The conservative Southeastern Legal Foundation Inc. filed a last-ditch attempt to kill the merit retention election for three Florida Supreme Court justices by asking the high court to bar a certification of the results.
After 6 p.m. Monday, the Supreme Court reported the filing of Denny Jones v. Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner. The court issued an order designating the petition a high-profile case but scheduled no immediate hearing.
The challenge stems from April 20 when oral arguments were interrupted to allow Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince to file their notarized paperwork. The three left the courtroom and hastily prepared documents for their retention election. The documents were filed minutes before the noon deadline.
Jones, identified as “a citizen and taxpayer” from Destin, is the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by a Marietta, Georgia-based law firm that champions right-wing causes. Throughout the summer, Southeastern Legal fought unsuccessfully in the lower courts to keep the justices off the ballot. Challengers maintain a stricken election would allow Governor Rick Scott to appoint his own replacements.
The justices themselves are not defendants in the case.
In Monday’s petition, Tallahassee attorney Eric S. Haug of Eric S. Haug Law & Consulting asserted, “The secretary of state has violated his duty to uphold the Florida Constitution and enforce Florida law, specifically the Florida Election Code, with regard to whether Justices Lewis, Pariente and Quince qualified for the 2012 general election ballot for merit retention.”
The three justices failed to submit the “completed form” for the appointment of a campaign treasurer and designation of campaign depository, Pariente failed to file the required financial disclosure documentation, the oaths accompanying the qualifying documents of Lewis and Pariente may have violated state law and the secretary of state acted outside his authority in notifying the justices they were about to miss the deadline, the complaint said.
“The secretary of state is not permitted to contact candidates during the qualifying period regarding deficiencies,” argued Haug, of counsel to the foundation.
Only after qualifying documents are filed may Detzner contact candidates about deficiencies.
“But for the actions of the secretary of state in contacting the justices without lawful authority to do so, the time for qualifying would almost certainly have lapsed,” Haug stated.
He argued Detzner should have disqualified the justices as he did with Lee Circuit Judge Lee Ann Schreiber “for what is arguably a dramatically less egregious statutory deficiency.”
Schreiber filed her documents two days into the pre-qualifying period but was not notified of a deficiency before the deadline. She transposed two numbers on her filing check, writing $5,678.12, instead of $5,687.12. She was not allowed to cure the $9 underpayment.
“Treating the documents submitted by Justices Lewis and Pariente differently is not only fundamentally unfair, it is a violation of” state law,” Haug maintained.
The petition requests Detzner explain his authority to qualify the justices “when they failed to meet the statutory requirements,” explain his refusal to disqualify them and show his authority to assist the justices in “facially meeting” the deadline when legal pre-conditions for making contact were not met.
Jones also asked the court to question Detzner’s authority to tabulate and certify the merit retention votes.
The complaint seeks a writ to bar tabulation of the merit retention votes and prohibit certification of any results.