High court takes up fight between Crist, JNC
The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday heard arguments in a case that centers on this question: Did Gov. Charlie Crist violate the Constitution by refusing to appoint a judge to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach in December?
Crist rejected all six finalists for a vacancy on the bench, saying he wanted more diversity (a little background here). The JNC quickly sent the same six names back to Crist. All six are white and all of the judges on the Fifth DCA are white. But Senior Judge Robert Pleus Jr., whose resignation triggered the disputed vacancy, says the Constitution is clear: "The governor shall make the appointment within 60 days after the nominations have been certified to the governor."
Pleus' pro bono attorney is Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte (at left), former president of FSU and the American Bar Association who, as a young legislator in the early 1970s, helped to create the system of filling judicial vacancies through nominating commissions. "The governor may not substitute his judgment for that of the JNC," D'Alemberte told the court.
Chief Justice Peggy Quince joined justices Barbara Pariente and Fred Lewis in peppering Crist's general counsel, Jason Gonzalez, with questions, after Gonzalez described the JNC as being under a "cloud." Pariente voiced concerns that a governor with bad motives could repeatedly reject judicial finalists until his cronies made the list, and Lewis emphasized the "shall make the appointment" language in the Constitution.
Gonzalez asked the court: "Are we to believe that the Constitution somehow requires the governor to sit idly by when there's a question like this?" He also also argued that Judge Pleus had no "clear and established legal right" to petition the court to force Crist to take action.