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    Drive to limit justices' terms stalls

    Critics say the bill would give the governor too much power and leave the Supreme Court beholden to legislators.

    By STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Tallahassee Deputy Bureau Chief
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published January 30, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- For the third year, a controversial drive to limit the power of Florida's Supreme Court is going nowhere in the Senate.

    A meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee turned chaotic Tuesday, and the sponsor, Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg, reluctantly agreed to postpone a vote on her bill (SJR 162). But she may be out of luck: The panel's chairman, Sen. Locke Burt, R-Ormond Beach, who is running for attorney general, opposes the bill and is not likely to bring it back for a vote.

    Cowin's bill, a proposed amendment to the state Constitution, has drawn the strong opposition of the Florida Bar and Florida Chamber of Commerce.

    It would limit terms of Supreme Court justices and appellate court judges to no more than two terms of eight years each. The judges also would be subject to Senate confirmation.

    Florida Bar president Terry Russell challenged Cowin to produce research justifying any changes in the way justices are appointed.

    "This bill takes the people's input away and gives it to the governor. It further politicizes it, and we don't like that," Russell said. "We don't think it's good government."

    Russell said the current system of gubernatorial appointment and merit retention, in which incumbent justices must appear on the ballot every six years, strikes the proper "balance between judicial independence and public accountability."

    Wade Hopping, representing the Florida Chamber, said forcing judges to win confirmation means "you would be over here defending your opinions."

    Cowin did agree to a provision preventing a governor from removing a justice after one eight-year term. But that did not quell the opposition and the meeting turned chaotic near the end.

    Sen. Walter G. "Skip" Campbell, D-Fort Lauderdale, called a halt in proceedings, saying he had not seen several handwritten amendments. When a secretary rushed to make copies, the copy machine wouldn't work. Then Burt tried to cajole Cowin into postponing a vote, but she initially held firm on demanding a vote, even though it was not clear she had the votes to pass the bill.

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