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Offical begins effort to oust 'liberal' justices

The Palm Beach County Republican wants to raise $4.5-million for the next vote on state Supreme Court justices.

By SHELBY OPPEL

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 20, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- A Republican Palm Beach County commissioner has launched the third effort so far to oust Florida Supreme Court justices who ruled in favor of Vice President Al Gore during the presidential election.

Commissioner Mary McCarty has mailed fundraising letters to 350,000 Republican donors, asking for help with a campaign to remove Chief Justice Charles T. Wells and Justice Harry Lee Anstead from the court in 2002.

Under Florida's merit retention system, voters decide every six years whether to keep each justice on the court. Wells and Anstead are the next two justices to appear on the ballot.

McCarty's fundraising letter also targets Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr., though Shaw will not face voters again before his mandatory retirement in January 2003. McCarty said Tuesday that including Shaw in the letter was an oversight.

In her letter, McCarty expresses outrage over "the unanimous decision against the interests of President-Elect (George W.) Bush." The apparent reference is to the court's 7-0 decision on Nov. 21 to allow hand recounts of presidential votes in South Florida to continue and to force state elections officials to include them in the certified results.

In response, McCarty formed the Committee to Take Back Our Judiciary, which will attempt to raise at least $4.5-million for television and other advertising to "beat these liberals and have them removed from the Court, making way for more Conservative Jurists," the letter says.

"Now, finally, is the time to send a clear message to the Florida State Supreme Court that we will not tolerate their efforts to hijack the Presidential election for Al Gore," the letter says.

McCarty, mentioned in 1998 as a possible running mate for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, said Tuesday that so far she is the committee's only member. She said she mailed the letters Friday to lists of Republican donors she has collected over years of fundraising for the party and candidates. She intends to register the committee with the state Division of Elections by next week, as state law requires.

McCarty said she was unsure whether the committee has received any donations yet, though "I have been getting a lot of calls."

"You have an opportunity to vote yea or nay" for the justices, said McCarty, who described herself as a political moderate. "I want to bring that to people's attention."

In her letter, McCarty criticizes the court for other decisions, including a ruling that "struck down" Gov. Jeb Bush's school voucher program. In fact, the Supreme Court has yet to decide if it will hear that case. The 1st District Court of Appeal upheld the school voucher law in October.

"Virtually everything Gov. Jeb Bush and the Republicans in the state Legislature have done to reform and improve government in Florida has been undone by a Supreme Court in which every member was appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles and hand-picked by liberal lieutenant governor and former congressman Buddy MacKay," the letter says.

Six of the seven justices were appointed by Democratic Govs. Chiles and Bob Graham. Justice Peggy Quince was appointed two years ago by Chiles, although Bush, who was about to take office, approved her selection.

McCarty's brother, Brian Ballard, is a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist who was chief of staff to former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez. Ballard said Tuesday that he is not involved with his sister's effort.

Two other groups are attempting to remove state Supreme Court justices from the bench in the wake of the presidential battle. McCarty said she is not working with either organization.

"Balance to the Bench," led by three Republicans, is primarily aiming to oust Anstead. The group's Web site is www.balancetothebench.com.

Less than three weeks after the state Supreme Court's unanimous decision favoring Gore, Anstead ruled with a four-member majority to order a statewide recount of thousands of so-called undervotes. Wells and Shaw dissented from the ruling. The decision was considered a major victory for Gore, though it was later reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Christian Coalition of Florida has also established a Web site, http://Floridarecall.org, that seeks support for a constitutional amendment that would allow the recall of justices.

Craig Waters, a spokesman for the state Supreme Court, said Anstead, Wells and Shaw declined to comment on McCarty's effort.

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