A state appeals court Tuesday ruled that two cruise-ship company executives should be kept off a panel that will determine whether to reduce payment rates for harbor pilots at Port Everglades. The nine-page ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal stems from a dispute about a proposal by the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association to reduce what are known as “pilotage rates” by 25 percent for passenger vessels using Port Everglades.
The proposal went to a rate committee that is part of the state Board of Pilot Commissioners. But a harbor pilots group, the Port Everglades Pilots Association, filed a court case to try to disqualify two of the committee members, Thomas Burke and Enrique Miguez, because they are employees of cruise-ship companies that are members of the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association. Burke, a vice president of Royal Caribbean, and Miguez, a vice president of Carnival Cruise Lines, declined to recuse themselves from the rate decision, according to Tuesday’s ruling. But a three-judge panel of the appeals court sided with the harbor pilots and said Burke and Miguez should be disqualified from the matter.
“Under the circumstances of this case, we agree with the PEPA [Port Everglades Pilots Association] that a reasonably prudent person would fear that he or she would not obtain a fair and impartial proceeding before committee members who are senior executives of the de facto parties that initiated the proceeding and whose rate change application is awaiting the commissioners’ decision,” said the ruling, written by Judge Joseph Lewis and joined by Chief Judge Clay Roberts and Judge Robert Benton.