TALLAHASSEE - Following a hearing at the Florida Supreme Court last week over who gets to appoint replacements for three justices whose terms expire in 2019, a hot mic picked up what is described as a troubling exchange between Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justice Barbara Pariente.
"Izzy Reyes is on there, he'll listen to me," Labarga is heard saying to Pariente as they look at a roster of Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) members, a board that evaluates and recommends appointments for Supreme Court to the governor's office.
Israel U. Reyes is one of four members nominated by the left-leaning Florida Bar that serves on the nine-member JNC. The other five are appointed by the governor, currently a Republican who has vowed to fill the vacancies on his way out of office.
The exchange between Labarga and Pariente is captured on a YouTube video after arguments in a case brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and others who claim that Gov. Rick Scott doesn’t have authority to pick the replacement justices on what will be his last day in office on Jan. 8, 2019.
Pariente is among the three justices whose terms expire in 2019. Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince are the others.
Scott's appointments could change the court's balance to a conservative leaning bench 4-3, a concern feared by the liberal League of Women Voters.
Of the exchange between Labarga and Pariente, chairman of the JNC Jason Unger said the roster of commission members was not even part of the record in the case that had just been heard.
"His (Labarga's) statement that one of the commissioners would listen to him shows an intent to influence the process of nomination...done seconds after hearing arguments on the appointment process," Unger said.
"The idea that the chief justice has an interest in influencing the nomination process while presiding on the selection process is very perplexing," he said.
A report by Jim Rosica at floridapolitics.com also states that on the tape, Labarga "can first be heard saying what sounds like, '…anything on there, Panuccio.'"
The article points out that Jesse Panuccio, "once Gov. Rick Scott‘s general counsel and a former head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, is also a member of the Supreme Court JNC."
"Pariente then can be heard saying what sounds like, '…crazy…'," the article states.
Unger said that a justice calling one of the parties before her "crazy" doesn't give the appearance of "non-bias."