Daniel Ruth

Big field off and running in dopiest idea race

To paraphrase Mark Twain's famous line, no scintilla of common sense, reality or functioning brain synapses are safe while the Florida Legislature, that parallel universe of addled delusion, is in session. • This isn't even a legislative session at all. It's a Baker Act Convention, an assemblage of crazy people who gather together once a year in a heated competition to see who can come up with the dopiest ideas for laws to foist off on the body politic.

Already this session legislation has been proposed to turn doctors into criminals if they ask patients about guns. State Sen. Jim Norman of Tampa wanted to make it illegal to photograph farm animals. Really! Others would essentially permit developers to pave over the Everglades to make room for more pill mill strip malls just as long as they simply write a check to pay for all the dead panthers.

Teachers have been recast as something out of Dickens. Unions, at least in the eyes of the Florida Legislature, should have fewer rights than a Gitmo detainee.

And just last week these champions of liberty, under the guise of creating "leadership funds," made it easier to collect bribes by deep-pocketed special interests and spend the money any way they like. Consider this one as simply enhancing a commitment to improved customer service

Now Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Bob Barker of Tallahassee, thinks it would be a swell idea to start giving judges bonuses if they can turn their dockets into something more closely resembling Lucille Ball on a candy wrapper assembly line.

Alexander, the Lake Wales Republican who is a bigwig budget chairman, would provide judges already making between $134,000 and $142,000 a year an additional 12 large if they can just pick up the pace of justice, perhaps eliminating an ipso here and a facto there. Who really needs to be bothered with all that troublesome evidence junk anyway?

How patently harebrained is Alexander's notion to turn the judicial system into The Price Is Right, with defendants perhaps encouraged to play a game of Plinko to settle their cases? While many Republicans recoiled at the thought of judges being transformed into auctioneers, alas Tampa Sen. Ronda Storms, who makes Madame Defarge look like Sandra Day O'Connor, thought this was simply a bully idea.

Try not to be too terribly scandalized by this, but while there are many fine, dedicated, highly professional judges in Florida, there is no shortage of folks in robes who you wouldn't want judging a guacamole dip contest.

Toss in the incentive to haul in another $12,000 a year before an unscrupulous judge and this becomes a case of treadmill justice.

If Alexander's Lady Liberty Bonus Points Awards system were to ever become law, and let's face it, this is Tallahassee, where things can get more surreal than a Johnny Depp movie, there would be a class warfare system between competing judges.

Suppose in a given circuit that civil cases outnumber criminal cases. It wouldn't take long before judges would begin jockeying for the more potentially lucrative assignments, or feel resentment toward their brethren making the bigger bucks with a swifter gavel.

Would parties in a legal action feel they were receiving evenhanded treatment, or simply having their cases rushed to a resolution because a judge needs to make a boat payment?

How many judges would be willing preside over a complex lawsuit, or a protracted divorce case, or a challenging criminal trial, knowing the time it would take to fairly oversee the matter would be money out of their pocket?

What would we call this? "Law & Short Order Cooked Justice"?

If Alexander was serious about introducing efficiencies into the judicial system — and this proposal is about as serious as casting Carrot Top as an American Idol judge — the $11 million pot of slush the senator wants to create for judges would be much better spent on hiring additional court personnel, who actually make the dockets run on time.

Perhaps what is more vexing about Alexander's Convict One, Acquit Two, approach to Florida's legal system is how little the senator apparently knows or cares about how the courts actually work. After all, most reputable judges who honor the law want nothing to do with a cockamamie scheme to turn their profession into Judging for Dollars.

And this is one of the powerful guys who is supposed to be running the state. Uh-oh.

Maybe the lesson here for Alexander is that not everybody can be paid off to cut corners.

Big field off and running in dopiest idea race 03/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, March 28, 2011 8:34pm]

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