A who’s who of conservative judges have lined up to try to join the Florida Supreme Court as Gov. Rick Scott fights to appoint replacements for three justices whose retirements coincide with the end of his final term in January.
The list of more than 40 candidates who filed applications before a Monday deadline includes former Republican lawmakers and state appeals-court judges appointed by Scott during his eight years in office.
Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November and is barred from seeking a third term as governor, maintains that he has the power to appoint replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are leaving the court in early January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.
But in a lawsuit asking the Florida Supreme Court to intervene, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause argue that the authority to appoint the justices’ replacements rests with Scott’s successor.
Amid the legal battling, Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications for the court appointments. The commission set a Monday deadline for the applications, followed by a Nov. 10 deadline, days after the general election, for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.
Among those hoping to join the state’s highest court is Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Laurel Lee, whose husband, Tom, serves in the Florida Senate. Scott appointed Lee to the bench in the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2013.
The openings also drew applications from six members of the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from across North Florida. They are Clay Roberts, who was appointed to the appellate court by former Gov. Charlie Crist, and Ross Bilbrey, Scott Makar, Timothy Osterhaus, M. Kemmerly Thomas and Thomas Winokur, who were appointed by Scott.
Four of the applicants are judges on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. They are Barbara Lagoa, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Norma Lindsey, Robert Luck and Edwin A. Scales III, who were appointed by Scott.
The openings also drew applications from three judges on the 4th District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Southeast Florida. They are the court’s chief judge, Jonathan Gerber, an appointee of Crist, and Mark Klingensmith and Jeffrey Kuntz, who were Scott appointees.
The applicants also include Samuel J. Salario Jr., a Scott appointee to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Southwest Florida, and Jamie Grosshans, a Scott appointee to the 5th District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Central Florida.
Three former lawmakers who became judges also applied for the Supreme Court positions. They are former Rep. Bruce Kyle, a Fort Myers Republican who is a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit; former Rep. Mark Mahon, a Jacksonville Republican who is chief judge in the 4th Judicial Circuit; and former Rep. John Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who is a judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit.
Applications also came in from circuit nd county judges across the state. They included Alexander Bokor and Daryl E. Trawick, who are judges in Miami-Dade County’s 11th Judicial Circuit; Michael Andrews, Thomas M. Ramsberger and Pat Siracusa, judges in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties; Cynthia Cox and William L. Roby, judges in the Treasure Coast’s 19th Judicial Circuit; and Tatiana Salvador and Eric C. Roberson, judges in the Jacksonville area’s 4th Judicial Circuit.
Others included Anthony M. Tatti, a judge in the Ocala area’s 5th Judicial Circuit; Robert Long and Jonathan Sjostrom, judges in the Tallahassee area’s 2nd Judicial Circuit; Hunter W. Carroll, a judge in the Sarasota area’s 12th Judicial Circuit; Howard Coates, Bradley Harper and Cymonie Rowe Hinkel, judges in Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Circuit; Angela Cowden and Michael McDaniel, judges in the 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes areas such as Polk County; Scott Duncan and Terrance Ketchel, judges in the Panhandle’s 1st Judicial Circuit; and Elijah Smiley, a judge in the Panhandle’s 14th Judicial Circuit.
Among nonjudges who applied was Carlos Muniz, a former chief of staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi and aide to Bush.
While it remains unclear whether Scott will be able to appoint the three justices, the outcome of the legal battle over the issue could shape the makeup of the Supreme Court for years, if not decades. Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.
In the lawsuit, the voting-rights groups are asking the Supreme Court to block Scott’s action through a procedure known as a “writ of quo warranto,” arguing the new governor who takes office on Jan. 8 should have the appointment power.
But in a court filing last month, Scott’s lawyers said he is following the precedent of beginning the appointment process before vacancies occur, noting numerous justices have been appointed using this procedure to avoid prolonged vacancies on the court.
Dara Kam and Jim Saunders report for the News Service of Florida.