Supreme Court denies recusal of Justice Pariente, no explanation offered

By John Breslin | Nov 29, 2017

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente will not be recused from a case that centers on who will make the decision to appoint replacements for her and two colleagues on the bench.

Florida Supreme Court chamber in Tallahassee   Nagel Photography / Shutterstock.com

TALLAHASSEE – Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente will not be recused from a case that centers on who will make the decision to appoint replacements for her and two colleagues on the bench.

In one line and without any explanation, the court stated Nov. 29 it was denying Gov. Rick Scott's motion to disqualify Pariente from the case. It was signed by John A. Tomasino, the Supreme Court clerk.

The failure to give any explanation for the decision was criticized by the governor's office.

“Gov. Scott expects all judges to be fair and impartial,” the governor's spokesman John Tupps told the Orlando Sentinel.

In an email to the newspaper, Tupps wrote, "It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification or explanation for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”

The move to force Pariente to recuse herself followed comments caught on a "hot mic" following a hearing on the case. A document listing the names of members of the Judicial Nominating Committee was passed between Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Nov. 1 after oral arguments, the Florida Record has previously reported.

The document was not entered into the official record. The exchange happened just after a hearing into whether Scott has the power to name replacements for the three retiring justices.

Labarga is heard using the name "Panuccio," with Pariente replying with the word "crazy." Justice Labarga then stated, "Izzy Reyes is on there" and he "will listen to me."

Israel 'Izzy' Reyes and Jesse Panuccio are members of the Judicial Nominating Committee, a nine-member body that draws up nominations for Supreme Court and appeal court replacements. The governor then decides who will be appointed. 

Justices Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince face mandatory retirement on the same day as Scott's final day as governor, as they will all have reached the age of 70 on Jan. 8, 2019. All three are regarded as left-leaning, to varying degrees.

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 argued that Scott will, in fact, no longer be governor by the time the justices must officially retire, that is at midnight on Jan. 8, 2019. Scott officially ends his term earlier that day.

Prior to the terse denial of Scott's motion Wednesday, attorney and lobbyist Justin Sayfie, in a post on his Sayfie Review site prior to the court notice denying the governor's motion, compared the controversy to a series of scandals that roiled the state Supreme Court in the 1970s.

"Justice David McCain resigned amid allegations he improperly lobbied another court and received $10,000 for his efforts," Sayfie noted.

Further, "Justices Hal Dekle and Joseph Boyd were accused of improperly using a document not in the record in a utility case pending before the court. ... The State Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended that both justices be removed from office. Justice Dekle resigned and Justice Boyd was reprimanded," Sayfie wrote.

"Four decades later history seems to be repeating itself," Sayfie said. "Two justices are accused of improperly using a document not in the case record and plotting to lobby a court-related body, this time an executive branch commission that nominates judges and lawyers for appointment to the Supreme Court."

He added, "A recusal by Justice Pariente will set a positive example for all judges and help preserve judicial independence in our state. A refusal to recuse will undermine the legitimacy of the court’s decision. And perhaps even worse, if Justice Pariente refuses to recuse herself in this case, she will have done great, and perhaps irreversible damage, to the cause of an independent judiciary in Florida. That's too great a price to pay for her continued involvement in this case."

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