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Rick Scott rejects Bar’s nominees for state’s judicial panels

Gov. Rick Scott has rejected all suggestions from The Florida Bar to fill vacancies in several of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC), the panels that recommend lawyers for judgeships.

The latest rejections now add up to at least 90 of the Bar’s recommendations for JNC openings that Scott has turned down since taking office in 2011, according to Bar records.

Other names that Scott rejected over the years include Vero Beach lawyer Erin Grall, now a Republican state representative, and nationally known civil-rights attorney Ben Crump of Tallahassee.

On Dec. 27, William Spicola, Scott’s general counsel, wrote a letter to Bar President William J. Schifino Jr., saying the governor wanted the Bar to start over and offer different recommendations for all the current openings. He did not give a reason.

“The Governor understands and appreciates The Bar’s time and effort in vetting and selecting nominees for appointment,” Spicola wrote. “Thank you for your important work, and we look forward to receiving additional names for consideration.”

A judicial nominating commission has nine members. “Five members are appointed directly by the Governor, and the Bar sends nominations to the Governor to fill the remaining four spots,” the Bar’s website explains.

The governor must select from the Bar’s recommendations, but state law allows for the governor to “reject all of the nominees recommended for a position and request that the (Bar) submit a new list.”

There is now one “lawyer vacancy” in each of five JNCs: the ones for the 2nd District Court of Appeal, the 3rd District Court of Appeal, and the 6th, 7th, and 20th Judicial Circuits.

The 15 rejected nominees are:

  • Thomas H. Dart, Sarasota
  • Amy S. Farrior, Tampa
  • Natalie P. Thomas, Tampa
  • Debora A. Diaz, Tarpon Springs
  • Robert H. Dillinger, St. Petersburg
  • Hugh C. Umsted, New Port Richey
  • Sonia M. Diaz, Naples
  • Kelley G. Price, Naples
  • Jamie B. Schwinghamer, Estero
  • Elliott B. Kula, Surfside
  • Lisa Lehner, Miami
  • Effie D. Silva, Miami
  • Aaron Delgado, Daytona Beach
  • Erum S. Kistemaker, Daytona Beach
  • Horace Smith Jr., Ormond Beach

The Bar is now taking applications, due Feb. 6, for the next set of nominations.

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at

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