Thursday, April 19, 2018
News Roundup

House bill would give Rick Scott more power to pick judges

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House approved a proposal Friday that gives Gov. Rick Scott the power to fire many of the people who help select the state's judges, a move Democrats say will lead to a more politicized judiciary.

If passed by the Senate, it would be the most significant change to the process by which court vacancies are filled since 2001, when the Legislature gave former Gov. Jeb Bush the power to appoint all nine members of these screening panels with some input from the Florida Bar.

As it works now, the process for choosing members of the state's 26 Judicial Nominating Commissions is "like a weird game of judicial hokeypokey," said sponsor Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

The nine-member commissions, called JNCs, consist of five members chosen by the governor and four chosen with input from the Florida Bar Board of Governors. The appointees are mostly lawyers, though the governor can choose no more than three non-lawyers per panel.

Their terms are four years.

Under Gaetz's bill, Scott and future governors would be able to remove and replace the five gubernatorial appointments, which comprise a majority. The governor's picks could serve indefinitely.

While circuit and county judges in Florida are elected by voters to six-year terms, the governor has the power to fill the vacant seats. The governor, with input from the JNC, appoints all state Supreme Court and appellate justices. Voters are asked whether to retain those appointees every six years.

Gaetz's measure, HB 971, passed 77-35.

Dissenting Democrats said the bill gives too much authority to the governor and oversteps the system of checks and balances.

"Today we might as well eulogize the courts and the legal system for what we are doing to them," said Rep. Darryl Rouson, a lawyer and Democrat from St. Petersburg.

But Gaetz, who is also a lawyer, said the process is already politicized within the "micropolitics of a local Bar association." Under his proposal, he said, voters can hold the governor more accountable.

"I think that if you ask most Floridians on Main Street they will be totally befuddled by the judicial appointments process," he said. "And when you have so much mystery surrounding a process, it erodes accountability."

"If I had my way I would support even bolder reform," he said.

Gaetz tried bolder last year, proposing to remove the Florida Bar from the process entirely. But the bill died in the Senate.

Included in Gaetz's bill is $500,000 for scholarships to women and minorities enrolled in Florida law schools who have expressed an interest in becoming a judge. This is a way to quell a repeated concern that the bench lacks diversity, Gaetz said.

The bill also eliminates the statewide nominating commission for judges of compensation claims, making these judges gubernatorial appointees selected from a list nominated by the judicial nominating commission for the First District Court of Appeal.

Katie Sanders can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

Police: Knife-wielding burglar breaks into house, says ‘I’m the cops’

LARGO — Detectives are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who broke into a home early Thursday morning and confronted the owners with a knife.The incident took place about 3:40 a.m. at a townhouse at 7360 Ulmerton Road, according to Largo...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant.

Two Florida deputies shot, killed at restaurant.

Two Gilchrist County sheriff’s deputies were shot and killed at a restaurant about 3 p.m. Thursday, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.The deputies were at Ace China restaurant in downtown Trenton when a man shot them through the rest...
Updated: 6 minutes ago
FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275 in St. Petersburg

FHP: Distracted driver plunges more than 50 feet off I-275 in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — A distracted driver from Pinellas Park walked away unscathed after his car plunged 50 feet off Interstate 275.Thomas Highhouse, 61, of Pinellas Park, was driving his 2016 Chevrolet Camaro along Interstate 275 around 11:10 a.m. when h...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

Deputies: Man broke into house, set it on fire and stole their dog

SEMINOLE — A Seminole man was arrested on allegations that he burglarized a home, set it on fire and stole the homeowner’s dog, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Austin Lang, 19, now faces numerous charges of burglary, arson and poss...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

St. Petersburg police remove disabled adults from ‘deplorable’ assisted living facilities

ST. PETERSBURG — Beef jerky, mayonnaise and Altoids mints were the only edible things in view inside one of the houses. There was no running water. The refrigerator was empty. A bed sat on top of the deteriorating living room floor. Cigarette butts b...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
Deputies: 15-year-old threatened attack on River Ridge High School

Deputies: 15-year-old threatened attack on River Ridge High School

NEW PORT RICHEY—A 15-year-old student was arrested Wednesday on allegations that he threatened to stage a shooting attack on River Ridge High School, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.The student attended Schwettman Education Center, dep...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: 19-month-old child hospitalized after being found in pond

Deputies: 19-month-old child hospitalized after being found in pond

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 19-month-old child was taken to the hospital Thursday after being found in a pond, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies were called at 12:31 p.m. to the 4700 block of Crestknoll Drive.An adult was watching the c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Free rides on PSTA and HART buses to celebrate Earth Day

Those who use mass transit across the Tampa Bay area can ride for free on Sunday.To celebrate Earth Day, both the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) and the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) will be offering free rides on Su...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Shaquem Griffin: ‘Lightning is going to win the Stanley Cup’

Former UCF and Lakewood High standout Shaquem Griffin understandably has been focused on the NFL draft next week in Arlington, Tex., where he is projected as a potential second-day pick.But the Lightning's playoff run  hasn't escaped his attenti...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Teen, 16, walks into path of motorcycle while crossing Ulmerton Road

Teen, 16, walks into path of motorcycle while crossing Ulmerton Road

PINELLAS PARK — A 16-year-old was injured Thursday morning after being struck by a motorcycle on Ulmerton Road, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The crash took place at about 6 a.m. Austin Montgomery, 23, was riding his 2011 Suzuki motorcycle ...
Updated: 1 hour ago