It’s usually Gov. Rick Scott who’s fielding requests for public records. But this time it’s the governor, and his target is the Florida Supreme Court in a story steeped in intrigue.
Justices heard oral arguments a week ago in a legal dispute with huge political and judicial implications: whether Scott or his successor has the power to replace three justices whose terms will expire on Scott’s last day in office as governor in early 2019.
One of the three, Barbara Pariente, engaged in a brief and cryptic exchange with Justice Jorge Labarga during a break in the proceedings.
A live microphone picked up their banter, which was carried on the Florida Channel but is not archived on its web site (the channel’s long-standing policy is not to post extraneous pictures or sound). The Times/Herald viewed the video at the station’s studios.
Pariente can be seen shaking her head in apparent dismay and saying what sounds like the word “crazy,” then drawing Labarga’s attention to a piece of paper. Then Labarga is heard saying, “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.”
The crosstalk between the two justices was first reported by FloridaPolitics.com.
The Times/Herald asked the court for the document, and it’s a list of Scott’s appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, an influential nine-member group that will screen and recommend finalists for those three upcoming openings on the court (Justices Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince are also retiring).
Reyes, a Miami lawyer, is on the JNC. So is Daniel Nordby, who represented Scott in the oral arguments on filling the vacancies.
Nordby, who is Scott’s general counsel, sent the court a public records request earlier this week, asking for the document and a copy of the recording in question.”
"Let’s find out what was going on,” Scott told reporters. “We expect judges to be impartial. We expect them to simply do their job.”
Asked whether his office would ask Pariente and Labarga to recuse themselves from the dispute involving the vacancies, Scott said: “I think we have to find out what document they were looking at, what they were talking about. I expect judges to be impartial, but let’s put the facts on the table.”