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RPOF: Money Available for Justice Retention Fight

September 23, 2012 - 6:00pm

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 partys actions. A charge the RPOF sharply rejects.

Former state Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Republican attorney from Miami who has been at odds with party leadership in the past, said Monday the RPOFs decision to take on the three justices could shift some of the partys 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, theyre diverting money and attention to something the party has no business getting involved in.

RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry said the partys 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.

Were 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.

Villalobos added that the Democratic Party of Florida also shouldnt get involved and expressed concern that money may now be funneled in the contest that is untraceable to the public.

I dont 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 Partys 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 DAlemberte, 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.

Thats part of the evil here, in my judgment, said DAlemberte, 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 lawyers strategy.

Nixon remains on death row.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

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