“Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.”
That’s what Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga can be heard saying to Justice Barbara Pariente right after Wednesday’s oral argument in a lawsuit over the governor’s judicial appointments power.
A lawyer named Israel U. Reyes is a member of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC). The panel vets and recommends appointees for Supreme Court justice to the governor.
In a videotape provided to Florida Politics on Friday, some puzzling “hot mic” cross-talk can be heard between the two jurists, sitting on the bench as the attorneys were leaving the courtroom.
The exchange also was noted by some viewers as they watched the live argument; it’s not captured in The Florida Channel‘s archived video on its website.
“I heard what sounded like two JNC members’ names being mentioned,” said Jason Unger, a GrayRobinson lawyer-lobbyist in Tallahassee and the Supreme Court JNC’s chair.
Further, “it looks like Justice Pariente has a piece of paper she is referring to,” added Unger, who also has been a special counsel to the Florida House of Representatives. “I would like to see that document as that may provide some context, since the case has nothing to do with the JNC.”
Unger said he filed a public records request for the document with the Supreme Court: “I may have some more thoughts thereafter.”
In the tape, Labarga can first be heard saying what sounds like, “…anything on there, Panuccio.”
Jesse Panuccio, once Gov. Rick Scott‘s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is also a member of the Supreme Court JNC.
Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like, “…crazy…”
That’s followed by Labarga: “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.” JNC member Reyes is founder of The Reyes Law Firm in Coral Gables and a former circuit judge.
Pariente responds, but what she says isn’t clear on the tape.
The case they had heard was brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause, claiming Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t have authority to appoint three new Supreme Court justices on the last day of his term.
The organizations filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.
Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.
They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.
Scott’s office declined comment on the tape when contacted Friday. A spokeswoman for Thomas D. Hall, one of the attorneys representing the League and Common Cause, said he had no comment because he hadn’t heard the justices’ exchange.
As of Friday evening, requests for comment were pending with Reyes, and with Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters.