Justices need a lesson in state elections law, a lawmaker saysby John Kennedy | April 26th, 2012
Fallout continued Thursday from actions by three Supreme Court justices filing their candidacy papers last week, with a Republican state lawmaker calling for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to examine whether state law may have been broken.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that according to media reports, including a story in the Palm Beach Post, court employees assisted the justices in notarizing documents and filing their documents with the state’s Division of Election. The filings were completed just minutes before a noon Friday deadline.
Plakon pointed Scott to a section of state elections law that prohibits candidates from using the services of public employees during working hours in the “furtherance of his or her candidacy.” A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor.
“We have a responsibility to the people of Florida to see that our laws are followed by all, regardless of status or position,” Plakon wrote in his letter to Scott.
A Scott spokesman, Lane Wright, said the governor was traveling Thursday and had not seen Plakon’s letter. But Wright said the governor would look into the request.
Plakon was House sponsor of a proposed ballot measure in 2010 aimed at allowing Floridians to opt out of federal health care overhaul. In a 5-2 ruling, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the amendment’s ballot summary was misleading and unconstitutional. Two of the justices who were part of the majority, Jorge Labarga and James Perry, were subjects of an unsuccessful attempt to deny them merit retention that year.
An organization called Restore Justice 2012, whose leader, Jesse Phillips, is close to Plakon, is working to deny Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince another six-year term on the court in merit retention this year. The three justices joined in the majority decision in the health care ballot case.
Dan Stengle, legal council to Quince, Lewis and Pariente, has denied any wrongdoing by the justices in their haste to file papers last week. Although he acknowledges that several court employees assisted justices, Stengle said that the financial disclosure documents filed are similar to those filed every year by public employees. It’s not unusual for justices to ask a clerk or other employee to notarize the paperwork, he said.
In defense, Stengle released copies of disclosures filed two years ago by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston, who were unchallenged by critics in their merit retention contests. Supreme Court employees also notarized these documents, the records show. The only difference, Stengle implied, was that the latest filings were played out publicly — in a scramble that forced a delay in a court hearing, when justices learned their paperwork was not complete.
For his part, Plakon said he was not supporting Restore Justice 2012. But Plakon acknowledged that he disagreed with the majority ruling in the health care ballot case and that it helped “bring attention to the issue of judicial activism.”
Restore Justice put a statement on its website about Plakon’s letter, and also sent an email to potential supporters that carried a solicitation for contributions.
“This whole ordeal illustrates the problems that inherently arise when activist judges selectively uphold the law when it is convenient to their agenda, and ignore or rewrite it when it’s not,” the campaign wrote.
Phillips, who leads the campaign, told the Post, “I’m taking a wait and see attitude. But I agree with (Plakon’s) statement that no one is above the law.”