The Florida Supreme Court has denied a request from attorneys representing Gov. Rick Scott to disqualify Justice Barbara Pariente from a case that could decide the makeup of the court for decades.
“The Respondent’s Motion to Disqualify Justice Pariente is hereby denied,” the court said in it’s one-sentence ruling handed down Wednesday morning.
“Governor Scott expects all judges to be fair and impartial,” said John Tupps, Scott’s communications director, in response to the court’s decision. “It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification or explanation for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”
Last week, the governor’s general counsel filed a motion asking that Justice Barbara Pariente be disqualified from the case because of comments she was heard making on a “hot mic” following a hearing on the matter.
Pariente and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga were caught on camera by The Florida Channel, the state’s public television channel, looking at a piece of paper following oral arguments in the case that were held on November 1.
While the audio is garbled, Labarga is heard saying “Panuccio.” Pariente responds by saying “crazy.” Labarga is later heard saying “Izzy Reyes is on there, he’ll listen to me.”
The justices were apparently referring to a piece of paper containing the names of Judicial Nominating Commission members. Israel Reyes and Jesse Panuccio are on the nine-member panel that submits nominees to the governor when there is a vacancy on the court.
The governor’s general counsel, Daniel Nordby, claims the comments were “an apparent reference either to Gov. Scott or to (his) appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission—the constitutional body that will be responsible for nominating her successor.”
“In the present case, disqualification is likewise required because the actions and comments by Justice Pariente would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial hearing,” Nordby argued in his motion filed last week.
On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause filed a response to the request by Scott’s attorneys to disqualify Pariente from the case. They accused the governor of fanning “the flames of false controversy.”
“As titillating as a tale may first appear when it starts with judges being inadvertently caught on a “hot mic” while chatting between oral arguments, it is now beyond clear that “there is no there there” in this case,” the groups argued.
The basis of the case involves who has the power to appoint the next three justices to the Florida Supreme Court. Pariente, and justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince will be forced to leave the bench in January 2019 because of a mandatory retirement age. They are scheduled to leave office the same day Scott’s term of governor ends.
It just so happens, the three outgoing justices makeup the more liberal 4-3 majority of the seven-member court. If the court says Scott has the authority to make the appointments, he will likely choose three conservatives who will affect the makeup of the court for years.