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Ron DeSantis asks Supreme Court to bow out of Okaloosa official’s suspension

“The authority to suspend a public officer is committed to the governor.”

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday to dismiss Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson’s lawsuit seeking to overturn her suspension.

Attorneys for the Governor contend the court lacks authority to intrude upon his constitutional authority to police public officials or the Senate’s to judge them.

“By the text of the Florida Constitution, the authority to suspend a public officer is committed to the governor,” DeSantis’ attorneys wrote in a brief filed with the court.

“And the authority to review the Governor’s suspension is committed to the Florida Senate. The Florida Senate has the exclusive authority to remove or reinstate a suspended public officer, unless the Governor reinstates the officer prior to Senate removal.”

DeSantis signed an executive order in January removing Jackson on the recommendation of Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. The Governor pointed, in part, to child-abuse allegations against a teacher and grand jury findings that were critical of Jackson.

The Senate has held preliminary proceedings in the matter. But Jackson filed an emergency petition with the Supreme Court on March 3 seeking reinstatement. (Additional documents here.)

Meantime, the Senate has paused its proceedings against Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel pending the outcome of a lawsuit Israel has filed against DeSantis.

The courts may review only the “jurisdictional facts” that governors assert in suspension orders, DeSantis’ brief argues.

“Once substantiated in a Governor’s executive order stating the grounds for suspension and filed with the Secretary of State, the judicial branch lacks jurisdiction to exercise judgment on the Governor’s executive authority and discretion to suspend,” it says.

“Courts are expressly prohibited from determining the sufficiency of the evidence to support the grounds for such suspension, the merits, as that function is exclusively vested with the Senate.”

The Senate, in effect, sits as a “special” court to review suspensions, the brief continues. “The Florida Senate acts as an explicit, direct and effective check on the executive suspension power.”

DeSantis’ order suspending Jackson is legally sufficient because it “provides numerous factual allegations regarding petitioner’s failures in office, each of which is related to the governor’s finding of neglect of duty and incompetence,” the document says.

”On its face, the order meets the requirements articulated in (Supreme Court precedent), and the Florida Senate process into the merits should proceed.”

The brief also disputes Jackson’s contention that suspension orders must cover officials’ behavior during their current term of office.

”Had the people of Florida wanted to limit the Governor’s power to only suspend public officials for bad acts committed in their current term of office, they could have included a provision creating that limitation,” it says.

A 1912 advisory opinion to the contrary, it continues, is non-binding and, in any event, “this temporal limitation was not explicit in the constitutional text,” the brief argues. The court began ignoring its own opinion “within two decades,” it notes.

“Petitioner’s argument that intervening elections may cleanse the taint of the bad acts fails,” the brief says.

“While re-election may cleanse the public official in her own eyes, the Governor’s authority to suspend transcends elections or terms of office. The Governor’s executive authority to make sure the laws of the state are followed and the health, safety, and welfare of the public is protected has been expressly confirmed in the Florida Constitution.”

Written By

Michael Moline is a former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal and managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal. Previously, he reported on politics and the courts in Tallahassee for United Press International. He is a graduate of Florida State University, where he served as editor of the Florida Flambeau. His family’s roots in Jackson County date back many generations.

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