What a year we’re having in Florida’s capital city. Just not in a good way.
In April, we had the sad spectacle of Miami Republican Sen. Frank Artiles resigning from the Senate after uttering racial slurs in the direction of Jacksonville Democrat Audrey Gibson. Less than two weeks ago, incoming Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Clemens resigned after admitting an affair with a lobbyist.
Now, we have six women alleging misconduct on the part of powerful Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, a candidate for governor. At the same time, another potentially big story, this one involving the Florida Supreme Court, is almost being ignored.
A few days ago Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica was at the Florida Supreme Court to hear arguments on the case involving whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint three justices to the Supreme Court the day before he leaves office in January, 2019.
The lawsuit seeks to force Scott to prove he has the authority to fill the seats currently occupied by Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who all must retire due to constitutionally-imposed age restrictions. Something weird, or suspicious – choose the word – occurred after oral arguments.
Rosica reported Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga could be heard on a hot mic, where Labarga says “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Listen to you about what?
“There” is the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which recommends names to fill Supreme Court vacancies, from which the governor selects.
Israel U. Reyes from Miami-Dade is one of those members. Before Reyes’ name came up, Labarga can be heard uttering “Panuccio,” and Pariente shortly thereafter was picked up saying “crazy.”
Jesse Panuccio, former head of the Department of Economic Opportunity, is also a JNC member.
Was this discussion about trying to influence the nominating process? It doesn’t look, or sound, good. Jason Unger, Chairman of the JNC, filed a public records request to try and get to the bottom of it.
Another piece of intrigue developed the following day. After the Florida Channel removed the portion that included the exchange from their website, Unger sought, and received the clip.
Jason Gonzalez, a former general counsel for Gov. Charlie Crist, posted the video only to be told to take it down by the Florida Channel. To the surprise of no one who knows Gonzalez, he refused (citing the Fair Use Doctrine) and it is now part of the YouTube universe.
On Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Times reported Scott asked for documents and a copy of the recording. The request was made through his general counsel, Daniel Nordby, who is arguing the appointments case before the Court. Nordby is also a member of the 9-person JNC.
Capital watchers will recall 1998, when the outgoing and incoming governor faced a similar quandary with the impending retirement of Justice Ben Overton. Both Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush claimed authority to make the appointment, but the two agreed to both interview the candidates and decide on a nominee.
Quince was the choice and now she is part of the other end of the process.
The court will make a decision in the coming weeks, making future Chiles/Bush-type agreements no longer possible or necessary. Before they decide, calls by Republicans for Pariente and Labarga to step aside are likely to grow.
If nothing else, this budding controversy brought an all new meaning to the term “oral arguments.”