Broward County

Snipes sues to get her job back as Broward elections head, says due process violated

Brenda Snipes rescinds her resignation a day after Rick Scott suspended her

Former Broward elections supervisor, Brenda C. Snipes, attends a press conference in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, December 1, 2018. Snipes announced she is rescinding her resignation after Gov. Rick Scott suspended her Friday.
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Former Broward elections supervisor, Brenda C. Snipes, attends a press conference in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, December 1, 2018. Snipes announced she is rescinding her resignation after Gov. Rick Scott suspended her Friday.

Former Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes filed suit in federal court Monday challenging her suspension as “politically motivated” and arguing her due process rights were violated when the Florida Senate president announced last week that senators would not hold a hearing to consider reinstating Snipes.

In her lawsuit, which names Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, as defendants, Snipes requests reinstatement as Broward’s elections chief with “all accrued back pay that has been withheld” since Scott suspended her on Nov. 30. The suit also seeks a declaration that Florida’s laws regarding executive suspensions are unconstitutional.

She filed her lawsuit in federal court in Tallahassee.

Snipes rescinded a previously announced resignation, which would have taken effect Jan. 4, after Scott suspended her via executive order. On Dec. 13, Galvano issued a memorandum to the Senate that no further action would be taken on the matter because Snipes’ resignation was “unconditional” and would have taken effect before a full review of the suspension could be completed. The Florida Constitution tasks the Senate with either upholding or rejecting an executive suspension.

“This decision in no way reflects on Dr. Snipes, the governor, or their actions,” Galvano wrote. “The decision merely reflects that no timely action can be taken by the Senate. Nothing precludes Dr. Snipes from seeking a judicial determination of any rights she may have related to the Office of Broward County Supervisor of Elections.”

Burnadette Norris-Weeks, Snipes’ attorney, told the Miami Herald that her client was “prepared to just move on” from the elections office when she offered her resignation. But the suspension — and the absence of a legal requirement for a more timely hearing on the matter — violated Snipes’ due process rights, she said.

“In this case, the suspended public official’s loss of pay or the orchestrated shattering of her reputation was without due process of law,” the lawsuit states. “Snipes has no way of challenging the Governor’s Executive Order labeling her ‘incompetent,’ among other things. While no elections are ever perfect given the sheer number of volunteers, Scott reserved his fury of insults and executive power of suspension only for Snipes.”

Following the Nov. 6 elections, Snipes’ department bore the brunt of incessant criticism as her staff struggled to count thousands of ballots in a mandatory recount of three very close statewide races — U.S. Senate, Governor and Agriculture Commissioner. Broward County heavily skews Democratic, so Republicans saw their leads shrink in the days after the election.

Scott, who won his Senate bid against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, led the charge. Snipes said “untrue allegations” of fraud coming from Scott and critical tweets from President Donald Trump led to death threats against her and her family.

Scott appointed his former general counsel Peter Antonacci, even though he has no elections experience, to replace Snipes, a 15-year veteran of the department who has been re-elected four times since being appointed in 2003. Snipes’ lawsuit also calls attention to the accomplishments the elections chief made during her tenure, including voter outreach efforts and a focus on transparency.

“Just prior to her resignation, Governor Scott orchestrated a campaign strategy where he filed numerous baseless lawsuits against Snipes,” the lawsuit states, accusing Scott of attempting to slow down Broward’s vote-tabulation process through litigation.

In one case, which the lawsuit highlights, Scott’s request to “impound and secure” all voting machines in Broward when not being operated was denied by a circuit court judge. In another, a judge sided with Scott and ruled Snipes’ office violated public records laws by not immediately handing over information on vote counts.

“Governor Scott also made other attempts to harass Snipes with allegations of unfounded criminal mischief, staged protesters and refused to assist Snipes’ office in any productive way,” the lawsuit continues.

In a statement to the News Service of Florida, Scott spokesman John Tupps called the lawsuit a “desperate move.”

“The governor’s action to remove Ms. Snipes from office for misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence speaks for itself, and the media has reported on multiple instances where she broke the law (in handling the election),” Tupps said in an email. “This lawsuit is a desperate move from someone who has already officially submitted her resignation. This is simply an attempt by Ms. Snipes to rewrite the history of her failed leadership.”