The "hot mic" comments The Florida Channel recorded Nov. 1 between Supreme Court Justices Jorge Labarga and Barbara Pariente weren't the first time Pariente revealed her anti-Rick Scott bias.
In May 2012, during a retention campaign speech, Pariente told a gathering at Temple Emeth Delray Beach that "a vote yes will be a vote to retain me and the other two justices [Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince]. A vote no will give Governor Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments."
Pariente's speech drew an immediate response from anti-judicial activists, but none more outraged than Jack Thompson of Coral Gables. Thompson fired off a letter of complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission accusing Pariente of misrepresenting the judicial retention and appointment process. "... Her attacks on a co-equal branch of government make it a narrow argument about herself," he said.
Court watchdog group Restore Justice backed Thompson up. Its chief executive, Jesse Phillips, said, "You can't claim to be nonpartisan or independent while taking verbal stabs at another politician. Voters are eager for this activist court to stop playing political games, picking sides, raising unprecedented special-interest money and taking shots at our elected representatives."
Even the temple room where Pariente spoke was an issue in 2012 -- reportedly paid for by Henry Handler, a former Palm Beach County Democratic Party chairman.
Pariente's remarks, Thompson's complaint and Philips' reaction were reported first in the May 29, 2012 edition of Sunshine State News.
It is that 2012 speech that compelled the government watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) to call for Pariente's disqualification -- along with Labarga's -- in the case deciding Scott's appointment powers. Here is FACT Executive Director Kendra Arnold's statement, issued Saturday:
“Judicial temperament that includes threatening lawyers short and long-term as Justice Labarga has done, attacking other public officials in the midst of a political campaign as Justice Pariente has done, and now attacking members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, destroys public faith in the courts. Such behavior betrays that certain judges are biased and the citizens of Florida cannot get a fair shake, much less justice, before certain judges.
"Both Justice Labarga and Justice Pariente have exhibited behavior that should disqualify them from hearing the case brought by politically motivated organizations who want to prevent the governor from filling vacancies on the Florida State Supreme Court. Moreover, Justice Pariente has previously expressed her opinion that she did not want the governor to make judicial appointments –- the very issue in the case before the court. Both justices should immediately recuse themselves from this case as they have demonstrated a bias against the governor.”
The critical issue at hand is whether Scott or the next governor has the constitutional right to make judicial appointments. The court now is weighted in favor of liberal decisions -- Pariente, Lewis and Quince, all considered liberal. The three will be past age 70 next year and set to retire on the same day Scott leaves office.
Labarga and Pariente's sketchy comments as they poured over a then-unidentified list were caught Nov. 1 on a live microphone. They were "exchanging banter" over a list of Scott’s appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission and they followed oral arguments in the petition filed by left-leaning League of Women Voters and Common Cause. The groups are arguing against Republican Scott appointing the three justices.
Then, last week Politico uncovered a 2007 open microphone audio in which Labarga, as a Palm Beach County judge, was "hammering an attorney who tried to have him removed from a case. Labarga’s comments at that time also implied that judges seek retribution when crossed by attorneys." See the story here.
Meanwhile, the governor has not decided whether he will ask the justices to recuse themselves. He told reporters last week he first wants to "find out what's going on” but he absolutely “expects judges to be impartial ... to simply do their job.”
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith.
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