Rubio and Crist lawyers spar over gambling
House Speaker Marco Rubio's attorney told the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday that Gov. Charlie Crist went "over the line" and exceeded his authority in allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to operate casino gambling without legislative approval.
Lawyers for Crist and the tribe countered that the governor had the right to enter into a deal with the Indians, and that lawmakers had 16 years to pass a law requiring legislative approval -- but didn't.
The justices sharply questioned both sides, pointedly challenging their claims, in a full hour of argument in a case that represents a major test of a governor's power to enter into contracts.
Rubio's attorney, former House Speaker Jon Mills, said Crist made a "dramatic and historic change in gambling policy and public policy in Florida" in dealing with the tribe, and that the legislature was wrongly
The governor does not to get to implement public policy by himself," Mills argued.
But Justice Charles Wells, noting that the federal government was pressuring Crist to negotiate a compact, interjected: "Isn't it the necessary business of the governor to try to work out an arrangement?"
Crist last summer negotiated a 25-year deal with the tribe, allowing it to offer slot machines and so-called banked table games such as blackjack and baccarat that are illegal under Florida law.
Crist's attorney, Chris Kise, argued that Florida voters sanctioned that expansion of gambling when they approved a constitutional amendment that allowed counties the option to legalize slot machines.
Kise said Crist's dealings with the tribe were done in accordance with federal gaming law, "a matter about which the Legislature has no role ...(Crist) made a decision because he needed to make a decision."
"You make it sound ministerial," Justice Barbara Pariente told Kise.
When Kise argued that Crist had the power under federal law to allow banked card games, Pariente told him: "I think you have an uphill battle on this issue."
A third attorney, Barry Richard of the Seminole Tribe, said the justices were being asked to rule only on the question of an ambiguity in federal law: whether the term "such gaming" allows Crist to allow certain games otherwise banned.
The justices did not indicate when they will issue a decision, and their questions suggested they might wait until after the spring legislative session to give lawmakers one more opportunity to pass a law that would invalidate parts of the agreement.
By Steve Bousquet
Tallahassee Bureau Chief