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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Chief justice ends practice of congratulating new Eagle Scouts

Florida’s highest-ranking judge ended the long-standing practice of sending letters of congratulation to Eagle Scouts as the Boy Scouts of America agonized publicly over whether to admit gays as members.

Chief Justice Ricky Polston of the Florida Supreme Court discontinued the letter-writing policy in February, a time when the organization was rethinking its policy but, in a highly-publicized decision in January, delayed a vote on the issue until last week. The Scouts’ national council voted last Thursday to lift its ban on gay members, while keeping in place a ban on gay men serving as leaders.

Polston declined a request for an interview Tuesday. A court spokeswoman said his action was prompted by the possibility that Scout-related litigation could come before the court, not by his personal views on whether the Scouts should admit gays as members.

“There was a growing potential for this to be a matter in litigation before the court, and an obligation to maintain that separation from matters that are before the court,” spokeswoman Jackie Hallifax said. “The court and the chief justice have to be very careful to avoid pre-judging issues that may come before them.”

(Read a sample letter here).

Polston, 57, an accountant and lawyer, was a judge on the First District Court of Appeal when he was appointed to the state’s high court in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist. An active Christian, he grew up on a farm in Graceville, a rural Panhandle community, and he and his wife, Deborah, have 10 children, including six brothers from a racially diverse family who had been in foster care. He began a two-year term as chief justice last July.

For years, Eagle Scouts in Florida have received packets of glowing letters from top state leaders, including U.S. senators, members of Congress, governor and chief justice. In a letter Polston sent last Oct. 8 on official court letterhead to Eagle Scout Anthony James Harrison of Pembroke Pines, the justice praised the Scout’s dedication and perseverance and wrote: “Our communities need leaders and role models at school, on the playing field, and most of all in social settings where peer pressure may cause some to forget that it is their own personal character and future that is on the line.”

Polston, while in private practice, successfully defended the state law that created the “Choose Life” specialty license plate, one of the cases he cited in his application for a Supreme Court vacancy, in which he also wrote at length about adopting children in foster care. “I am a product and reflection of Florida,” Polston wrote. “My children are racially diverse, which gives me a better appreciation of different cultures and how they react to each other. In short, I am not isolated as a judge.”

[Last modified: Tuesday, May 28, 2013 4:45pm]


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