Conflict of Interest? Unions Endorse Justices While Florida Supreme Court Decides Their Case

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: October 3, 2012 3:55 AM
Fraternal Order of Police logo, Supreme Court of Florida Seal and Florida Professional Fire Fighters Logo

From left: Fraternal Order of Police logo, Supreme Court of Florida seal and Florida Professional Fire Fighters logo.

While prominent lawyers and interest groups around Florida are vociferously condemning organized opposition to the November retention of three of the Sunshine State’s Supreme Court justices, they are curiously silent on one party’s entrance into the public debate: the public-sector unions.

The Florida State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Florida Professional Firefighters (FPF) held a press conference Monday denouncing the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) for its week-old press release announcing the state GOP’s opposition to the merit-retention campaign of Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince.

The justices are accused of being left-wing judicial activists by the RPOF and by Restore Justice 2012, the not-for-profit that is spearheading efforts to remove them from the ballot in November. The two organizations have been criticized by prominent lawyers from the state of injecting politics and partisanship into the merit-retention race.

Critics include former Republican state Sen. Alex Villalobos, former Democratic state representative and American Bar Association president Sandy D'Alemberte, six former Supreme Court justices, several newspaper editorial boards and the pro-retention organizations Democracy at Stake and Defend Justice from Politics.

But for all their willingness to publicly criticize opponents of the justices for politicizing the retention race, none of these persons or organizations has offered a word of public criticism of the police or fire unions. Opponents of the justices are crying foul, not only because of a perceived double standard but because the Supreme Court is presently deliberating on a high-profile lawsuit brought by these unions against the Republican state Legislature’s 2011 pension reforms.

“There’s a definite conflict of interest here,” says Jesse Phillips, president of Restore Justice, in an interview with Sunshine State News. “Up until this point in the campaign, the only real support that the justices had was from the legal community; and this is an unprecedented step for a labor union to take, particularly when they stand to benefit from a pending decision.”

Sunshine State News also spoke to Nelson Cuba, president of the Jacksonville FOP and a member of the Duval County Republican Executive Committee. He supported the unions’ support for the justices’ retention campaign, and insisted it is not politically motivated.

“We’re not only endorsing these justices,” he says. “We’re endorsing the [merit-retention] system that’s in place, which started back in 1976. We just feel that this is the best system available out there, and special interest groups should stay out of it. We had to jump into it because others jumped into it first, and we wanted to make sure our voices were heard.”

“If [opposition to the justices] is successful, it could put active law enforcement officers in harm’s way,’’ said Jeff McAdams of the Gainesville Police Department to the Miami Herald. “Any time the courts, our judicial system, is challenged in such a fashion to bring discredit upon it, the public loses trust in government.”

Asked to elaborate on this concern, Cuba told Sunshine State News that “it’s already hard enough to deal with criminals. If they believe, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose, because the judiciary is no longer independent,’ then that causes concern. Now, that concern may not [materialize], but the point is it can happen. And if it happens just one time, that’s one time too many when it comes to an officer’s safety.”

Cuba insists his organization’s primary concern is the integrity of the justice system.

“We believe that the judiciary should be able to be impartial. They should not be beholden to any special interest. They should not be looking over their shoulder if they rule a certain way,” he says. “Any one of those justices should not be concerned that if they rule a certain way that any one group will come after them for that.”

Sunshine State News repeatedly reached out to both Democracy at Stake and Defend Justice from Politics to comment on the unions’ recent endorsement, but none was forthcoming. They’re apparently following the lead of the justices themselves, whose joint retention campaign representative said the justices -- who are sitting down with editorial boards across the state – have specifically declined to interview with the  News, Florida’s only center-right news organization.

“Politicizing the court only seems to be a problem when you’re on our side, trying to educate people about the justices’ legal rulings,” says Phillips of Restore Justice. “But if you want to climb into bed with the justices right before they make a decision on a major budgetary case, of which you’re the prime beneficiary, I guess that’s OK for you to do.”

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews.com or at 054-235-9116.

Comments (5)

Jane in Tallahassee
11:50AM OCT 5TH 2012
Sunshine State News aka local print version of Fox News.
10:01AM OCT 3RD 2012
What I just love about this site is that they don't want to discuss why this Republican Party partisan politics is a bad idea based on the actual basis for this all in Florida law.

Let's just look a little at the statute, as it relates to political partisanship interaction:


105.011 Definitions.—
(1) As used in this chapter, the term “judicial office” includes the office of:
(a) Justice of the Supreme Court.
(b) Judge of a district court of appeal.
(c) Judge of a circuit court.
(d) County court judge.
(2) A judicial office is a nonpartisan office, and a candidate for election or retention thereto is prohibited from campaigning or qualifying for such an office based on party affiliation.

105.071 Candidates for judicial office; limitations on political activity.—A candidate for judicial office shall not:
(1) Participate in any partisan political party activities, except that such candidate may register to vote as a member of any political party and may vote in any party primary for candidates for nomination of the party in which she or he is registered to vote.
(2) Campaign as a member of any political party.
(3) Publicly represent or advertise herself or himself as a member of any political party.
(4) Endorse any candidate.
(5) Make political speeches other than in the candidate’s own behalf.
(6) Make contributions to political party funds.
(7) Accept contributions from any political party.
(8) Solicit contributions for any political party.
(9) Accept or retain a place on any political party committee.
(10) Make any contribution to any person, group, or organization for its endorsement to judicial office.
(11) Agree to pay all or any part of any advertisement sponsored by any person, group, or organization wherein the candidate may be endorsed for judicial office by any such person, group, or organization.
A candidate for judicial office or retention therein who violates the provisions of this section is liable for a civil fine of up to $1,000 to be determined by the Florida Elections Commission.

105.09 Political activity in behalf of a candidate for judicial office limited.—
(1) No political party or partisan political organization shall endorse, support, or assist any candidate in a campaign for election to judicial office.
(2) Any person who knowingly, in an individual capacity or as an officer of an organization, violates the provisions of this section is guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

So, yes, let's interject partisan political opposition into this clearly non-partisan retention effort. Let's go ahead and agree we can't keep that opposition partisanship out, and just go ahead and let you have your partisan political justice in Florida. After all, that's what this effort is all about. The law, my way or the highway, correct?

7:23AM OCT 3RD 2012
If anyone cannot see a "conflict of interest" in unions supporting judges, they are probably existing with double digit IQs. Support of a judge is a pay-off. Unions sue every time they they lose in negotiations with their employers. They keep repealing right up to their bought and paid for Supreme Court Justices.

Vote no on the retention of the each of the three Extreme Court Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis.
11:06AM OCT 3RD 2012
The "double digit IQs" are reserved for those who can't seem to understand the fundamental difference between opposing political partisanship versus politically expressing support for the justices' retention.
Franklin Thompson
5:54AM OCT 3RD 2012
OK, let's see where this one goes. Little different twist now. It's more than just saying several SC justices should not be retained. In the absence of the reported conflict of interest, no problems at all in my opinion.

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