Justices: Vote for Us on Our Behavior, Not Our Rulings

By: Eric Giunta | Posted: October 6, 2012 3:55 AM
Peggy Quince, R. Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente

Justices Peggy Quince, R. Fred Lewis and Barbara Pariente

The school billed it as "a forum to educate voters about merit retention and the process by which judges in Florida are selected," but Friday's forum at FSU College of Law was anything but an unbiased look at the system: It was a one-sided campaign stop by three justices pitching for votes.

The hour-long “forum,” titled “Who Will Be the Judge?” was sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Florida, the Florida State University Alpha Phi Omega Community Service Fraternity, and the Florida State University Women in Pre-Law Society.

The panel consisted exclusively of the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention on the November ballot: Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy Quince. And the “discussion” was moderated by Kelly Overstreet Johnson, a former president of the Florida Bar who at present is working on Quince’s retention committee.

The justices’ joint retention campaign was in full swing at the event, distributing literature and asking each of the 50-or-so audience attendees to register their names and email addresses at the door. Brief concluding remarks were delivered by the justices’ campaign manager, Dan Newman, who urged all those in attendance to “find [the justices’ campaign] Facebook pages, ‘Like’ them, and share them with your friends and colleagues, because we really do face a challenge in getting the word out to all Floridians, and this is a really important way we can do that.”

Each of the justices gave opening remarks which lasted between seven and nine minutes. Pariente touted her commitment to reforming the court system to give priority to cases involving children and families. Lewis recounted his days as a young lawyer on the campaign trail with state Supreme Court candidates, back in the days, before the 1970s, when the merit-retention system had not been in place and justices were elected by popular vote. Quince shared her testimony growing up under racial segregation; she had studied zoology as an undergraduate and aspired to be a medical doctor, but decided to enter law school after being impressed by the importance of it in securing civil liberties.

Each of the three justices warned of what they said would be dire consequences for the state’s legal system should voters not elect to retain them on the November ballot.

“Judges are [supposed to remain on the bench] through good behavior, and I would submit to you that the judges and justices on this ballot have served in good behavior,” Quince pleaded. “It does not mean you’re always going to agree [with us]; it cannot mean that. If that were the case we would be changing judges every other day.”

The three justices’ retentions are being opposed by the Republican Party of Florida, the nonprofit organizations Americans for Prosperity and Restore Justice 2012, whose supporters say the justices are left-wing activists with a history of imposing their personal beliefs on the cases before them, and not judging according to the original public meaning of state laws.

“As a lawyer, I am so proud to have you all on our [Supreme] Court,” beamed moderator Johnson when Quince finished delivering her remarks. Johnson proceeded to ask each of the justices a couple of questions, chosen from among several submitted in writing by attendees at the start of the event.

The justices were not asked any questions about their past controversial rulings or their judicial philosophy. Instead they were asked why voters should elect to retain them, why voters were generally ignorant of the mechanics of the retention process, and about the role of money in influencing recent judicial races.

Lewis complained that the justices did not have the resources to compete with wealthy donors opposing them, this despite the fact that the justices’ joint campaign has raised about $1.15 million, while so far, all of their opponents together have raised less than one-tenth of that amount.

None of the justices commented on their past rulings or on their legal philosophy.

In September, after repeated reach-outs to the justices for interviews, Sunshine State News was contacted by a representative of their campaign, who said the justices (who are traveling around the state to sit down with newspaper editorial boards) are specifically refusing to interview with the News, which is Florida’s only center-right news organization.

“How is this type of a forum -- without any sort of opposition or other viewpoint represented -- anything other than just a campaign event?” asked Alex Boler, a third-year student at FSU Law and president of that school’s chapter of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, the nation’s premier fellowship of conservative and libertarian law students, in an interview with Sunshine State News after the event.

“I don't think that a candidate who is on the ballot for retention can be fully objective about the system. It just seems like an event organized to help them stay in office; which I don't mind, but it should not be promoted as a forum about the system. If the governor was running for re-election, and he came to talk about why a governor should get to keep his job, we would recognize that as a campaign event.”

Boler emphasized he was speaking for himself personally, and not for the Federalist Society or any of its affiliated chapters.

“The student body, and the community, would be better served if they could hear a diversity of opinion on the topic, rather than just the views of the three people directly interested in the outcome,” he said.

Reach Eric Giunta at egiunta@sunshinestatenews or at (954) 235-9116. 

Comments (12)

James W Doman
8:17AM OCT 30TH 2012
Really? Personal behavior, granted, is important. That being said, the rulings by these Justices is by FAR more important because of the lasting potential impact on Floridians! I will not vote for these 3 Justices based on the fact they wanted to hide from their rulings and that the moderator was associated with one of the Justices(Quince). Not acceptable!
8:46AM OCT 17TH 2012
This same author elsewhere on this site has written an article tying these judges to the 2006 Holmes v Bush ruling that stopped one of Bush's voucher programs.

Add that to Amendment 5 on the ballot - allowing the legislature to overturn a judge's ruling with a simple majority vote rather than the current 2/3rd majority vote and Amendment 8 'Religious Freedom" and it becomes clear the legislators in the previous session (who put all that on the ballot) are deliberately trying to control the courts.

That should be scary to everyone, no matter what else we might disagree about.

Vote NO on 5
Vote NO on 8
Vote YES to retain the justices
7:46AM OCT 12TH 2012
they will be retained. we have had the right try and pack the court before, this attempt will fail also.
Kathy Moynan
4:05PM OCT 10TH 2012
I thought judges were suppose to judge according to the rule of law. I must have been sleeping for awhile. This is not suppose to be about politics!!! What is happening to our country?!?!?
9:46AM OCT 10TH 2012
If we vote to dismiss judges who do not decide issues as we would like them to, we are throwing the judicial system into a political boiling pot and risking the seats being bought by the highest bidder.
Judges are supposed to be guided by the constitution and prevailing law. If we disagree with the laws, we should change them, not change the judges who represent the people and are sworn to impartial judgement based on that law.
Richard Riker
7:43AM OCT 10TH 2012
What a sham this event was, nothing but an opportunity to allow these activist judges to deliver campaign speeches. I probably should have characterized these judges as WELL FINANCED activist judges. They know very well they're not being opposed because they did their job and that the opposition is to the activist decisions they made while performing their job. In other words they acted more like an unelected legislative body supporting laws that conformed to their moral and ethical ideals and disregarding other that did not advance their agenda.
7:45PM OCT 7TH 2012
Although an imperfect system, it seems appropriate to leave the decision of retention up to the voters. The three subject justices are the only remaining court members from the Gore v. Bush era. I trust voters will use their keen insight when marking their ballots.
Franklin Thompson
9:17AM OCT 7TH 2012
What? On our behavior?
8:09AM OCT 6TH 2012
Are they that dumb? The rulings are the only criteria to judge the judges. These three have made a mockery of the Florida State Constitution, crapped all over property rights, knocked off amendments from the ballot that were properly filed , thereby taking the our voting rights away. They released a convicted confessed murderer who was a menace to society to roam free to seek out more victims. These three have to go. Then, once gone prosecuted for accepting favors to their retention campaign.

Just for a matter of sanity, when was the last time such a movement was launched against merit retention of a Florida Supreme Court? There is a reason we want to rid Florida of these three, because just like Obama they pushed the envelope too far and we will doing our Fall cleanup. You will find Quince, Pariente and Lewis at the curb, along with Senator Bill Nelson.
David Falstad
8:31PM OCT 7TH 2012
It is the responsibility of the Court to remove ballot proposals that are misleading. In the case of the Obamacare protest proposal, the legislature's own lawyer admitted that it was misleading. Unbelievable. The legislators botched the job so badly THEIR OWN LAWYER couldn't even pretend to defend their work. How is that the Court's fault? That dumb proposal (which is meaningless anyway) will be on the ballot this year, so they apparently managed to finally get it right.

And they did not "release a convicted murderer..." to roam, they ruled that he should get a new trial, at which the State would have been able to get him convicted again.

You present no substantive argument against their rulings, which I doubt you have ever read.
A concerned citizen
9:07AM OCT 7TH 2012
These three moderate judges, who all have hearts of gold and who have dedicated their lives to serving others, are all that stand in the way of Rick Scott having complete control of our state. Whether you are a republican or democrat, do you really want to give one man two years of total control of our government? His power will be unlimited if these judges are unelected, and what is supposed to be a check on power will become nothing more than a rubber stamp. These judges do not make policy. They merely interpret the law. They have made right wing leaning decisions and left wing ones, and having them look over the legislature is a vital part of the checks and balances necessary to prevent the problems inherent in a single party system like in China or Cuba.
David Falstad
8:52PM OCT 7TH 2012
And it is worth noting that none of these justices has ever been implicated in a crime. Rick Scott, on the other hand, was the CEO of a company caught committing a huge Medicare fraud. I don't think that we should remove dedicated public officials with unblemished credentials to expand the power of a possible unconvicted felon.

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