A state lawmaker is challenging the eligibility of three candidates for Florida’s new 6th District Court of Appeal because the candidates don’t live within the district.
A judicial nominating commission put forward 18 names to Gov. Ron DeSantis for three seats on the appeals court, including two Tampa Bay residents: Republican state Rep. Mike Beltran and Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jared Smith. It also recommended Leon County Circuit Judge Stephen Everett.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, filed the challenge with Florida’s Supreme Court on Thursday night, arguing that the commission exceeded its authority with those three recommendations.
The 6th District, which was established in June 2022 and is based in Polk, includes Orange, Osceola, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties — but not Hillsborough. The court will include nine judges.
Beltran said he lives in Hillsborough, but said in a text that he would move into the district if he got the job, adding, “you just have to live there once appointed.”
He said Thompson “hates us” and will “remove black jurists (in) her quest to oppose us at every turn.” He said by “us” he meant conservatives.
Everett is Black and Beltran and Smith are white. Thompson also is Black.
In 2020, Thompson successfully challenged DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court because she at the time did not have the required 10-year membership to the Florida Bar. Francis is Black.
DeSantis appointed Francis again earlier this year after the 10-year mark had passed.
Thompson dismissed Beltran’s comment.
“I’m not opposing Black judges, I’m opposing people who are not within the law as it is written,” she said.
In the lawsuit, Thompson’s attorneys argue that letting individuals outside the district serve as a judge “would violate the Florida Constitution and contradict this Court’s stated goal of achieving proportional geographic representation.”
The lawsuit says there is nothing in the state Constitution or the nominating rules that gives the nominating committee “the authority to nominate an individual for potential appointment to a district court where that individual may become eligible for that position on some future date.”
Jeffrey Aaron, the chairperson of the nominating commission for the 6th District Court of Appeal, declined to comment.
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In August, Smith lost his election for circuit judge to attorney Nancy Jacobs, who was motivated to run after Smith ruled against a 17-year-old seeking an abortion without parental consent, saying the girl failed to demonstrate maturity. His ruling was later overturned.
Meanwhile, another challenge filed by Volusia County resident Whitney Boan contends that two of 15 candidates to the 5th District Court of Appeal are not eligible for appointment.
The revamped 5th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Volusia County, will hear cases from the 4th, 5th, 7th and 18th judicial circuits — an area that includes Duval, Nassau, Clay, Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Sumter, St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties. It will have 12 judges.
The 5th District case challenges the eligibility of Florida Gaming Control Commission chairperson John MacIver, saying he lives in Leon County, as well as the eligibility of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Kilbane.
“Permitting individuals who reside outside the territorial jurisdiction of a district court of appeal to be nominated for positions on that court would violate the Florida Constitution and contradict this (Supreme) Court’s stated goal of achieving proportional geographic representation,” attorneys William Ponall and Lisabeth Fryer wrote in the 5th District Court of Appeal case.
The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article used the incorrect name for Nancy Jacobs.