Scott and Florida GOP threaten Florida Supreme Court Justices
By Gayle Andrews
TALLAHASSEE,FL—The Florida Supreme Court scandal of 1975 was a stunning example of the power of politics and its corrupting influence on our most revered and independent branch of government.
To serve on the high court was and remains a career triumph for the jurists who preside from a bench that towers above the lawyers pleading a case. The justices represent the best legal minds Florida has to offer and they make decisions on cases affecting the lives of Floridians.
In the mid 1970’s three justices, with impeccable credentials, were so influenced by politics, they not only ruined their careers but touched off a scandal that would change the process of appointing and electing Florida judges forever. Justices David McCain, Hal Dekle and Joe Boyd were the focus of unprecedented House impeachment proceedings following a number of scathing newspaper reports and investigations. The investigations revealed that utility company lawyers and other political powerbrokers were getting favorable opinions and writing opinions for theses justices. But the worst offender was the brilliant David McCain, whose future was promising. McCain was accused of “icing” opinions to favor friends regardless of the merits of the case. The other evidence showed that McCain was pressuring lower court judges and rigging opinions to favor his political supporters.
Like a bad horror movie, the impeachment proceeding played out on television, radio and in major newspapers. Justice Dekle was accused of receiving and using a secret draft opinion written by a utility lawyer. Meanwhile Justice Boyd, also accused of using the same opinion, denied it saying he flushed it down the toilet in-stead. The Impeachment Committee ordered Boyd to submit to a psychiatric evaluation. Boyd returned to the hearing triumphant, waiving his Certificate of Sanity. The committee did not impeach the former Bible salesman so he returned to the bench. But the affable Boyd would never shed the taint of the scandal. McCain and Dekle resigned in disgrace.
The reforms that followed would close the serious breach of confidence in the Florida judiciary. Governor Reubin Askew successfully implemented reforms by appointing a Judicial Nominations Commission to recommend judges for the bench. The reforms were put in the Constitution. Very strict campaign guidelines prohibit judicial candidates from making promises of any kind. Voters will mark “yes” or “no” on their ballots this November based on the judge’s record. The laws were put in place to keep political influence out of the judiciary, allowing judges to remain true to their oath of impartiality. Judicial experts say it has worked well for nearly 40 years.
In what is being described as an unprecedented political meddling, and a power grab, the Republican Party of Florida is asking voters to reject three Supreme Court Justices; A. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and the court’s first Black female Justice, Peggy A. Quince. If the justices are removed, Gov. Rick Scott, a vocal critic of the court, would appoint their replacements. During the last 18 months, Scott and the Re-publican legislature pushed numerous pieces of legislation to undo Merit Retention and restructure the Florida Supreme Court. Those efforts failed. Scott and the Republicans have also lost the vast majority of the cases argued before the court.
Legal scholars, former justices and a host of non-partisan experts warn that this kind of interference would be disastrous. They say the Florida Supreme Court is no place for partisan politics.
The state high court panel of seven justices has the final say on many critical legal disputes affecting Floridians.
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