TALLAHASSEE — In a rare ruling from the bench, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit arguing that three state Supreme Court justices seeking merit retention on the November ballot should be disqualified for using court-appointed staff to help them complete their qualifying papers.
Lawyers for Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner and for Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince argued that the suit, brought by two voters from Lee and Seminole counties, was without merit.
They said there is a framework in place already, through the Florida Elections Commission and the Judicial Qualifications Commission, to address the concerns of the two voters. Detzner has determined that the three judges properly submitted their qualifying paperwork and should remain on the ballot.
Lewis said the plaintiffs, Bernard Long and Ron Flores, failed to prove they were personally harmed by allowing the process in place to go forward and ruled that they had no standing to bring the lawsuit.
"I don't think your clients get to speak for everybody,'' Lewis said, before dismissing the case with prejudice, ending the case because it was brought in error. Anticipating an appeal, he added, "We'll let the district court of appeal decide whether I'm right or not."
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Shannon Goessling, immediately announced they will appeal the case, and, if they lose there, will take it to the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.
She said the justices flaunted the law with impunity when they stopped a hearing on the Senate redistricting case to complete their last-minute paperwork to be on the ballot for the merit retention vote in November.
"I don't believe any Legislature or governor who signs anything into law thought that appellate judges would be able to conduct themselves in a way that is contrary to law and should be qualified," she said.
"This was a political action without merit,'' said Sandy D'Alemberte, a former dean of the Florida State University law school and former president of the American Bar Association. D'Alemberte said it was "very much a frivolous suit" intended as part of a years-long effort to purge the court by conservatives and replace judges with like-minded, politically sympathetic jurists.