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    Florida Bar to investigate commission's actions

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 29, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Bar will open a formal investigation into the actions of a Judicial Nominating Commission that got a bit too personal while interviewing applicants for the 1st District Court of Appeal.

    Herman J. Russomanno, president of the Bar, said a formal written complaint has been filed with the commission. That triggers a rule that requires a formal investigation to be completed within 60 days.

    The complaint was filed by the Justice Coalition, a Jacksonville victims rights group that has accused the commission of acting with partiality and partisanship and failing to disclose conflicts of interest.

    Last week, when Jacksonville lawyer Scott D. Makar went before the commission to be interviewed, commission member Elizabeth White had distributed copies of selected documents from Makar's divorce file. Other documents that contradicted those records were not given to the commission.

    White did not disclose the fact that she and her husband, Jacksonville lawyer Bill Sheppard, have a close friendship with another one of the applicants.

    Chris Martinez, chairwoman of the commission, was also close to the situation. She was listed as a witness for Makar's former wife in the divorce proceeding. Martinez said Thursday that she disclosed her own connection to Makar after the commission went into a closed session to deliberate on who would be recommended for appointment.

    In a written complaint filed Thursday, Justice Coalition president Ted M. Hires Sr. said White "has brought discredit to herself" and the selection process.

    The coalition's members include Duval County Sheriff Nat Glover and a number of Jacksonville businessmen and lawyers.

    Six members of the nominating commission are appointed by the governor and the Florida Bar. Those members select three citizens as members.

    The nine members determine which applicants will be interviewed and conduct the interviews in a public session. Florida law allows them to deliberate in private to select the nominees.

    Martinez and other members of the commission say they were not aware that the documents from Makar's file were not complete.

    Martinez said she didn't stop the personal questions because she felt the commission was entitled to ask about anything that might reflect on an applicant's ability to serve as a judge.

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    From the Times state desk