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Ballot question makes it past Supreme Court

Voters will decide whether to elect or appoint some judges. A group had challenged the language of the question.

The Florida Supreme Court squashed a challenge Tuesday to two ballot questions that will go before voters Nov. 7. The high court ruled just hours after oral arguments.

The two measures ask voters in the state's 67 counties and 20 judicial circuits whether they want their local trial judges to be elected or appointed.

Voters changed the Florida Constitution two years ago to require that they be given that local-option choice this year.

Currently, Florida's trial judges are generally elected. But frequently people are appointed to fill vacancies that open midterm.

Florida's appeal judges, however, are always appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission.

Voters periodically have a chance to kick an appellate judge off the bench _ although that's never happened in Florida.

Several South Florida lawyers who support appointment challenged the wording of the ballot measures in the state's high court. They alleged that lawmakers worded the questions in such a way as to favor election.

Twenty former presidents of the Florida Bar supported the challengers. Lawyers for the Legislature and the state's elections division denied that charge. Three other groups of voters and lawyers filed briefs supporting the state.

Just a few hours after hearing oral arguments Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court denied the appeal in a unanimous order.

Tom Warner, the state's solicitor general who defended the language, said it gives voters "a fair choice with what they were having to decide."

Bruce Rogow, the Fort Lauderdale lawyer who handled the appeal for the plaintiffs, said the onus now is on supporters of appointment to persuade voters to agree with their view.

Rogow had argued to the justices that lawmakers had "tinkered with a constitutional command" when they drafted the questions. What they came up with was "unfair and misleading language," he said.

Warner told the court that someone had to frame the question. The Constitution Revision Commission, which proposed the change mandating the election, could have done so if it wanted, Warner said. Since it didn't, the task was left to the Legislature.

Warner also denied that the questions were slanted.

The ballot will ask:

"Shall the method of selecting circuit court judges in the (number of circuit) judicial circuit be changed from election by a vote of the people to selection by the judicial nominating commission and appointment by the Governor with subsequent terms determined by a retention vote of the people?"

"Shall the method of selecting county court judges in (name of county) be changed from election by a vote of the people to selection by the judicial nominating commission and appointment by the Governor with subsequent terms determined by a retention vote of the people?"

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