The Florida Supreme Court Wednesday tersely rejected Gov. Rick Scott’s request to disqualify Justice Barbara Pariente from a critical case involving upcoming court vacancies.
In a one-sentence order, the court said: “The Respondent’s [Scott’s] motion to disqualify Justice Pariente is hereby denied.”
The decision came a day after Common Cause and the League of Women Voters filed a brief with the court, opposing Scott’s motion to remove Pariente from the case.
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Scott’s motion was in response to brief, cryptic comments Pariente made to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga over an open microphone at the end of oral arguments in the case that prompted the Republican governor to question the impartiality of Pariente, who was appointed to the court by Florida’s last Democratic governor, Lawton Chiles.
Scott last week filed a 17-page motion with the court, arguing that after oral argument, Pariente handed a document to Labarga, who said the word “Panuccio,” after which Pariente replied: “Crazy.” Labarga then said: “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Pointing again to the document, Scott’s motion said, Pariente appeared to say, “Look whose pick they’re getting ....”
The document in question was a list of nine Scott appointees to the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, which will screen and recommend finalists for each of the three vacancies that will occur on the court in January 2019 because of mandatory retirements.
The JNC includes Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former economic adviser and now a high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official and Israel Reyes, a Miami lawyer.
Another JNC member is Daniel Nordby, Scott’s general counsel, who represented Scott at oral argument and who filed the motion seeking to disqualify Pariente.
In the case of League of Women Voters of Florida et al v. Gov. Rick Scott, the legal issue is whether Scott or his successor has the authority to replace Pariente and two other justices, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who face mandatory retirement and whose terms all will expire on the day Scott will leave office about 13 months from now.
The question of which governor gets to fill the three slots on the seven-member court could dramatically shift the court’s direction for decades to come.
In a statement, Scott spokesman John Tupps said: “Gov. Scott expects all judges to be fair and impartial. It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”
Lewis also is a Chiles appointee, and Quince, the court’s first female African-American jurist, was jointly appointed by Chiles and his successor, Republican Jeb Bush, shortly before Chiles died on Dec. 12, 1998, less than a month before he was scheduled to leave office.
Three justices, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Labarga, were appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist. Scott appointed the court’s newest justice, C. Alan Lawson.