A driving force behind court reform | Dec. 31
Face of merit retention in Florida
I write to note the passing of a significant figure in the history of Florida's judicial system, retired Supreme Court Justice Ben Overton. Justice Overton's judicial career spanned some four decades, from the 1960s through the 1990s, first as a trial court judge and then as a Florida Supreme Court justice from 1974 to 1999. His career as a jurist and the important decisions he participated in mark him as one of the most important Florida legal figures of the 20th century.
In addition to being proud to have known and worked with such a honorable, hard-working and warm man, I write to note a lesser-known but significant historical fact about Justice Overton and his contribution to the quality of our system of justice. He was the first Florida Supreme Court justice selected under our current merit selection system.
The early 1970s represented a low point in the public image of the Florida Supreme Court due to allegations of ethical misconduct by several of its members. Those allegations resulted in resignations and public chastisement of the accused justices. Gov. Reubin Askew, troubled by the scandal that many thought was a result of justices competing in statewide elections that carried all the baggage of other political elections, believed there must be a better way. He found his answer in a newly emerging system in several other states called judicial merit selection and retention.
Under this system, political elections would be replaced by a nonpartisan commission whose members would be sworn to adopt and apply objective criteria in nominating a select few justices and lawyers for consideration for appointment by the governor to the Florida Supreme Court. Under Askew's leadership, this merit system was adopted in Florida. Ben Overton was then serving as a trial court judge.
Obviously, in the wake of the court scandal it was critically important that the new merit system get off to a good start. Fortunately, trial judge Ben Overton was among the small group of nominees selected by the first merit selection commission. Overton had established a solid reputation as a hard-working, no-nonsense judge of impeccable character, and, after Askew's own investigation and personal interview, Overton was chosen as the first justice under the merit system. From that day forward, Ben Overton became the face of the merit selection system in Florida. True to his reputation for hard work and good character, Overton's 25-year career on the Florida Supreme Court demonstrated every day that the new merit system worked and still does.
Overton's role in validating the merit selection system has particular relevance today in light of recent legislative attempts to weaken that system. Fortunately, the citizens of Florida, when asked their views, have resoundingly rejected those attempts to tamper with our system of merit selection and retention, and Justice Overton's reputation and service live on through this system. Thank you, Ben Overton, for the face you gave to this system and for your service.
Harry Lee Anstead, retired justice, Florida Supreme Court, Tallahassee
House passes fiscal deal | Jan. 2
Spending must be cut
It appears that President Barack Obama is going to get his way and punish successful Americans by raising their taxes. He believes that winning re-election by getting 51 percent of the vote gives him a mandate to continue to expand his plan of income redistribution and to grow programs to make people more dependent on government.
Maybe he needs to be reminded that 49 percent of the vote was not for him or his programs. The endless campaigning — after the election has been over for almost two months — is getting old.
The president's time and our money would be spent better by him remaining in Washington and working to cut spending and get our financial house in order.
Ronnie Young, Dover
Politics over compromise
By casting his vote against the "fiscal cliff" bill, Sen. Marco Rubio has failed the people of Florida. Make no mistake: Both houses of Congress and both political parties have failed us, but Rubio was one of eight senators voting against the bill, compared to 89 votes in favor. That shows that he puts his political ambitions ahead of the people of Florida. He would rather see the economy fail and Wall Street crash than compromise with the other party.
John Ford, Trinity
Ready for light rail progress | Jan. 2
Voters still skeptical
A recent poll is being used to argue that opinions have changed since the 2010 rejection in Hillsborough County of light rail in a referendum. The poll does not support that conclusion.
In 2010, Hillsborough County voters were asked if they would be willing to pay a sales tax increase for light rail and they strongly said no. Your poll makes no mention of a tax increase. It simply asks if the respondent would support tax money being used. The implication is that existing funds would be allocated to light rail instead of other uses.
If you wanted to compare current opinion to that of 2010, you should have asked the same question. Redo the poll and ask people if they support higher taxes to bring light rail to the area. I think you will get a much different result.
I am aware the editorial position of the Tampa Bay Times is to support light rail. That is fine on the editorial pages. But the poll results speak for themselves. Your articles and editorials should not try to make them show a change in opinions based on a different question.
Richard Culver, Indian Shores
Hillary Clinton hospitalized | Dec. 31
A few weeks ago on Fox News, I heard the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, accuse Hillary Clinton of faking her illness from her fall in order to avoid a congressional hearing on Benghazi. He called it a "diplomatic illness."
Now that Clinton is in the hospital for treatment of a blood clot from that fall, when will Bolton be held responsible for his idiotic political attack?
Roger Gambert, Palm Harbor
New Year's Eve
A big thank you to whoever organized (and paid for) the wonderful fireworks display at Channelside on New Year's Eve. It was a lovely evening made perfect by the colorful display. The finale of exploding lights and colors was the best I've ever seen in my over 60 years living on two continents. Thanks again and Happy New Year!
Louise Donohue, Tampa