A divided Florida Supreme Court at least temporarily blocked Gov. Rick Scott from following through on the appointment of a Jacksonville-area circuit judge.
The 4-3 decision by the Supreme Court effectively blocked a lower court from finalizing a decision that would allow Scott to appoint Duval County Judge Lester Bass to replace retiring Circuit Judge Robert Foster.
The Supreme Court imposed a stay that will remain in place until the justices decide how to handle an underlying dispute about whether Scott has the authority to appoint a replacement for Foster. Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga supported Friday’s decision, while Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson dissented.
Jacksonville attorney David Trotti requested the stay last week after the First District Court of Appeal ruled that Scott had the authority to name a replacement for Foster. Shortly after the appeals court ruling, Scott announced the he would appoint Bass to replace Foster as soon as the First District Court of Appeal ruling becomes final, a process known as the appeals court issuing a mandate.
Trotti appealed the First District Court of Appeal ruling to the Supreme Court and asked to stay the issuance of the mandate.
The Supreme Court decision Friday granting Trotti’s request did not explain the majority’s reasoning. The underlying case stems from the upcoming retirement of Foster in the Fourth Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.
Foster was expected to leave office Jan. 7, 2019, which would be the end of his term, because of a mandatory retirement age. But on April 2, Foster sent a letter to Scott making the retirement effective Dec. 31, four business days ahead of schedule.
The Scott administration argues, and the First District Court of Appeal agreed, that the governor’s acceptance of a judicial resignation before the start of an election-qualifying period creates a vacancy that should be filled by appointment, rather than election. If Foster retired on Jan. 7, the post would be filled by election. Trotti, however, argues the opening should be filled in this year’s elections.