Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Editorials

Limits on judicial speech go too far

In an effort to avoid another situation where a renegade judge lobbies the Legislature for an opulent new courthouse or other special treatment, the Florida Supreme Court has gone too far in limiting the ability of state judges to talk with lawmakers and the governor. It's understandable that a court system stung by the misdeeds of former appellate Judge Paul Hawkes in securing a lavish $50 million courthouse would look for ways to prevent another embarrassment. But the Supreme Court has imposed a rule so stringent that it will cut off valuable conversations between local judges and area legislators, and the rule should be rescinded or modified to keep lines of communication with the judicial branch open.

The high court adopted the new rule in February, breaking with regular practice of first inviting reaction from the state's judiciary, although it did allow for 60 days to comment after the fact. Six of the seven members of the Florida Supreme Court approved the change, with Justice Fred Lewis dissenting. Since then, two influential groups representing the state's circuit and district court judges have submitted cogent objections, urging the court to reconsider.

Under the new rule, all judges and judicial groups are barred from recommending budget priorities to anyone in the legislative or executive branches, unless they make it clear that it is a wholly personal comment. The idea is for the court system to speak with one voice on the financial needs and priorities. Of course what the court has in mind is to prevent another case like the one involving Hawkes and his fellow judge on Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal, Judge Brad Thomas, who were both legislative staffers before being appointed to the bench by Gov. Jeb Bush.

Hawkes and Thomas lobbied lawmakers for years for a new courthouse that came to be known as the "Taj Mahal" for its price tag and luxury appointments. Hawkes resigned earlier this year to avoid a misconduct trial. Thomas is still a sitting judge. The scandal is an indictment of changes made while Bush was governor that politicized the process of picking judges.

But in an attempt at fixing the problem, the new rule interferes too much with judicial speech. In their written objections, both the Conference of Circuit Judges of Florida and the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges said the rule is so vague judges wouldn't know when they could face career-ending discipline. What if a judge complained to a legislator about the lack of a cost-of-living adjustment for judges since 2005, the DCA judges conference wondered. What if the same complaint were made to the press with the knowledge that it would be seen by lawmakers or the governor?

Local judges are often the best positioned to talk with their legislators about financial issues affecting court operations and the administration of justice. The stringency of the new rule might make lawmakers less responsive to the needs of the judicial branch, a result the justices would not want. The Supreme Court should revisit this issue and make reasonable adjustments.

Comments
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18