The Florida Supreme Court might soon be deciding whether Gov. Ron DeSantis abused his gubernatorial powers by removing former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office over the law enforcement office’s handling of the Parkland school mass shooting.
Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal issued an order on Tuesday certifying Israel’s lawsuit against DeSantis for review by the high court. The appellate court’s order referred to the matter as “one which requires immediate resolution by the Florida Supreme Court because the issues pending in this District Court of Appeal are of great public importance.”
The case reached the Fourth DCA after Israel appealed Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes’ dismissal of the complaint on Thursday. Haimes wrote DeSantis’ executive order stripping Israel of his office was “consistent with the Florida Constitution and general principles of separation of powers, which grant the governor the authority to suspend an official, and grant the Florida Senate that exclusive authority to review the suspension and decide whether to remove or reinstate the official.”
The governor’s legal counsel, Joe Jacquot and Nicholas Primrose, responded to the appeal by filing a motion suggesting the case be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court, rather than the Fourth DCA.
“There is a need for immediate resolution of this dispute by the Florida Supreme Court,” the filing said. “The issue is of great public importance and is likely to have a great effect on the proper administration of justice.”
Read the Fourth DCA’s order:
The brief also cited the state Supreme Court’s adjudication of a similar dispute involving DeSantis’ ouster by executive order of another public official.
In that case, the high court granted expedited review and disposition to ex-Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Noting the similarity of Israel’s and Jackson’s allegations, the governor’s attorneys asked justices to tackle both matters at the same time.
But Israel’s counsel disagree that the former sheriff’s case should bypass the district court of appeal. Miami attorney Benedict “Ben” Kuehne and Palm Beach Gardens litigator Stuart Kaplan instead filed a response contending their client’s appeal ought to first go before the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
“Sheriff Israel suggests that Supreme Court review is premature at this time,” the filing said. “Instead, the legal issue involved can be better sharpened by this court’s review in the first instance, especially since the appeal challenges the governor’s limited constitutional authority to supplant the decision of Broward County voters, who overwhelmingly elected Sheriff Israel as their sheriff to serve until 2020. At issue in this appeal is the guarantee of the Florida Constitution that ‘[a]ll political power is inherent in the people.’ ”
Kuehne and Kaplan also rebutted opposing counsel’s attempt to consolidate Israel’s case with Jackson’s.
Jackson’s suit “posits a significantly different jurisdictional question: Does the governor’s suspension power allow the suspension of an elected official for conduct occurring before the elected official’s current election?” their filing said. “In Sheriff Israel’s situation, although the actions complained of by the governor occurred before the governor was elected, Sheriff Israel’s actions in 2017 and 2018 are within the sheriff’s current elected term of office.”
DeSantis’ communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Kuehne told the Daily Business Review Tuesday that if the high court accepts jurisdiction, Israel would look “forward to a full evaluation of the governor’s constitutional powers” and would expect the Florida Supreme Court to agree this was “a constitutional overreach” by DeSantis.
“As an appellate specialist I always welcome the opportunity to present challenging constitutional issues to the Florida Supreme Court,” Kuehne said. “We now have an important case that will be tested by a new version of the Florida Supreme Court, which makes the appeal even more exciting.”