TALLAHASSEE — Two men filed a lawsuit Monday asking the secretary of state to remove three Florida Supreme Court justices who are seeking merit retention from the November ballot.
Bernard Long and Veronco L "Ron" Flores of Seminole County allege that Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince broke state law when they halted a court hearing on the Senate redistricting plan so they could complete required paperwork to qualify for the November ballot.
"The delay caused by the justices cost Florida taxpayers thousands of dollars in additional legal fees for private outside counsel who were forced to wait while the justices worked on their campaign documents,'' the lawsuit, filed in Leon County Circuit Court, alleges. "Upon information and belief, the justices campaigns have not reimbursed the State of Florida or any private litigant for their costs and expenses caused by the delay."
Gov. Rick Scott, who will appoint the replacements if the three judges are removed from the ballot, has ordered a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into whether the judges violated the law when they used court personnel to notarize their paperwork. The justices are up for a merit retention vote in November, in which voters cast a yes or no vote indicating whether or not they believe the judges are qualified to continue to serve. State law prohibits state workers from working on a campaign during office hours.
The justices say it is routine practice for judges to use court personnel to notarize their election documents, and their lawyer produced examples of previous judges, including Chief Justice Charles Canady, who used the same procedure when he qualified for his retention race in 2010.
"This is clearly a headline hunt by the Southern Legal Foundation,'' said Robin Rorapaugh, spokeswoman for the justices' campaign. "Anyone can file false statements of facts and false statements of law in allegations just as this entity has in an organized attempt to besmirch the reputations of three Florida Supreme Court Justices."
The individuals who filed the lawsuit, however, say the judges violated a state law because the documents were necessary for them to conduct their campaign.
On Monday, Scott refused to say whether he believes the judges violated any law, but he implied that he thinks they did. "It's the Supreme Court. They should comply with the law,'' he said.
The lawsuit is being handled by the Southeastern Legal Foundation, a Marietta, Ga. law firm that has sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its ability to regulate carbon dioxide and has challenged the federal McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill.
The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a protracted fight against the justices by conservative organizations and individuals opposed to some of the court's most controversial rulings.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, urged Scott to call for the FDLE investigation. And an Orlando group, Restore Justice, has raised funds and plans to mount a campaign against the justices.