The third round of interviews of Florida Supreme Court applicants on Monday brought several revelations, including state Rep. Larry Metz’s disclosure that he has Parkinson’s disease.
Metz, a Yalaha Republican, shared his diagnosis with members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission at the end of his interview.
“I don’t think it’s an issue,” Metz told the panel, adding he is not on medication for the condition. “But I did not want to not mention it.”
Parkinson’s is a “chronic and progressive movement disorder, meaning that symptoms continue and worsen over time,” according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.
It’s caused when certain nerve cells in the brain die. There is no cure, although the symptoms can be managed through medication.
The disease, which has an unknown cause, often manifests through trembling of the hands, legs and jaw.
The late U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno had the illness, as does actor Michael J. Fox. Nearly 1 million people in the U.S. have Parkinson’s disease, according to the foundation.
The third round included Metz, Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal and Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County.
The man Lawson seeks to replace, retiring Justice James E.C. Perry, is the same person who beat him in 2009 for the high court job, itself created by the retirement of Justice Charles T. Wells.
In his interview, Lawson spoke of the need to foster communication between the branches of government. Lawmakers have slammed the high court in recent years for opinions they say veered too much into policymaking.
Lawson used the example of his inviting then-House Speaker Dean Cannon to sit in on a violation of probation hearing. Otherwise, he said. the only interaction judges and legislators have is when they’re asking for money during budget meetings, “which isn’t the best in developing relationships.”
Lawson, as did interviewees before him, said he subscribed to an “originalist and textualist approach” in interpreting laws, favored by conservatives.
“In most cases, you don’t need to go beyond (the statute),” he told the panel.
Lawson’s only stumble may have been when Commissioner Cynthia Angelos, a former trial judge in St. Lucie County, asked him what his weakness was. Lawson couldn’t answer.
After joking he “should have thought of the question,” he said he was “prepared for this position, pretty uniquely and in a lot of different ways … It is my hope and belief to make a difference to the jurisprudence of this state.”
The judge, who has run the Boston Marathon, also said he ran for the Legislature while in law school, coming in third in a field of six for a Tallahassee-area seat. “In retrospect, I’m really glad I did not win,” he said.
Metz faces term limits after his current stint in the House. The former Marine has been one of the House’s stalwart conservative members.
He was the only candidate up to that point to walk around the conference table to shake all the commissioners’ hands.
Metz mentioned his years of public service, including on the Lake County school board, as motivating his application: “There’s a real sense of satisfaction … it’s about being something bigger than yourself.”
He also stressed his belief in judicial restraint: “You have to understand your role and responsibility” as a judge, he said.
“Judicial power is both concentrated and broad … you have to remind yourself constantly what you are there to do, and not go beyond what you are supposed to do,” Metz said.
One commissioner, Jeanne Tate, shocked Metz by telling him they had gone to high school together. “It’s not that I’m worried I don’t remember you but I hope you don’t remember me,” he joked.
When asked whether there was a need for more “turnover” in the judiciary, Metz said he would keep an “open mind” to judicial term limits. Florida now uses merit retention elections, but no appellate judge in the state has ever lost such an election.
“One has to wonder, if the elections always produce the same result, whether they’re really working or not,” he said.
Morley said her judicial philosophy was not to “put a spin on a statute”: “The law needs to be interpreted according to plain language,” she said.
When asked about her mistakes, she admitted to holding a lawyer in contempt for a disagreement over evidence sharing between sides in a case, which she later realized was the “wrong way to achieve what I wanted to achieve.”
On “original meaning” in the Constitution, she was asked about the phrase “cruel and unusual punishment,” often used in the context of the death penalty.
“Human beings have found more and more egregious ways to treat each other that were never contemplated in 1789,” she said.
Surprises included her once being a member of the Lake County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse and her writing a letter to every Sumter County student who makes the honor roll.
The last of the interviews were scheduled to go through Monday evening. The commission will name six finalists for Gov. Rick Scott to consider.