In the pending lawsuit that contends Gov. Rick Scott’s successor should hold the privilege of naming the next three Supreme Court justices, one thing now is obvious: Every current justice who has actively worked against the governor should recuse.
It's the right thing to do. It could go a long way to restore faith in the integrity of the state's highest court.
Florida public record is awash in evidence of judicial activism against Scott -- but none so blatant as Justice Barbara Pariente's.
News stories already have exposed Justice Jorge Labarga's admission of threatening lawyers short and long-term, Justice Pariente's open campaign in 2012 to keep Scott from selecting justices -- exactly what the lawsuit brought by Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause is meant to decide -- and Labarga and Pariente together attacking members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission on an open microphone Nov. 1.
But there is another nearly forgotten story that exposes Pariente as such a virulent Scott opponent in 2013, she was willing to put her money where her mouth is.
In the wake of Scott's appointment of Alan Forst to the Florida 4th District Court of Appeal, Sunshine State News uncovered nearly $30,000 in donations Pariente and Justice Peggy Quince made to the liberal activist group that opposed Forst's candidacy.
A former high-ranking government attorney told SSN at the time, "I believe this is the first time in our history that two sitting Supreme Court justices have diverted campaign cash to a group that used the money to attack a fellow Florida Bar member nominated to the appellate court."
Forst very definitely was the governor's selection. The donations were clearly a statement on Scott.
Contributor records maintained by the Florida Division of Elections show that Pariente and Quince respectively donated $23,000 and $5,922.65 of their leftover campaign monies to Democracy at Stake less than two months after winning retention to the high court in November.
Democracy at Stake was founded with the express purpose of defending the justices and their successful retention campaigns against critics who charged that they (along with Justice R. Fred Lewis) are left-wing judicial activists who do not interpret law according to its original public meaning.
Democracy at Stake had criticized Scott's selection of Forst based on his lack of trial court experience and his self-identification as a conservative. Ironically, none of the three justices for whom Democracy at Stake had campaigned served as a trial court judge prior to his/her appointment to an appeals court; Lewis himself had no judicial experience whatsoever before Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1998.
Forst, incidentally, filled the seat vacated by retiring Judge Fred Hazouri, Pariente's husband.
Scroll through the Democracy at Stake Facebook page here to understand what Pariente's money supported. Then ask yourself if Pariente can render a fair and unbiased opinion in a lawsuit that will decide which governor will choose the next three justices -- Gov. Scott or his successor.
It's probably inconsequential that In April, Pariente was the guest speaker at a meeting of the Palm Beach County League of Women Voters at Atlantis Country Club in Lake Worth. The Palm Beach chapter is arguably the most influential in the Florida League, which is co-petitioner in the pending case.
And there is no proof Pariente and FLWV President Pam Goodman are friends, let alone ever vacationed together during redistricting, as current rumor would have it. "The first and only time I ever spoke to Justice Pariente was when we were introduced at the League of Women Voters of Florida's 85th anniversary," Goodman told SSN Thursday.
But certainly it's clear when you put all the hard evidence together: Barbara Pariente should be disqualified from participating in the pending lawsuit on Gov. Scott's last-day appointment powers.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith
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