Merit Retention Exposes Warts on the Face of Florida's Legal System
Around the State
So you want to shake a finger at the Republicans for politicizing merit retention? You think they're the ones who render the judiciary less independent?
Wait a minute here. This is an election and this is America.
Last time I looked, the names of the three Florida Supreme Court justices -- whom the legal system guards like sacred Vatican treasures -- are right there, plain as day, on the 2012 Florida ballot.
Voters will be asked to decide for or against retaining these justices based on their merits. So, good for the Republican Party or anybody else in this democratic republic who gets out there in the wide-open, who wants to participate full-cry in the election process and call attention to the justices' or any other candidate's record.
For Lord's sake, Floridians only get a say in their high court once every six years. The GOP has nothing to apologize for.
For years -- decades, really -- voters didn't have a clue who the judges and justices on the ballot were. Retention? What's that? More important, who's that? Justices had about as much name recognition as trustees for the regional drainage district.
It wasn't until 2010, after the Florida Supreme Court rejected a ballot initiative aimed at sparing the state from a key provision in the federal health care overhaul, that the tea party came along looking for vengeance. Conservatives and teas took a close look at the court's performance, didn't like the left-leaning activism they saw, and took it out on the two justices up for retention, Jorge Labarga and James Perry.
True, both men won, but it was no slam dunk. Imagine the justices' surprise to find out they don't necessarily have the job for life.
Now merit retention isn't the speck on the hillside anymore. It's in plain view, as ready for judgment as a new tattoo.
At this moment we have public-sector unions with their pension pending before the state Supreme Court, coming out in favor of retaining the very justices who will decide the case. Does anybody see anything wrong with this picture?
We have attorneys terrified of speaking on the record about the demerits of the three justices on the ballot. Why? Because they fear the retribution of the Florida Bar.
"I may agree that Justices (Barbara) Pariente, (R. Fred) Lewis and (Peggy A.) Quince are screaming lefties, but if I say so publicly, my career ends here," said a Tallahassee attorney who spoke on such deep background, he wouldn't put his comments in an email. "I still have dreams of getting a judicial appointment. I'm going to need the recommendation of my peers. Plus, I'm not going to help my clients by taking on the judiciary and the Florida Bar."
Meanwhile, the legal community in the Sunshine State, with the Democrats and mainstream media in tow, circle their wagons around the three justices. They call themselves victims -- "we're the good guys" -- adopt a friends-only interview policy, and cobble together $1 million to keep the justices in their chairs and "defend" what they say is "judicial independence."
Merit retention -- don't think for one minute there isn't a sinister side of the beast.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.