tampabay.com

High court won't block 55 judges' elections

A Miami-Dade nomination panel sought to have Gov. Bush appoint them instead. Candidates are relieved.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published July 15, 2006


TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Supreme Court on Friday denied an attempt to remove 55 new judgeships from the ballot so Gov. Jeb Bush could appoint them.

In the 4-2 ruling issued late Friday, the court simply referred without comment to a previous decision and a 2002 advisory opinion.

By citing those cases the court appeared to suggest that the governor should not fill these judgeships because voters have made it clear in the past that they want to elect judges and the Legislature specifically directed that voters fill these posts.

Kenneth B. Bell dissented, but still would have dismissed the petition. Henry Lee Anstead didn't participate.

Raoul G. Cantero, a Bush appointee, dissented, saying the challenge "presented a very strong argument that these new judicial offices should be filled by gubernatorial appointment, not by election."

The petition was filed last week by the Bush-appointed judicial nomination committee in Miami-Dade County. The panel wanted to block the election of 55 judgeships that were created by the Legislature this year.

Lawmakers approved 110 new judicial positions over two years, with the understanding that Bush would appoint 55 judges in 2005 and the voters would elect 55 the next year.

But Bush refused to sign this year's bill creating the judgeships, letting it become law without his signature. He also sent a letter to the secretary of state indicating he believed the elections were unconstitutional and that he should appoint the judges.

Bush's office said he had nothing to do with the petition, though he supported it.

The petition left more than 100 judicial candidates statewide temporarily in limbo.

"I'm very relieved and pleased, as I am sure all 100 or so candidates for these 55 positions are," said St. Petersburg lawyer Jack Day, who has spent about $5,000 running for a Pinellas-Pasco circuit judgeship. "It's important for courts to resolve questions as quickly as they can, because sometimes justice delayed is justice denied."