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In response to allegations that Broward judicial candidates were asked inappropriate and potentially illegal questions, a member of the Florida Bar board of governors plans to propose that the Bar tape every JNC interview throughout the state. Board member Jennifer Coberly, a Miami attorney, said she was disturbed by recent reports about the conduct of the state’s 17th Judicial Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission in Fort Lauderdale. As a result, she plans to introduce a motion at the next board meeting to have the Bar send a representative to all JNC interviews and tape-record the interviews. That meeting runs from March 31 to April 3 in Pensacola. Meanwhile, Gov. Jeb Bush, who appointed the Broward JNC members, has sent a letter to every member of a judicial nominating commission in the state in apparent response to the Broward controversy. But his Jan. 23 letter provides no guidance for avoiding inappropriate questions, offering only his general criteria for choosing judges. “There has been a great deal of public discussion recently about Florida’s judicial nominating process … and the scope of questions used to determine whether applicants meet those standards,” Bush wrote in the letter. The governor said he’s looking for judges who “reflect the vibrant diversity of Florida,” have no desire to “subvert the judicial process to advance their own agenda” and are “dedicated, hard-working judges with the ability to effectively manage their dockets.” Some Bar leaders have said that since the Legislature in 2001 gave the governor the power to appoint all JNC members, the Bar has no power to investigate or take remedial action when JNC members are accused of misconduct. At last month’s meeting of the 52-member board, several members expressed concern about the issue but the board took no action. Coberly said her proposal would “eliminate the question of who should investigate such matters, because there will be a record.” She said she has support from several board members, including Miami lawyer Steve Chaykin, Fort Lauderdale lawyer Frank Walker, Miami lawyer Sharon Langer and West Palm Beach lawyer Amy Smith. But board member David Bianchi of Miami said he worried that taping interviews would have a chilling effect on what applicants say. In January it was reported that members of the Broward County JNC regularly had asked questions about candidates’ personal religious views, their ability to balance motherhood with judicial service, and their views on controversial court cases involving hot-button social issues. The Rev. O’Neal Dozier of Pompano Beach acknowledged asking candidates whether they are “God-fearing,” though he said he stopped when a Fort Lauderdale lawyer asked him to do so. Dozier also has made repeated derogatory comments about gays in news interviews and public speeches, and said he thought one candidate should have made it known during the interview that she is a lesbian. Walter Blake, a Coral Springs lawyer, acknowledged asking candidates what they thought about the case of the Alabama Supreme Court chief justice who built a Ten Commandments monument in the courthouse. Timothy L. Bailey, a Pompano Beach lawyer, said he regularly asks candidates with young children how being appointed to the bench “will affect their current situation on the home front.” Fort Lauderdale attorney William Scherer Jr. acknowledged asking an applicant to do a humorous impression of a retired black Broward judge. Gov. Jeb Bush’s general counsel, Raquel A. “Rocky” Rodriguez, conducted a preliminary inquiry and said that based on talking with Dozier and Broward JNC chair Georgina Rodriguez Pozzuoli, she found no wrongdoing. Two JNC candidates said they never received a call from Rodriguez. Some board members, lawmakers and former Bar presidents fret that such questioning by JNC members will discourage highly qualified attorneys from applying for judgeships. They also say that Dozier’s presence on the JNC sends a message that gay candidates are not welcome to apply. State Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, sent a letter to Bar president Miles A. McGrane Jr., calling for the Bar to either investigate the issue or ask Gov. Bush to conduct a full investigation. McGrane previously said that there was “absolutely nothing” the Bar could do about the matter. “Simply relying upon the governor’s staff to represent that all is fine should likewise be unacceptable to you and the board,” wrote Rep. Gelber, a former federal prosecutor. “Nothing in the rules governing the nominating process prevents you from calling upon the governor for a real investigation or, for that matter, seeking to investigate the allegations yourselves.” Bar president-elect Kelly Overstreet Johnson said she “would love a full investigation.” But she said the Bar “feels somewhat constrained in investigating, as we are not the appointing authority. The governor’s office is.” Another constraint, Johnson said, is that no Broward judicial applicants have filed formal complaints. But Gelber and other lawyers say the governor’s office and the Bar should take the initiative to investigate if they hear of any possible JNC misconduct — whether or not the applicants themselves complain. They note that candidates are reluctant to file complaints for fear of jeopardizing their future chances of being selected as judges. The Bar has appointed a subcommittee to explore various ways to improve the JNC process. Richard Doran, a Tallahassee lawyer who chairs the Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee, said the subcommittee was already in the works before the controversy was made public in early January. “We were preparing to do a critical analysis of our committee,” Doran said. “What the article did was reinforce the reason for doing it.” The subcommittee has tentatively recommended:

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