The Florida Department of Law Enforcement didnt uncover any violation by the three state Supreme Court justices up for merit retention in using a court employee to prepare campaign documents.
However, there is still a lawsuit active seeking to keep the justices from the ballot, which Gov. Rick Scott noted in a release Thursday.
The FDLE concluded an investigation Thursday spurred by state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and forwarded by Scott, that no charges were warranted by the justices -- Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quincy and R. Fred Lewis for usingcourt employees to prepare the campaign document needed to qualify for the merit retention election on the November ballot.
In this case, notarizing a signature is a minor act which was likely accomplished in less than a minute, State Attorney Willie Meggs wrote FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
Scott released a statement thanking Bailey and adding that the matter now moves to the court.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Gerald Bailey and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for diligently reviewing the possible violations by Florida Supreme Court judges, Scott stated.
According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is common practice. Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this common practice is legal. Whatever the ruling, we will accept it and act accordingly.
Last month, the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit in Leon County Court on behalf of two Florida residents -- Bernard Long and Veronico L. Ron Flores. It claims the justices violated state law by using court employees for the election paperwork.
Voting two years ago to halt a measure that would have allowed Floridians to block the Affordable Health Care for America Act -- or Obamacare -- the justices are viewed by many conservatives as judicial activists. They have been the target of a focused effort to reject their retention. The effort is headed by the Orlando-based Restore Justice 2012, an outgrowth of efforts of local tea party activist Jesse Phillips.
To combat Restore Justice 2012, more than $450,000 was raised on the justices' behalf in the first three months of the year.
Defend Justice from Politics Inc., a group formed in response to partisan politicians and special interests, criticized Scott for his comments on Thursday.
Before the investigation was completed, he was on the record with his own determination of guilt -- leveraging the mere existence of an investigation he choreographed to further smear the justices with suggestions that they ought to follow the law,'" the group's president, Miami attorney Elizabeth Hernandez, told the Orlando Sentinel.
Now he appears ready to reject the state attorneys conclusion that no law was violated, giving greater credence to a lawsuit filed by partisan ideological out-of-state lawyers funded by special interests.
Governor Scott makes a habit of ignoring any outcomes that dont play to his advantage. A fair and impartial judiciary is our last defense against politicians who will be satisfied with nothing short of absolute power.
Reach Jim Turner at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (772) 215-9889.