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A Florida Bar panel will consider this morning whether members of a judicial nominating commission appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush asked judicial candidates in Broward County questions that were sexually discriminatory or were political or religious litmus tests. The Daily Business Review earlier reported that a number of judicial candidates say they were asked inappropriate, offensive and potentially illegal questions. Since then, the Review has discovered one additional incident, involving a candidate who was asked during a Broward JNC interview to do a humorous impression of a black Broward judge. The chair of the Bar’s Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee said his panel will discuss the Broward JNC matter during its regularly scheduled meeting at the Bar’s mid-year meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Miami. “There’s a lot of interest from different people,” said Richard E. Doran, a Tallahassee lawyer. But in an interview, Bar president Miles A. McGrane III said that even if members of the 17th Judicial Circuit JNC behaved improperly, his organization “can do literally nothing about it,” and that “the sole remedy is with the governor.” McGrane said that even though the Bar conducted its own investigation of alleged misconduct by a JNC member three years ago, it “can’t” order an investigation now because JNC members are constitutionally appointed officers. “It troubles me, these questions, but I wasn’t there and I don’t know in what context it was taken,” McGrane said. “I believe these were fairly new commissioners. They’ll probably grow into the job. Am I sorry that people were offended? Absolutely. But this isn’t a perfect world and we learn from experience.” McGrane suggested that some of the complaints may be sour grapes. “I know many times people don’t get the [judicial] appointment and aren’t happy,” he said. Meanwhile, Gov. Bush’s office pushed aside questions about whether it plans to investigate the Broward JNC. Jill Bratina, Bush’s communications director, said no candidates have filed any complaints about the judicial interview process. Still, the Rev. O’Neal Dozier, a Broward JNC member whose conduct has drawn criticism, told the Review that he has been questioned by the governor’s staff. Bratina said the governor’s general counsel, Raquel A. “Rocky” Rodriguez, would attend the Bar committee meeting this morning to discuss the nominating process as well as “questions that are appropriate as part of that process.” The Broward allegations have raised questions about whether the governor’s office and the Bar are doing an adequate job of training and monitoring JNC members. There’s also the issue of whether judicial candidates have adequate means of recourse if they have complaints. “If the only entity [the JNCs] answer to is the governor’s office, people will be reluctant to speak out about inappropriate activity, knowing they may jeopardize their opportunity to be appointed,” said Jayme Cassidy, a Broward assistant public defender who was interviewed for a judicial slot twice last year. Cassidy objected to being asked by the JNC whether she could balance single motherhood with judicial service. In response to McGrane’s statement about why unsuccessful candidates may be complaining, Cassidy said, “If everyone had that attitude, then I guess I would still be sitting on the back of the bus as a black female.” The Daily Business Review earlier reported that the Broward JNC over the past year or more has asked whether candidates could balance maternal and judicial duties and whether they are “God-fearing” and active in their church. It also has asked candidates their views about the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling striking down a Texas law criminalizing homosexual activity, and how they would feel about having the Ten Commandments posted in their courtroom. Two JNC members, Dozier of Pompano Beach and Coral Springs lawyer Walter Blake, acknowledged asking some of those questions. JNC member Timothy L. Bailey, a Pompano Beach lawyer, said he regularly asks — and will continue to ask — all candidates with young children how being appointed to the bench “will affect their current situation on the home front.” LEADING THE CANDIDATE? Paula Revene, a Fort Lauderdale appellate lawyer, said that while observing several Broward JNC interviews last year, she witnessed Blake ask candidates about a federal judge’s ruling ordering the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice to remove a giant Ten Commandments monument he had erected in the courthouse. “It was clear that Blake disapproved of the federal judge’s order and wanted the candidates to side with the Alabama chief justice,” Revene said. “The candidates tried their best to be diplomatic and answer in a politically correct way.” Blake did not return a call for comment. Broward JNC chair Georgina Rodriguez Pozzuoli denied that Blake displayed personal bias in how he asked the question. A number of judicial candidates and other attorneys contend that questions asked by the Broward JNC were inappropriate and possibly illegal, including Dozier’s question about whether candidates are “God-fearing.” Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Pozzuoli said her panel asked both men and women about their family responsibilities, and she defended that line of inquiry. She also said it was appropriate to ask about contemporary, controversial legal issues, such as the Texas anti-sodomy statute, because it tested the candidates’ ability to respond under pressure. But she distanced herself from Dozier and his questions about whether candidates are “God-fearing” people. “It’s not a question I would ask,” Pozzuoli said. “Rev. Dozier is one member and his views don’t reflect the views of everyone on the commission.” She said that when her JNC next meets, there “perhaps will be discussion about questions and how to word questions.” JNC members should avail themselves of additional training to improve “how questions are artfully or inartfully worded,” she added. In the wake of the earlier Review article, state Rep. Bruce Gelber, D-Miami Beach, and the Washington, D.C.-based Americans United for Separation of Church and State urged Gov. Bush to remove Dozier from the JNC. Dozier is a Republican ally of Gov. Bush who heads the all-black Worldwide Christian Center, a fundamentalist church in Pompano Beach. In an interview, Dozier said he stopped asking the “God-fearing” question last summer after Fort Lauderdale lawyer Sam Fields took him aside and objected. But Dozier, who received a law degree from John Marshall Law School in Atlanta and never practiced law, bristled over the criticism he has received on the issue. “Why is everyone so against God?” he asked. “Are people who oppose the question saying people should have no respect for God?” On the issue of his publicly expressed denunciation of homosexual activity, Dozier argued that the Bible says that God considers it an abomination. “If someone has a problem with calling it nasty and disgusting, they don’t have a problem with me, it’s with God,” he said. “Those are his words.” Still, he insisted he would have no problem with recommending qualified gay judicial candidates as long as he was convinced they would not use their judicial positions “to push the homosexual agenda.” Dozier blamed the complaints about the Broward JNC’s conduct on the “homosexual community” and on judicial candidates who are “angry” over not being selected. “Why did some people raise this issue?” he asked. “Because they were not chosen. Now they want to pick at the JNC and use the media to do it.” BUT FIRST, AN IMPRESSION Dozier isn’t the only Broward JNC member whose conduct has raised concerns. Judicial candidate Pedro Dijols said he was asked by Broward JNC member William Scherer during an interview last year to do an impression of former Broward County Judge Zebedee W. Wright, who’s African-American. Dijols said he did not find the request objectionable, so he did it. According to Dijols, everyone in the room laughed except for Dozier. The Pompano Beach minister confirmed the incident but declined to comment on it. Scherer first told the Review he wasn’t sure he asked Dijols to do the impression, but then asked a reporter whether the request was inappropriate. He declined to comment further. Wright did not return a call for comment. “They were just trying to instill some levity in the interview,” Dijols said. “Some judges on the bench take themselves too seriously.” When told about the Dijols incident, Carol Licko, Gov. Bush’s former general counsel who now serves on the Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, was silent for several seconds, then expressed disbelief. “That’s hard to respond to,” she said. Licko said, however, that some issues in the state judicial selection system go beyond Broward. She said she often hears reports that candidates around the state are being asked whether they can balance maternal and judicial duties. “There are certain things you don’t ask, and in general that’s not an appropriate question,” she said. HOT-BUTTON ISSUES In addition, a Fort Lauderdale attorney who promotes the judicial candidacies of gay and women lawyers but who did not want to be identified, said JNCs around the state routinely ask candidates whether they would be willing to overturn Florida’s anti-sodomy law to legalize homosexual behavior. Florida is one of the few states that still has a law criminalizing sodomy, similar to the Texas law struck down by the Supreme Court last year in its landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision. “Half a dozen people have told me that candidates all over the state are being asked how they feel about sodomy as an issue,” said the Fort Lauderdale attorney, who added that the candidates are offended but are afraid to complain. The attorney said candidates also are asked regularly how they view the issue of parental notification in cases of abortion for minors, another hot-button issue for social conservatives. Justin Sayfie, a former top aide to Bush who now serves on the Miami-Dade Circuit Court JNC, defended questions about the Lawrence ruling overturning Texas’ anti-sodomy statute. He said it “doesn’t seem inappropriate” to ask about it because the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee “probably” has asked federal nominees the same question. Licko agreed that the question on Lawrence could be appropriate, depending on how it’s asked. There’s an important distinction, she said, between asking candidates how they personally feel about a decision and asking them to analyze it from a legal perspective. “Your personal opinion about a court case is irrelevant,” she said. BUSH’S STAFF The JNCs are not the only ones asking sensitive questions. The governor’s staff members sometimes ask about politically sensitive cases when judicial candidates come to Tallahassee for finalist interviews. John Schlesinger, an assistant U.S. attorney who has been a Miami-Dade judicial finalist seven times, said the governor’s staff asked him last year about the Ten Commandments, and he didn’t object to the query. He recalls being asked how the U.S. Supreme Court would rule in the case of the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who built the Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse. Schlesinger said he was asked the question in “a very professional and appropriate way.” “I said it was a no-brainer, that it would be a 9-zip opinion because [the Alabama chief justice] crossed the line,” he said. Schlesinger was not selected by Gov. Bush. He has filed to run for election to a Miami-Dade circuit seat this year. Sayfie questioned whether the Ten Commandments question asked by the governor’s staff was appropriate. “I’m not sure what the purpose of that question is,” he said. Bratina, the governor’s communications director, said Bush’s staff does not ask judicial candidates how they would rule in a particular case “but rather what steps they would take and what materials they’d reference in the process.” Licko told the Review earlier that candidates who were asked inappropriate questions about maternal duties and other issues should file complaints with the Bar. When told Wednesday that McGrane said the Bar had no authority to handle such complaints, Licko expressed surprise. “I know the Bar has done investigations in the past,” she said. Three years ago, then-Bar president Herman Russomanno appointed a three-lawyer panel headed by former 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph Hatchett to investigate allegations of misconduct by Elizabeth White, a 1st District Court of Appeal JNC member. White was accused by a conservative group and by Gov. Bush of improperly asking Republican judicial candidate Charles Makar about financial and other issues related to his 1998 divorce. The panel exonerated White, finding that she appropriately questioned Makar about his fitness to be a judge. When asked about the Bar’s handling of that case, McGrane said he wasn’t on the board of governors at the time and wasn’t involved. He noted that the case occurred before the Legislature in 2001 greatly reduced the Bar’s role in selecting JNC members. Russomanno did not return a call for comment. “The Florida Bar’s involvement in JNCs has changed dramatically,” McGrane said. “It’s outside the Bar’s power to do anything.” Richard Doran, chairman of the Bar’s Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, said his panel works with the governor’s office to organize training for new JNC members but does not try to tell them what types of questions to ask or avoid. “Mainly we try to emphasize that questioning be done in an objective way and that, for the most part, the best practice is to ask everyone similar questions,” Doran said. Fort Lauderdale lawyer Sam Fields said he originally planned to file a complaint about the Rev. Dozier for asking candidates whether they are “God-fearing” but is satisfied that Dozier has stopped making the query. “We’ve gotten into an age of religiosity where people think they have to wear religion on their sleeve to get anywhere, even in the presidential campaign,” Fields said. “This country has gone through these phases before and has grown out of them before. Hopefully, it will grow out of this one before too much damage is done.”

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