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Backroom Briefing: Scott Poised to Name New Justice

December 15, 2016 - 10:00pm
Rick Scott
Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott will leave office in January 2019. But the decision he announces Friday likely will have ramifications long after that.

Scott will name a successor to retiring Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry, a move that will almost assuredly mean adding a conservative to the court. It also will be Scott's first chance to appoint a justice, as the court has been made up of the same members for nearly eight years.

"I look forward to announcing my first pick to the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow," Scott tweeted Thursday afternoon.

The tweet, of course, didn't reveal Scott's choice. But the three finalists are 5th District Court of Appeal judges C. Alan Lawson and Wendy Berger and lawyer Dan Gerber, a partner with the Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell firm in Orlando.

The Supreme Court has long been a sore spot for Republicans, who control the governor's office, all three Cabinet seats and both chambers of the Legislature. Five of the seven justices are widely viewed as liberals and have often joined together to thwart the wishes of GOP leaders across Duval Street at the Capitol.

One recent example: The court in October struck down a death-penalty sentencing law approved early this year by lawmakers and Scott. Another example: The court this year struck down two parts of the state's workers' compensation insurance system.

The liberal bloc of Perry, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince were in the majority in those cases. Conservatives Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented.

During interviews last month with the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, Lawson, Berger and Gerber made clear they would take a more conservative approach.

For instance, Berger told the nominating commission that the justices' role is "to apply the law, to interpret the law."

"It's not to make it, or force my will upon the people through a written opinion," she said.

Scott's choice can have long-lasting effects because justices are able to stay on the court for decades until they reach mandatory retirement at age 70 or shortly thereafter.

Pariente, for example, was appointed by former Gov. Lawton Chiles in 1997, and Lewis was appointed by Chiles in 1998. Quince was jointly appointed in 1998 by Chiles and former Gov. Jeb Bush, as a transition took place after Bush's first election.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed four justices --- Canady, Polston, Perry and Labarga.

Lawson, the chief judge in the 5th District Court of Appeal, is 55, while Berger is 47 and Gerber is 53.


Florida Lottery Secretary Tom Delacenserie this week rejected any notion the state agency aims sales at minority communities. However, he said it is working to get more minority-owned businesses to sell lottery tickets.

Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, said Wednesday she was recently interviewed on the subject of the lottery targeting African-American communities. And as Delacenserie appeared before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, she wanted to know if that was true.

"Unequivocally, we do not target anyone," Delacenserie replied. "We have an advertising budget. We use the same model that any consumer products company would use, whether that's Colgate or P&G. What we do try to do is reach our demographics throughout the state."

In August, a Sun-Sentinel analysis concluded that the lottery's push to increase scratch-off ticket revenue has resulted in sales of the instant games rising three times as fast in high-poverty areas than in other areas.

Gibson also asked Delacenserie if the agency was making strides in reaching a state requirement that 15 percent of all lottery retailers be minority-owned businesses.

A 2015 audit found that of minority owners, 66 percent were Asian and 24.3 percent were Hispanic, while women and African-Americans were each under 5 percent.

Delacenserie said the agency continues to work on meeting minority retailer goals.

"In any business, there is no profit in exclusion," he said. "So we want as many distribution points for our product as possible, as long as our model fits the model that we're trying to reach."

But Delacenserie added that of the approximately 13,000 retail locations across the state where the games are sold, the vast majority are supermarkets and convenience stores. Lottery tickets are sold at some liquor stores and auto body shops, but "our business model doesn't work for everybody," he added.

Gibson said the lottery may need to change how it advertises for minority business owners.

TWEET OF THE WEEK: "Never thought I'd end up on @TMZ." --- House Speaker Richard Corcoran (@richardcorcoran) after the entertainment news outlet reported on a House lawsuit filed Tuesday seeking information about a contract between Visit Florida and Miami rapper Armando Christian Perez, better known as Pitbull.


Re minority contracting: How would you like it if you owned a company and lost out on a bid because you were the wrong color or the wrong sex? Why do race, ethnicity, and sex need to be considered at all in deciding who gets awarded a contract? It's good to make sure contracting programs are open to all, that bidding opportunities are widely publicized beforehand, and that no one gets discriminated against because of skin color, national origin, or sex. But that means no preferences because of skin color, etc. either--whether it's labeled a "set-aside," a "quota," or a "goal," since they all end up amounting to the same thing. Such discrimination is unfair and divisive; it breeds corruption and otherwise costs the taxpayers and businesses money to award a contract to someone other than the lowest bidder; and it's almost always illegal—indeed, unconstitutional—to boot (see 42 U.S.C. section 1981 and this model brief: ). Those who insist on engaging in such discrimination deserve to be sued, and they will lose.

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