Judicial choices for Scott turn political

 

bousquet@tampabay.com

Gov. Rick Scott often says he’ll appoint judges to the Florida courts who think like him. That’s what a court watchdog group is worried about.

Democracy at Stake formed last fall to fight a Republican effort to block the retention of three state Supreme Court justices. The GOP effort flopped, and Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince all won new six-year terms.

Scott will soon be presented with an important appointment on the 4th District Court of Appeal in Broward and Palm Beach counties and the Treasure Coast, a vacancy created by the resignation of Pariente’s husband, Fred Hazouri.

The judicial nominating commission for the 4th DCA has nine members, six of them appointed by Scott. One is a Republican national committeeman and three others have made campaign contributions to lots of Republican candidates.

There’s nothing surprising about that. Every governor reshapes judicial nominating panels to his political liking, and Scott is no different from his predecessors.

The Scott-friendly JNC sent six names to Scott’s general counsel, Peter Antonacci. By the end of this week, Antonacci and his staff are expected to send three names to Scott, who will personally interview the finalists and select one.

Four of the six finalists have significant experience as judges (Peter Blanc, Glenn Kelly, Janis Brustares Keyser and Krista Marx). A fifth finalist, Mark Klingensmith, was appointed to a circuit judgeship by Scott a year and a half ago and before that was very active in Republican politics in Martin County.

The sixth finalist, Alan Orantes Forst, is an attorney and chairman of a state agency, the Florida Reemployment Assistance Appeals Commission. Forst, 53, of Palm City, included in his application a section he labeled “Conservative Credentials.” It was only one paragraph in a 108-page application, but it definitely got people’s attention.

A few highlights: He was a college Republican and a Ford-Dole volunteer, worked for a pro-Ronald Reagan political action committee, and got a job in President Reagan’s Justice Department, where his duties included being a liaison between the agency and Clarence Thomas, who then was chairman at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Contacted Monday, Forst declined to comment.

Two other judges with extensive judicial experience, John Murphy and Carol Lisa Phillips, were not on the list that went to Tallahassee, and Democracy at Stake saw the hand of partisan politics at work.

“The JNC, dominated by a majority of partisan gubernatorial appointees, chose to include applicants with little or no judicial experience, while passing over applicants with years of demonstrated ability serving on the trial court bench,” Democracy at Stake said. Its president is Alex Villalobos, a Miami lawyer and a former Republican state senator.

In a meeting with black legislators several weeks ago, Scott was firm in his opposition to appointing activist judges.

If Forst makes the cut and Scott appoints him, it won’t be the first time. The governor last year put Forst on the judicial nominating commission for the 19th Judicial Circuit on the Treasure Coast.

That, too, was on Forst’s application, right above where it said “Conservative Credentials.”

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