Legislators facing a contempt action from a judge pick Barry Richard to defend them.
By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- Legislative leaders turned to a familiar face Wednesday in selecting lawyer Barry Richard to represent them against a judge who wants to hold them in contempt.
Richard, the Tallahassee lawyer who represented President George W. Bush during his Florida election fight last year, will try to keep legislative leaders out of jail.
Senate President John McKay and House Speaker Tom Feeney summoned Richard to early morning meetings to discuss legal strategy in a contempt action brought by the union that represents state employees.
McKay and Feeney strongly defended the constitutional right of legislators to remain independent of other branches of government.
The union asked Circuit Judge L. Ralph "Bubba" Smith to hold legislators in contempt after they disobeyed Smith's injunction forbidding legislators to hold a joint committee meeting to discuss a collective bargaining contract last week.
On Tuesday, Smith responded to the union's request with a directive that could force legislative leaders to appear before him next week and explain why they should not be held in indirect criminal contempt.
The judge appointed State Attorney Willie Meggs to handle the prosecution.
Richard said he'll probably file an emergency petition asking the Florida Supreme Court to intervene.
The action comes at a time when the Legislature wants to curtail the power of judges and courts that have repeatedly invalidated laws legislators pass.
"I have an obligation to support the Legislature in all cases, whether it is a conflict with the judicial branch or the executive branch," McKay said Wednesday. "The courts can say it is a bad piece of legislation, but I don't think they can say whether we have the right to meet or not."