RPOF: Money Available for Justice Retention Fight

By: Jim Turner | Posted: September 25, 2012 3:55 AM

The Republican Party of Florida's opposition to the retention of three “liberal” Florida Supreme Court justices may hurt a number of state House and Senate races, claims a former state senator who questioned the party’s actions. A charge the RPOF sharply rejects.
Former Sen. Alex Villalobos, retired Justice Major B. Harding and Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte

Former Sen. Alex Villalobos, retired Justice Major B. Harding and Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association and former Florida State University president, address the media Monday across Duval Street from the front of the Florida Supreme Court.

Former state Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Republican attorney from Miami who has been at odds with party leadership in the past, said Monday the RPOF’s decision to take on the three justices could shift some of the party’s money away from a number of close legislative contests across the Sunshine State.

“Money is very tight and there are very close races going on in the state of Florida -- Republican races -- and I think the Republican Party should be concentrating on those races in the House and Senate,” Villalobos told reporters outside the Florida Supreme Court.

“To now divert money from those races into a totally nonpolitical and nonpartisan race is going to take money away from what they are supposed to be concentrating on. Instead, they’re diverting money and attention to something the party has no business getting involved in.”    

RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry said the party’s legislative campaign strategies have already been set and no money will be shifted because of the stances on the justices.

“We have a strategy in place and those resources will be spent as planned,” Curry said.

“We’re not going to take money from this race or that race and put it into another race. There are more than enough donors out there that would love to engage in the retention of the justices.”

Records show in the past six weeks, the party has spent roughly $4 million in the Orlando and South Florida media markets alone to benefit three Republican state Senate candidates.

The three justices have collectively raised more than $1 million to fend off the attacks on their retention. Analysis shows more than 80 percent of the total has been contributed by attorneys or law firms. Campaign finance reports also paint a picture of unified campaign operations by the three justices, whose expenditures mirror one another, sharing the same consultants, vendors and law firms.

Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2012/09/justice-lewis-speaks-out-says-independence-of-entire-branch-of-government-is-under-threat.html#storylink=cpy

Villalobos added that the Democratic Party of Florida also shouldn’t get involved and expressed concern that money may now be funneled in the contest that is untraceable to the public.

“I don’t think this was really vetted out,” Villalobos said. “For money to be diverted from those seats, we might lose some seats. We probably will.”

On Friday, the state Republican Party’s executive board announced they had voted to oppose the retention of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

“While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on Election Day,” the RPOF statement declared.

“These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire. The fact that the United States Supreme Court voted, unanimously, to throw out their legal opinion, raises serious questions as to their competence to understand the law and serve on the bench, and demonstrates that all three justices are too extreme, not just for Florida but for America, too."

The advocacy group Defend Justice from Politics has criticized the RPOF decision as a move to bring politics back into the court, which could result in justices and judges having to weigh their political future when ruling on the bench.

Speaking with Villalobos, Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association and of Florida State University, said Monday if the RPOF wanted to be honest, they would have described the merits of the single case from 2003 that the state court ruled on.

“That’s part of the evil here, in my judgment,” said D’Alemberte, a lobbyist for the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of News Editors.

The case highlighted by the RPOF involved the court ordering a new trial for Joe Elton Nixon, who was convicted of murdering Jeanne Bickner by tying her to a tree with jumper cables before setting her on fire in Leon County in 1984.

The justices voted for Nixon to receive a new trial, as he had claimed he never gave his legal representation the authority to admit his guilt. Lewis agreed with Quince and Pariente and the majority, but offered a dissent on the reasoning used to reach their ruling.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the ruling in 2004, countering the state court by pointing out that Nixon could have objected to his lawyer’s strategy.

Nixon remains on death row.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (2)

8:41AM SEP 25TH 2012
this is just an attempt by republicans to gain 100% control of florida. voters would be best served by not even considering such a plan. 15 yrs of control of the state by one party has been a disaster especially the last two yrs.
7:48AM SEP 25TH 2012
So this is now exposed for the hideous crassness that it really is - - - all about indefensible partisan politics and more far right blundering attempts to politicize the judicary into making "correct" political judicial decisions.

Even the former RPOF Chairman has strongly warned against this move, indicating the RPOF: " . . . has no business interfering or attempting to manipulate the makeup of the Florida Supreme Court or the state's judiciary. . . . As chairman, I never would have permitted it, it's wrong and needs to be stopped. . . .Floridians should be scared to death".

PATHETIC - the RPOF should be highly ashamed of its disgusting behavior.

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