Scott sends review of three justices to FDLEby John Kennedy | June 5th, 2012
Gov. Rick Scott asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement on Monday to review a legislator’s call for it investigate whether laws were broken by three Florida Supreme Court justices who received staff help in submitting their campaign papers to state elections officials.
Scott said that because the Florida Constitution does not give him power to remove justices, he cannot order the FDLE action requested by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood. But in a letter, Scott said that he was forwarding Plakon’s request to the agency, which can take investigate if ”it independently deems necessary and appropriate.”
“Like you, I believe it is important for the people of Florida to have full faith and confidence in all government officials — whether executive, legislative or judicial,” Scott told Plakon.
The normally routine candidate qualifying by Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis played out publicly in April when the court took an hourlong recess during arguments in the state Senate redistricting case. That allowed justices to complete the paperwork needed for them to seek merit retention this fall.
With the help of court staff, the documents were filed with election officials only minutes before the deadline. But 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.
Since then, the issue also has been seized on by opponents of the three justices, already tarred as a liberal-leaning bloc by a tea party-linked political committee called Restore Justice 2012. The campaign is seeking to make the trio the first Florida justices ever ousted in a merit retention campaign.
Dan Stengle, who is advising the justices on their merit retention campaign, said he welcomed FDLE’s review. But he also said he expected it to end quickly.
“There was no electioneering done here or anything that was illegal,” Stengle said. “There are much larger issues before the court to be talked about.”
Although the main assistance given justices by staff was in notarizing filing papers, Stengle and other supporters have said that action was simply ministerial. It didn’t equal campaign work, they said.
Plakon said he was prompted to request the FDLE probe following media reports about the justices’ qualifying. He said he was satisfied that Scott passed on his letter to the agency.
“They’ll look and evaluate if there’s enough out there to pursue,” Plakon said. “Otherwise, no harm, not foul.”
Keith Kameg, an FDLE spokesman, said the agency expected to decide “later this week on our course of action.”