State Supreme Court, house speaker at odds over senior-justice service

By John Severance | Mar 13, 2017

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry was set to retire in Dec. 30 of last year. But he still had some cases to work on, so Perry was granted service as a senior justice.

That did not sit well with the speaker of the house in the Florida Legislature.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran threatened to file suit in the state Supreme Court, challenging the chief justice's action as a violation of the Florida Constitution.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga had issued an order allowing Perry to work until September 2018. On Jan. 11 of this year, though, Labarga amended the order and ended Perry’s service the following day. The reason given was that Perry wanted to “pursue other things,” according to Court Spokesman Craig Waters, the Tampa Bay Times reported.

In his lawsuit, Corcoran argued that by allowing Perry to work on cases that essentially made him and eighth justice on the bench. The Constitution does give the chief justice the authority to assign a retired justice to temporarily fill a court vacancy.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Corcoran also argued that after current Gov. Rick Scott appointed Alan Lawson to fill Perry’s seat on the bench, “the court could decide whether to rehear the cases that the court hadn't completed before Perry's retirement or allow Lawson to receive the briefs and then vote on the case.”

There has been a long history in the past 30 years of having retired justices continuing their work after announcing their retirement. But there might have been another reason why Corcoran filed suit against the state Supreme Court, according to the Times report. Perry had always been an opponent of the death penalty, and Corcoran had continually been on the opposite side of the judge's rulings.

"There is no constitutional or legal justification for the chief justice's assignment of retired Justice Perry to the status of 'senior justice' or to assign him as a justice sitting on active cases before this court after retired Justice Perry resigned his commission," Corcoran's suit said, according to the Times report.

Perry was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Charlie Crist on March 11, 2009, according to his bio page. Perry was was appointed by then-Gov. Jeb Bush to the 18th Judicial Circuit in March 2000, making Perry the first African-American appointed to that circuit.

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