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Senate sends measure giving governor control over JNCs back to the House

by Dara Kam | March 7th, 2012

The Senate grudgingly approved a measure giving future governors the ability to wipe out a majority of members on panels who help select judges, including Supreme Court judges, and sent it to the House for approval.

The proposal (HB 971) is a compromise with Gov. Rick Scott, who wanted to be able to wipe clean the entire judicial nominating commissions, nine-member panels made up of five gubernatorial appointees and four selected by the Florida Bar.

The House version of the measure would allow Scott to remove effectively fire JNC members picked by his successor Charlie Crist. But the Senate rejected that plan, allowing only members appointed after Scott took office to be affected.

Two Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the bill, which passed 24-14.

Democratic lawyers complained that the measure would politicize the panels, urging their colleagues excogitate the issue before voting.

“This bill gives too much power to a governor who said he wanted people who thought like him to sit on the judiciary of the state of Florida. And that is exactly what we should not allow,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, a former JNC member.

Giving one governor the ability to control a majority of the panels could erode diversity on the bench, Joyner, who is black, warned.

But bill sponsor Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, called the bill a “middle-of-the-road” solution that keeps both the JNCs from “gaming the system” by sending the governor unqualified applicants. And it prevents the governor from doing the same, Simmons said, by giving him control of only five of the nine members.

“They would only have to have one other person, one of those five, to go along with them in their decision-making,” Simmons, a lawyer, said.

The bill would give judges the ability to work as part-time judges immediately after retiring without losing their retirement benefits.

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