Saturday, September 22, 2012

Has The Republican Party Of Florida Lost Their Collective Mind?

Yesterday the Republican Party of Florida voted unanimously to oppose the retention of three Florida Supreme Court Justices. For those (most people) not paying attention, there is a movement afoot to remove Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis because they are viewed as too liberal.

From The Miami Herald:

“The announcement that the Republican Party is engaged in this effort would shock those wonderful Republican statesmen who helped create the merit selection and merit retention processes,” said Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, former president of the American Bar Association who, as a former legislator, helped to craft the law in the early 1970s."

This effort strikes at the heart of the "independence of the judiciary" talk that lawyers are engaging in at every Bar luncheon, conference, and in letters to the editor of bar publications. The jist of it is that judges should not be removed solely based on their rulings. If they commit misconduct or otherwise are not fit to serve, OK, but to campaign against the retention of judges merely because you disagree with their interpretation of the law, is to say that judges should not decide matters on the law but on the will of the public (most of whom believe that the problem with the death penalty is that it's not imposed enough and that the problem with prisons is that they are not full.)

Back to yesterday:

For the first time since Florida approved merit retention of Supreme Court justices more than four decades ago, a political party has taken a stand against retaining three justices.

The Republican Party of Florida sent out a release saying its executive board had agreed to oppose retention of Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. Not coincidentally, they’re the three remaining appointees of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles (though Quince was a joint appointment by Chiles and his successor, Gov. Jeb


“While the collective evidence of judicial activism amassed by these three individuals is extensive, there is one egregious example that all Florida voters should bear in mind when they go to the polls on election day. These three justices voted to set aside the death penalty for a man convicted of tying a woman to a tree with jumper cables and setting her on fire. The fact that the United States Supreme Court voted, unanimously, to throw out their legal opinion, raises serious questions as to their competence to understand the law and serve on the bench, and demonstrates that all three justices are too extreme not just for Florida, but for America, too.”

That's the reason - they made a decision, based on their interpretation of the law (that the defendant did not give his lawyer the right to concede guilt) with which the Republican Party of Florida disagrees. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed as well, but that's why we have appellate courts.

Now let me tell you about Justices Pariente, Quince, and Lewis. You don't want to be a lawyer before them on a Bar discipline matter. That's right, they're not my best friends when it comes to my clients.

But I will do everything to make sure they stay. Not because I agree with their stance on Bar discipline matters, but because this movement to get rid of them is based on everything lawyers should be against - politics invading the courts.

In candor, I used to be a registered Republican. I left the party for one reason - our last governor politicized the judicial appointment process (more so than it already was politicized under the rule that governors appoint their friends) to the point where qualifications didn't take a back seat, they were strapped to the roof, with some very thin string. So I made a statement then, as I'm making now - politics and the courts deserve a brick wall between them, and if a political party is going to be a part of invading the Independence of the judiciary, lawyers need to stand up and make a statement in favor of justice over politics.

And former Justice Raoul Cantero, a conservative Republican who voted with these three justices in favor of the defendant? What's his position?

Many prominent Republican lawyers have opposed politicizing the merit retention vote. The most outspoken Republican has been Cantero, the former justice who now practices law in Miami. He was appointed to the bench by former Gov. Jeb Bush and has said he believes the justices have done nothing to merit removal from office.

“My strong feeling is, if we start turning the merit retention process into a political vehicle, then we are turning the judiciary into another political branch of government, which the Founding Fathers of our country specifically intended to avoid,” Cantero told reporters last week.

Shame on the Republican Party of Florida. I hope the lawyers in the party that disagree with this decision will make their voices be heard, loudly.

Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami, Florida practicing in state and federal court, and the author of The Truth About Hiring A Criminal Defense Lawyer. Share/Save/Bookmark rules Post to Twitter