State investigators clear justices of wrongdoing, Scott not pleasedby Dara Kam | July 5th, 2012
Three Florida Supreme Court justices did not break the law when they used court staff to notarize campaign documents, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement decided.
But the matter is not settled. Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis, up for merit retention, now have to fend off a lawsuit seeking to strip them off the November ballot.
Gov. Rick Scott directed FDLE to investigate the issue last month after state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, steered the governor to a state election law prohibiting candidates from using state employees who are on the clock for campaign work.
Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs found the judges apparently violated the law, but noted in a letter to FDLE that the notarization took less than a minute.
“It is well established that the law does not concern itself with trifles. In general, there is no prohibition against a notary employed by the state, notarizing a document for their boss, or even as a public service to the citizenry,” Meggs, a Democrat, wrote to FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey this week.
FDLE investigators agreed.
“It appears that the practice of using staff members to notarize campaign and other documents is common practice throughout the State and is done solely as a matter of convenience,” the FDLE report concluded.
The involvement of staff to notarize the financial disclosures and candidates oaths “was ancillary in nature and limited solely to notary services and the typing of the headers on these documents,” the report found. “Neither the Justices nor the Supreme Court staff interviewed considered the notarization of these documents to be, in any way, campaign related, and no evidence indicating an abuse of either position or public resources was revealed during the course of this inquiry.”
Scott issued a terse statement sounding displeased with FDLE’s results.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank Commissioner Gerald Bailey and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for diligently reviewing the possible violations by Florida Supreme Court Judges. According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is ‘common practice.’ Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal. Whatever the ruling, we will accept it and act accordingly,” Scott said.
In April, the justices interrupted oral arguments after being alerted that their campaign documents were not complete. Court staff helped to complete their papers, which were submitted just minutes before the qualifying deadline.