TALLAHASSEE - Contributions made by two Supreme Court justices to an activist group after a fractious retention vote nearly five years ago are being used by critics to argue they should recuse themselves from a case because they are biased against Gov. Rick Scott.
As originally reported by Sunshine State News, the $30,000 in contributions were made by Justices Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince to left-leaning Democracy at Stake, an organization with a stated aim to campaign to keep politics out of the judicial system.
Just after the contributions were made in late February 2013, the group issued a press release criticizing Gov. Scott's appointment of Judge Alan Forst to the 4th District Court of Appeal, claiming he was unqualified for the job and questioned whether he was nominated for political reasons.
Details of the contributions are emerging again amid controversy over comments made by, and a document exchanged between, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Pariente earlier this month following oral argument in a case that will decide who appoints the next three justices, and whether Scott should do so, or his successor.
The comments suggested the pair were discussing members of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).
Labarga is heard on the audio, which cuts in and out, stating the name of "Izzy Reyes" and that he "will listen to me." Israel Reyes is a member of the Judicial Nominating Committee.
Pariente, Quince, and Justice R. Fred Lewis, the former two appointed by a Democrat, the latter jointly, face mandatory retirement - they will all have turned 70 - in January 2009. The term limited Scott will step down on the same day.
Two organizations, The League of Women Voters and Common Cause, argue that Scott does not have the power to appoint the new justices; that is the job of his successor.
In filings, they argue that Scott will, in fact, no longer be governor by the time the justices must officially retire, that is at midnight on Jan. 8. Scott will officially no longer be governor earlier that day, it is argued.
Following media reports of the hot mic exchange between Pariente and Labarga, Scott requested documents and recordings from the Supreme Court to find out "what was going on," but had stopped short of calling for the justices to recuse themselves from hearing League of Women Voters Florida, et al. v. Rick Scott.
On Monday, he moved to disqualify Pariente from the case that was argued on Nov. 1.
Sunshine State News states in its column that every member of the bench that it claimed has actively worked against the governor should recuse themselves.
It noted that the campaign contriutions in question, one by Pariente of just under $23,000 and the other by Quince of around $7,000, were made on the same day in late February 2013. They were final disbursements from campaign funds raised to defend against a determined attempt by conservatives to unseat them the previous November.
Huge amounts were spent on the vote, mostly by those in favor of their retention. Over $1.3 million was spent by the justices and a further $3.3 million by an outside group supporting them, according to campaign finance documents.
Few retention votes attract any organized opposition, and justices or appeal court judges rarely need to raise and spend campaign funds.
No justice or appeal court judge has failed to be retained since the system was introduced in the 1970s.
After the contributions from the two justices was made public, Pariente said she gave the campaign money to Democracy at Stake and others studying how to improve and increase public understanding of the merit retention system, according to a contemporaneous report in the Palm Beach Post.
If it had been her money, Pariente told the Post she might have given it to the Legal Aid Society or, as a breast cancer survivor, a group that researches possible cures. As it was campaign money, she believed it important to use it to study the retention system.