Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

Restore Justice 2012’

Restore Justice leader looks to unseat Central Florida Democrat

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by John Kennedy

A Central Florida man who led an unsuccessful effort to unseat the last three Florida Supreme Court justices appointed by a Democratic governor announced Monday that he is running as a Republican for an Orlando-area House seat.

Jesse Phillips, a health care technology director, is challenging Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, who made history in 2012 when he and newly elected Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, became the first openly gay members of the Florida Legislature.

Phillips led Restore Justice 2012, which sought to defeat Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince in that year’s merit retention elections. Phillips’ campaign was supported by the Florida Republican Party, but the justices and their allies spent $5 million on a campaign that led to their easily winning new six-year terms.

Florida’s spending was third highest in the nation, according to the analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which studied election spending on courts.

The district Phillips is running in is one of Florida’s youngest, including eastern Orange County and containing the University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College East and Full Sail University.

“The time-tested principals of limited government and personal responsibility, while being in sharp contrast to the Democrats’ failed policies, will move Florida forward and improve the lives of its diverse citizens,” Phillips said.

The three justices targeted last fall were appointed by late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, with Quince named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Unseating them would have given Gov. Rick Scott a chance to appoint their successors, assuring that all seven Florida Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican governors.

After tough retention fight, justices look to make it easier to collect cash

Monday, December 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Three Florida Supreme Court justices raised an unprecedented mountain of cash last year in beating back a bid to unseat them by tea party supporters and the state Republican Party.

Justices and their allies steadily ridiculed their opponents throughout the campaign for politicizing the court.

But this week, the court is poised to advance a provision which the same critics warn will inject even more politics into the judiciary, making it easier for justices to raise money and harness support for future campaigns.

“You could write a book about the hypocrisy of all this,” said Jesse Phillips, a Winter Park computer consultant who led Restore Justice 2012, the unsuccessful campaign to throw out Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis.

“We’re not the ones who raised big money. They did,” he added. “Now they’re looking to take away restrictions limiting them.”

The Supreme Court has proposed changing a judicial canon, or regulation, so that candidates on the same court who face opposition in a merit retention election could campaign together.

It’s designed to avoid the kind of awkward dance the three justices had to engage in last year – when they would try to avoid appearing together when even at the same event or fund-raiser.

Alex Villalobos, a former Miami state senator, now serves as president of Democracy At Stake, an organization formed to combat what leaders call “ongoing threats to the fairness and impartiality of the courts.”

He said justices know they are in a troubling “arms race” when it comes to fund-raising.

“You have to be prepared for a challenge,” Villalobos said. “You don’t know if it’s going to come or how. But it’s like if you put up a burglar alarm. You want to do it before your house is broken into.”

Full story here:



SCOTUS ruling overturning Florida justices carries echo of ballot fight

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday overturning Florida justices in favor of a Central Florida landowner was hailed by conservatives, some of whom helped push an unsuccesful drive last fall to recast the state’s high court.

Americans for Prosperity, which helped fuel the Restore Justice 2012 effort that attempted to unseat Florida Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis were among those endorsing Tuesday’s 5-4 decision in Washington.

The 2011 Florida Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, although opponents of the three justices facing merit retention last fall cast it as an example of the trio’s activism. In social media postings, Restore Justice 2012 warned that the seven-member court had “not respected your property rights.”

Federal justices, though, sided with the family of the late Coy Koontz, saying they could continue their two-decade dispute with the St. Johns Water Management District over a 15-acre tract of Orange County land. Water management officials declared much of the property wetlands and stopped development, also ordering Koontz to pay money to protect wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz refused and sued and a trial court said he should receive $327,500 for being unable to use his property. But the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 overturned that ruling, saying the regulatory action was within its authority.

But on Tuesday, the five more conservative justices on the court sided with Koontz. The four liberal and moderate justices sided with the role of goverment in land-use regulations.

The legal issue was whether the agency’s action constituted a “taking” subject to compensation, under the so-called takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner giving up the use of some property absent a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use. He said this applied even if the permit were denied, and the demand was for money.


Supreme Court justices draw more heat, and some praise

Monday, October 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

The group pushing to oust three Florida Supreme Court justices this fall has a new video ad on its site blasting them for taking part in a 2003 ruling ordering a new trial for a Death Row inmate.

The 5-2 decision, which included Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis in the majority, was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Florida justices had ruled the defendant’s lawyer had wrongfully conceded his client’s guilt without his approval.

But the federal justices said such explicit approval is not always needed.

Jesse Phillips, president of Restore Justice 2012, which has posted the web spot, said, “The court invented a way to give a confessed murderer the second chance at life…Pariente, Quince and Lewis should not defend this decision. They should apologize for it.”

The web ad, which runs more than two minutes, is not likely to appear on television in its current form. So far, only Americans For Prosperity, a tea party-allied organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers has run a single TV spot condemning the three justices, the last appointed by a Florida Democratic governor.

But the Florida Republican Party has said it will work to unseat the justices. On Monday, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and Florida Professional Fire Fighters weighed-in supporting the three justices.

“The very foundation of Florida’s independent judiciary is threatened,” said Jim Preston, FOP president. “Partisan politics simply destroys the integrity of the court system.”

While decrying partisan politics, the unions sided with Democrat Alex Sink over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the last governor’s race. The unions are also awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on a challenge to whether Scott and the GOP-led Legislature violated the state constitution by ordering 3 percent payroll contributions from government workers enrolled in the Florida Retirement System.

Jeff McAdams, legislative chairman for the police union, said Scott is behind the effort to unseat the justices.

Scott has denied any involvement, and McAdams said his view is “my opinion.” But McAdams said Scott would welcome a chance to appoint three new justices to the court.

In merit retention, in place in Florida since 1976, voters get to decide “yes” or “no” whether a justice should receive another six-year term. No justice has been voted off the court since it was introduced.


TV spots blasting Florida Supreme Court to air today

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Television spots blasting the Florida Supreme Court over the federal Affordable Care Act are scheduled to begin running today in West Palm Beach and other markets, paid for by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative grassroots group founded by the Koch brothers.

Slade O’Brien, Florida state director of the organization, said the ads don’t directly call for voters to oust Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince or Fred Lewis, who are up for merit retention on Nov. 6. Instead, O’Brien said the “intent is to call attention to judicial activism and legislating from the bench.”

The Florida Republican Party said last week that its leaders have agreed to oppose the three justices seeking new six-year terms. Another organization, Restore Justice 2012, has been active most of the year to unseat the three justices, the last appointments of late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, although Quince was named jointly with incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

The AFP spots are the first TV ads aired in the campaign. The three justices have raised just over $1 million, combined, to defend themselves.

In its ad, AFP targets the Florida Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that upheld a lower court which stripped from the ballot a measure intended to block the federal health care overhaul from taking effect in the state.

The court ruled the proposed constitutional amendment was flawed because it promised guaranteed access to health care services without waiting lists, would protect doctor-patient relationships, and prohibit mandates that don’t work.

Opponents said the ballot summary deceived the public since the amendment did not directly address those issues, but was written solely to draw voter support against the federal law advanced by President Obama.

An effort to place the full text of the amendment before voters that year also was rejected. The Leon County Circuit judge who made the initial ruling, James Shelfer, said that to do so would amount to “legislating from the bench.”

A rewritten version of the proposal is now set to go before voters in November as Amendment 1.

Americans for Prosperity is a grass-roots activist organization founded by Charles Koch and part-time Palm Beacher David Koch.

The brothers, who run Koch Industries, an oil services company, back a host of conservative causes. Each has a net worth of $31 billion, which last week placed them fourth on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans.

AFP on the national stage has run TV ads against Obama and provided phone banks, rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts central to the Republican Party’s takeover of the U.S. House in the 2010 elections.

The organization has fought climate change legislation and the Affordable Care Act, and push for limite

Supporters of embattled justices offer civics lesson in their defense

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Supporters of three Florida Supreme Court justices under fire from conservative activists offered a civics lesson Tuesday in urging voters to reject the drive.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, who argued a pivotal state pension fund case before the court just last week, said the nation’s constitutional separation of powers should shield justices from the whims of politics.

Cantero said courts should not be subject to “politcal pressure. It is to be a fair and impartial branch of government,” he said.

In a conference call Tuesday, Cantero was among several speakers from Defend Justice from Politics, the committee supporting Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. An organization called Restore Justice 2012, loosely allied with the tea party movement, is working to have voters unseat the justices in their Nov. 6 merit retention contests.

In merit retention, created by the 1976 Florida constitution, voters get to cast ‘yes’ or ‘no’ votes on whether justices should get another six-year term on the court. No justice has been defeated in a merit retention contest since it was initiated.

Lewis, Pariente and Quince, however, have been targeted as a liberal-leaning bloc by Restore Justice. The three also are the last justices appointed by a Democratic governor — the late Lawton Chiles — although Quince also was named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Dick Batchelor, another supporter of the justices, said conservatives should look to the Federalist Papers, another touchstone of American democracy, if they want more schooling in why justices should not be rewarded or punished for past decisions. “It’s really about raw politics,” Batchelor said of the campaign against the three.

Restore Justice last week issued a report card on the justices — giving each F grades on  a host of decisions issued since 1998. Included are a controversial death penalty ruling, business-related issues, and the rejection of Bush’s private school voucher program and a proposed ballot measure by the Republican-ruled Legislature that was aimed at blocking the federal health care overhaul in Florida.

Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president, dismissed the analysis as a “very shoddy job.”

Former Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican, said he also was concerned with “the amount of money coming into this election.”

The mismatch currently, though, seems to favor justices.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince have raised more than $1 million for their merit retention campaigns — almost all of it coming from the state’s legal community. The Florida Bar also is weighing in, launching a first-ever education campaign on merit retention, aimed at voters.

By contrast, Restore Justice has reported collecting $41,500 — all of it coming from Miami Beach doctor Allan Jacob.

Villalobos, though, said business groups and other court opponents have poured money into judicial races in other states at the last minute — a concern he harbors here.

“I hope I’m proven wrong,” Villalobos said.

Scott says Fla’s three embattled justices should “comply with the law”

Monday, June 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott weighed-in Monday for the first time on three Florida Supreme Court justices whose actions on candidate qualifying day are now subject of an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“They should comply with the law,” Scott said. “It’s the Supreme Court. You’d think they’d comply with the law.”

The three justices under fire, Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis, also are subject of a lawsuit filed Monday in Leon County Circuit Court. The suit, advanced by the conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation, seeks to remove the three from the November ballot “if no documentation exists to establish that their candidacies are proper and lawful.”

In April, the justices were helped by court staff to complete their papers just minutes before a deadline for judicial qualifying. Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, later steered Scott to a section of state elections law which bars candidates from using public employees during working hours in the “furtherance of his or her candidacy.”

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor. Scott this month forwarded Plakon’s request for an investigation onto the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has since begun a probe.

Plakon was the sponsor of a proposed 2010 ballot measure aimed at bolstering Republican attempts to keep the federal health care law from being enacted in Florida, a goal Scott shares. The proposed ballot language was ruled unconstitutional by the court, although a rewritten measure is expected to go before voters in November.

 The justices’ qualifying kerfuffle 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.

Justices push back against call for FDLE probe

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012 by John Kennedy

With Gov. Rick Scott still mulling a lawmaker’s request for a law enforcement investigation, supporters of three Florida Supreme Court justices said Thursday no laws were broken when court staff  helped justices file qualifying papers with elections officials.

Attorney Barry Richard, who represented George W. Bush before the court following the 2000 presidential election, submitted a legal opinion to Dan Stengle, legal counsel for Justices Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente.

He denied that justices using court employees to notarize filing papers amounts to what opponents call a criminal misdemeanor. State law prohibits candidates from using the services of a public employee during working hours ” in the furtherance of his or her candidacy.”

“The act of affixing a notary seal to qualifying documents does not indicate that the notary endorses the candidacy of the person filing the documents,” Richard wrote. “It simply certifies that the notary has witnessed the signature and has confirmed the identity of the person signing.”

Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has asked Scott to order the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into the controversy surrounding the justices qualifying.

The issue played out publicly last month. The court took an hourlong recess during arguments in the state Senate redistricting case to allow justices to complete their qualifying papers for merit retention this fall.

With the help of court staff,  the documents were filed with election officials only minutes before the deadline.

Since then, the issue 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.

Plakon said Thursday that to him, the case was an obvious violation. “Every candidate learns early on, you don’t use your staff for anything political,” Plakon said. “No one should be above the law.”

But Stengle, the justices’ legal counsel, also advanced an additional level of defense. He questioned whether the justices are really candidates.

 “Florida’s district court of appeal judges and Supreme Court Justices are not elected, but appointed through the merit selection process,” Stengle said. “Every six years, they are required by the Florida Constitution to participate in the merit retention process so that citizens of Florida may evaluate their job performance. Any documents that they are required to file by virtue of their positions as appellate judges or justices to qualify for merit retention are part of routine court business.”


With justices under fire, Florida Bar launches voter campaign on merit retention

Monday, April 30th, 2012 by John Kennedy

With three Florida Supreme Court justices facing a stiff ballot challenge, the Florida Bar announced Monday it is kicking off a $300,000 campaign to educate voters about the merit retention system for electing  justices and appelate judges.

Scott Hawkins, a West Palm Beach lawyer and president of the Florida Bar, said the campaign is not designed to promote Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis, who have been targeted for defeat by Restore Justice 2012, a conservative political campaign.

Instead, Hawkins said that in voter forums and other informational sessions, Bar members will attempt to educate voters about the benefits of merit retention, used in Florida for almost four decades,and also in place in 33 other states.

Hawkins said Bar polls show that 90 percent of Floridians don’t understand merit retention, in which voters get to cast a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on whether a judge or justice should receive another term.

“Fair and balanced information is essential for Florida citizens to make informed decisions,” Hawkins said.

Joining Hawkins at the event was former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who helped spearhead the drive for voter-approved merit retention in 1976.  “If not merit retention — what?” Askew said, adding that it has helped shield judges and justices from politicking.

Merit retention was introduced as a fix after a host of scandals involving conventionally elected, state Supreme Court justices.  Indictments, impeachment and accusations of tampering with lower-court rulings clouded the court in the early 1970s.

But with the three Florida Supreme Court justices up for merit retention in November already raising almost $500,000, this year’s normally quiet merit retention contest already is sparking fireworks.

 ”Today, the community which has injected an unprecedented near half-million dollars into the retention races ironically held a press conference to warn about politicizing the court,” said Jesse Phillips, leader of the Restore Justice 2012 campaign. “We agree that the vote is in our court, and look forward to November when responsible citizens will decide whether or not to retain the justices based on their record of decisions.”

Restore Justice has emerged out of opposition to a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that stripped from the ballot a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at stopping the federal health care overhaul from being implemented in Florida.

Of the justices who joined the majority in the 5-2 decision, Phillips already unsuccessfully tried to oust Jorge Labarga and James Perry in 2010.  This year’s focus on Quince, Lewis and Pariente, though, appears better organized and may draw more serious financing.

The justices have raised close to $500,000 already for their campaigns. Restore Justice so far has collected $41,650.

Hawkins said it was important for Floridians to know how to assess a performance by a justice, who he said could handle 8,000 cases during a six-year term.

“Is it fair to assess a judge on onel ruling, or should you assess them on the 7,999 other cases they have touched?”  Hawkins said.



Justices need a lesson in state elections law, a lawmaker says

Thursday, April 26th, 2012 by John Kennedy

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.”

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories