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Fight Over Whether Court Workers Will Be Deposed in Retention Case

July 29, 2012 - 6:00pm

A group suing over the way three Supreme Court justices filed paperwork for their merit retention elections served subpoenas Friday on the clerk of the Supreme Court and one other employee, but no depositions are expected in the case until after a court hearing next month.

The Southeastern Legal Foundation, which has sued seeking to remove Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince from the November ballot, said Friday it attempted to subpoena 14 court employees, but the group said a process server was unable to make contact with any other court employees.

The legal foundation, with two voters named as plaintiffs, alleges that Lewis, Pariente and Quince should not be allowed on the ballot for merit-retention votes because they broke state law in qualifying to run. Those allegations stem from the judges using court employees to notarize elections documents as part of a scramble to get the documents filed on time.

The group put out a statement on Friday saying that its process server was "blocked" from serving the summonses on the court employees, though a lawyer for the justices said that wasn't true.

"No one blocked service," said lawyer John DeVault, who represents all three justices. He said the marshal of the Supreme Court told the process server he would have access to public areas of the court, but not private work areas.

None of the court employees are likely to be deposed before Aug. 8, when Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis has scheduled a hearing on a motion by the justices to dismiss the case, and another motion to block any depositions until a ruling on the dismissal. In all, the legal foundation has filed notice in court that it intends to depose 22 people in the case, including all three justices.

DeVault said none of the court employees would sit for a deposition before the Aug. 8 hearing.

"This is obviously an attempt to get some publicity," DeVault said of the effort to serve the subpoenas.

Todd Young, a spokesman for the Southeastern Legal Foundation, said the process server tried to call the other Supreme Court employees to complete service of the subpoenas, but got no response.

"Accepting service is routine and objecting to depositions always follows the service of process," Young said. He noted that the circuit court judge in the case hasn't issued any orders blocking any depositions, so it was "unprecedented" that the court would "deny access" for service of the subpoenas.

A spokesman for the Florida Supreme Court said he couldnt comment on the issue.

In addition to Florida Supreme Court Clerk Tom Hall, and the other court employee who was served, the group wants to depose State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner, several staff attorneys, law clerks and judicial assistants.

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