Report: Lawsuit seeks removal of Fla. SC justices from ballot

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Jul 5, 2012




TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - Two Florida men filed a lawsuit last week requesting that three state Supreme Court justices seeking a "yes" or "no" from voters in November be removed from this fall's ballot.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Bernard Long and Veronco L. "Ron" Flores, both of Seminole County, filed their lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Court June 25.

In their filing, the two men allege that justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince broke the law when they stopped a court hearing on a Senate redistricting plan so they could finish paperwork to qualify for the Nov. 6 ballot.

"The delay caused by the justices cost Florida taxpayers thousands of dollars in additional legal fees for private outside counsel who were forced to wait while the justices worked on their campaign documents," the lawsuit alleges, according to the Times.

"Upon information and belief, the justices campaigns have not reimbursed the State of Florida or any private litigant for their costs and expenses caused by the delay."

The lawsuit is being handled by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a self-described "constitutional public interest law firm" based in Atlanta.

"On behalf of our clients, Florida attorney Eric Haug and attorneys with Southeastern Legal Foundation reviewed all available information about the ongoing controversies surrounding the merit retention election filings and fundraising by Florida Supreme Court justices Lewis, Pariente and Quince and determined that the best and only course of action was to file today's court action in Florida's Second Judicial Circuit," Shannon L. Goessling, executive director and chief legal counsel for the foundation, said in a statement last week.

"As has been the case with other candidates for high office in Florida and elsewhere, the laws and rules that govern elections and public disclosures are designed to provide public accountability and sometimes result in disqualification from the ballot. For those in the legal profession in public office, particularly judges, there is an additional, heightened duty to follow the rules to the fullest extent because we ask judges to determine what the law is."

She continued, "The relief sought by the citizens of Florida in this case is based on alleged criminal conduct that, but for the criminal conduct, the justices would not have qualified. We are seeking judicial intervention where the Secretary of State will not intervene and the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission does not have exclusive jurisdiction."

Citizens, Goessling said, have a right to a "full inquiry" to determine whether criminal acts were committed and subject to the results of that inquiry, seek an order removing the justices from the list of qualified candidates and removal from the ballot.

All three justices are up for a merit retention vote this fall.

Under a merit retention system, the governor appoints new justices from a list of three to six names submitted by the state's Judicial Nominating Commission. He or she then must select from the list.

Once appointed, justices eventually must face the voters in a "yes" or "no" vote as to whether they should remain on the bench.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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