not prove residence on a particular date.

For the record, Maddox is registered to vote in Precinct 1302 according to the Leon County Supervisor of Elections. His rented home in the city is within that precinct, allowing him to answer in the affirmative whether he voted for himself.

The DCA had given a deadline of December 6 for the lower court to make a ruling. Unless they find some procedural error, this should put the Maddox residency matter to rest.

But there is one other matter still percolating within the legal system. The City of Tallahassee has asked the Florida Supreme Court to overrule the DCA hold that local governments should have the final say on residency.

The DCA held the Tallahassee City Charter is subservient to state law, but local governments wish to protect their autonomy to decide who meets the criteria established by their respective charters.

This is a big deal to them. When I published the first article on this topic, I heard from a former Jackson County Commissioner in total agreement with the City’s position.

On Monday, the Florida League of Cities, representing more than 400 communities around the state, turned this into a statewide matter. They, too, are asking for the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in.

“The League’s membership has a significant interest in the question before the Court in this proceeding,” they wrote in their filing document. “The governing documents of many of the League’s members contain provisions that, like the provision at issue here, authorize municipal councils and commissions to be the judges of the election and qualification of their members.”

Jackson and his legal team responded on Friday while Maddox and the City responded to the Supreme Court on Monday.

No matter whose side one takes in Jackson v. Maddox, it is probably a good thing to have some clarification. There are good reasons for the communities to set their own standards. There are also good reasons to be on the lookout for circumstances where the Establishment is protecting its own.

Merry Christmas from Tallahassee or Leon County, whichever applies.

Update: On Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court issued the following order:

“It appearing that Respondent, Dr. Erwin D. Jackson, has declined to seek review of the circuit court’s ‘Order on Pending Motions and Non-Jury Trial/Final Evidentiary Hearing, and Final Judgment,’ that the district court has lifted its stay, and that Respondent, Scott Maddox, has been sworn in as a city commissioner, Petitioner (the city of Tallahassee) is hereby directed to show cause by 3:00 P.M. on Thursday, December 8, 2016, why the petition for writ of prohibition should not be denied as moot. Respondents may serve a reply by 3:00 P.M. on Friday, December 9, 2016.”

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