In a letter earlier this week to Gov. Ron DeSantis, the state’s chief administrative law judge didn’t quit but said he was “ready to step aside” if needed.
Aides to the Governor and Cabinet members who met Tuesday, however, took Chief Judge Robert S. Cohen‘s two-page missive as a resignation, discussing the next steps.
“We’ll do an open application period,” said Beau Beaubien, DeSantis’ Director of Cabinet Affairs, during the meeting. “Each office will have the opportunity to individually interview candidates who apply, then we’ll come back with names.”
In his letter, Cohen mentioned DeSantis’ desire to “review and re-evaluate” the leadership of the Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH), which Cohen now directs. DeSantis’ press office hasn’t responded to a request for an explanation.
It’s not clear, for instance, whether DeSantis is interested in gaining the power to appoint administrative law judges (ALJs).
That would essentially give him “control over the judges who decide whether (his) agencies are acting properly,” the News Service of Florida explained in 2017.
For the last two Legislative Sessions, during the second and last term of former Gov. Rick Scott, lawmakers unsuccessfully ran bills to give the Governor authority to appoint ALJs. One measure also limited them to eight years of service.
Now, Cohen — as director and chief judge of DOAH — hires ALJs. His position is overseen by the Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the state Administration Commission, and hiring is by a majority vote.
That appointment is required to be later confirmed by the Senate. Cohen, for instance, was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 and confirmed by the Senate the next year.
ALJs conduct “evidentiary proceedings, much like nonjury trials, involving disputed issues of fact for state agencies acting in their regulatory capacities,” according to The Florida Bar’s website. They also handle challenges to agency rules, teacher terminations and bid protests, among other things.
Cohen, besides not explicitly resigning, also told DeSantis he wanted to stay on at DOAH to “continue hearing cases” in a non-supervisory capacity.