Martin Dyckman retired from the St. Petersburg Times in 2006, after spending most of his half-century career in journalism at the newspaper. Since then, he has published two books on Florida history and politics — subjects he is well versed in, thanks to years as a reporter in the state capital and as a member of the Times editorial board. Dyckman's latest book, A Most Disorderly Court: Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary, deals with judicial misconduct on the state's Supreme Court in the 1970s. It was published by the University Press of Florida in the spring. Dyckman will talk about it at the Four Seasons Author Series luncheon in Tampa today.
A Most Disorderly Court relates to judicial reforms put in place after a large-scale scandal in the 1970s. Have those reforms been effective?
The reforms have been effective overall. The Supreme Court and district courts of appeal are still appointed, and there have been no allegations of unethical favoritism. There are grounds for concern, however, that some appointments have been more for politics than merit. The Judicial Qualifications Commission has been vigorous. The Supreme Court seems to be respecting the finality of most district court decisions.
In the book, you take today's journalists to task for not bearing down on corruption. What are some of the most pressing things you believe are not being investigated?
From my perspective, the Florida media pays indecently inadequate attention to the courts, which seem to be covered only in regard to the occasional lurid or sensational case such as the Hogan family or Anna Nicole Smith. I rarely see anything to explain why the taxpayers are having to pay for an incarceration rate 20 percent above the national average, how Florida's Third-World fiscal situation is delaying and degrading civil and criminal justice, or the extent to which Gov. Jeb Bush made ideology intrude on the appointment process. With only a few — very few — exceptions, the Florida media was silent about the 2001 legislative coup that gave him, and his successors, total control of the judicial nominating commissions.
If you were back on the beat, what would you want to report on?
If I were still on the Capitol beat, I would concentrate on the variety of factors that make Florida politics and government too partisan and dysfunctional. I would be trying endlessly, but without hope of success, to persuade the public that term limits have been a disaster. And I would have nothing to do with blogs.