Florida Supreme Court openings get dozens of applications

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Despite a looming legal challenge, nearly 60 people have applied for three upcoming vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, including Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s former chief of staff.

Carlos Muniz, now the general counsel to the U.S. Department of Education, was on a list of names provided to Florida Politics by Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Monday evening after a public record request.

Also on the list is Hillsborough Circuit Judge Laurel Lee, wife of state Sen. Tom Lee, a Thonotosassa Republican. She was appointed by Scott in May 2013, and many of the other judges who applied are Scott appointees.

Polk Circuit Judge John Stargel, a former Republican state Representative, also has applied. He’s the husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement on the same day that the term-limited Scott, a Naples Republican, leaves office. He is now running against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson for U.S. Senate.

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote.

Progressive groups have renewed a lawsuit against Scott, however, saying the outgoing governor doesn’t have the authority to appoint three new justices.

Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel, said in an email he had received the applications, due 5 p.m. Monday, from the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).

The applications themselves were unavailable because the governor’s legal office still must redact them for confidential information, he said.

“As a result of the hurricane and some email bounce-backs, it is possible that the final list may include an additional name or two,” he said. “At least one of the three appointees must be a resident of the 3rd Appellate District (Miami-Dade and Monroe counties), so those applicants are listed separately.”

The other two seats are at-large. The JNC next must decide which applicants to interview.

Under the state constitution, judges and justices face mandatory retirement at age 70. In Florida, judicial vacancies are filled by appointment by the Governor, from a list of applicants vetted and submitted by judicial nominating panels.

Scott has said he would agree to confer with the next governor-elect on the three justices. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the Democratic nominee; Ponte Vedra Beach congressman Ron DeSantis is the GOP nominee.

Quince was the last justice to be appointed that way in 1998, and was the consensus candidate of then Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican.

A Gillum spokesman has all but spurned the idea, saying that “in our understanding of the constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Scott said he will announce the new justices on Jan. 7, his last day in office, which coincides with their retirement date.

Scott’s insistence on replacing the three spurred a legal challenge last year by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, who revived their suit last month. The progressive organization’s implied concern was that Scott would pack the court with more conservatives.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court said in December that it couldn’t step into the controversy because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

The lone dissenter? Lewis, who said Scott’s plan to make the appointments on his way out the door was “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The full list of applicants and their current positions is below.


Residents of 3rd Appellate District

Judge Alex Bokor (Miami-Dade County)

Amy Brigham Boulris (Gunster Law Firm)

John Couriel (Kobre & Kim)

Edward Guedes (Weiss Serota Cole & Bierman)

Judge Barbara Lagoa (3rd District Court of Appeal [DCA])

Judge Norma Lindsey (3rd DCA)

Judge Robert Luck (3rd DCA)

Hayden O’Byrne (K&L Gates)

Judge Ed Scales (3rd DCA)

Judge William Thomas (11th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Daryl Trawick (11th Judicial Circuit)


Non-residents of 3rd Appellate District

Judge Michael Andrews (6th Judicial Circuit)

Judge J. Andrew Atkinson (2nd DCA)

Judge Ross Bilbrey (1st DCA)

Judge-Elect Jeffrey Burns (Anchors Smith Grimsley/1st Judicial Circuit)

Judge Hunter Carroll (12th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Howard Coates (15th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Angela Cowden (10th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Cynthia Cox (19th Judicial Circuit)

Judge James Daniel (4th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Scott Duncan (1st Judicial Circuit)

Manuel Farach (McGlinchey Stafford)

Judge Jonathan Gerber (4th DCA)

Bryan Gowdy (Creed & Gowdy)

Judge Jamie Grosshans (5th DCA)

Judge Bradley Harper (Palm Beach County)

Judge Terrance Ketchel (1st Judicial Circuit)

Judge Mark Klingensmith (4th DCA)

Judge Jeffrey Kuntz (4th DCA)

Judge Bruce Kyle (20th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Laurel Lee (13th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Robert Long (2nd Judicial Circuit)

Judge Scott Makar (1st DCA)

Judge Mark Mahon (4th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Michael McDaniel (10th Judicial Circuit)

Mark Miller (Pacific Legal Foundation)

Carlos Muniz (U.S. Department of Education)

Judge Timothy Osterhaus (1st DCA)

Judge Tom Ramsberger (6th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Eric Roberson (4th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Clay Roberts (1st DCA)

Judge William Roby (19th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Cymonie Rowe (15th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Samuel Salario (2nd DCA)

Judge Tatiana Salvador (4th Judicial Circuit)

Leonard Samuels (Berger Singerman)

Stephen Senn (Peterson & Myers)

Judge Raag Singhal (17th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Pat Siracusa (6th Judicial Circuit)

Chief Judge Jonathan Sjostrom (2nd Judicial Circuit)

Judge Elijah Smiley (14th Judicial Circuit)

Donna Solomon (Solomon Appeals, Mediation, & Arbitration)

Judge Adrian Soud (4th Judicial Circuit)

Judge John Stargel (10th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Anthony Tatti (5th Judicial Circuit)

Matthew Thatcher (The Solomon Law Group)

Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas (1st DCA)

Judge Waddell Wallace (4th Judicial Circuit)

Judge Bo Winokur (1st DCA)


Capital correspondent Michael Moline and The News Service of Florida contributed to this post, republished with permission.

Jim Rosica

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 [email protected].


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