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House moves JNC bill

first_img April 1, 2001 Managing Editor Regular News House moves JNC billMark D. Killian Managing Editor A bill that does away with the Bar’s appointments to judicial nominating commissions and gives the governor the power to select all nine members of each JNC passed the full House March 22. Bar President Herman Russomanno said the measure would set the state back 30 years in the way it selects judges and would reintroduce party politics into the selection process. The first to speak against the bill on the House floor was Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, who has been a lawyer for 32 years and served on a JNC. “I oppose a scheme that would put one person in control of the judicial selection process,” Joyner said. “I oppose a proposal that guarantees our judges are selected in the most partisan manner possible. I oppose this bill, my fellow colleagues, because I remember what it was like before we created a system that sought to reduce partisanship and take our judges out of the spoils system.. . . Don’t take us back. I’ve been there. And it’s no place that you want to be.” The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Fred Brummer, R-Apopka, however, said judicial selection is an executive function, and the governor’s role should not be limited by giving the Bar some of the appointments. Brummer also said CS/HB 367 which passed by a vote of 65 50 would make the process more accountable since the governor is directly elected by the people, and the Bar’s Board of Governors is not. Under current law, the Bar selects three members, the governor selects three, and then those six select three more to fill each of the state’s 26 JNCs. The Brummer bill would allow the governor to make all nine appointments to each commission, but would require that five of the governors appointments be lawyers. The terms of each JNC member also would expire with the governor who appointed them. Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Ft. Lauderdale, said couching this bill as a way to bring diversity into the process is disingenuous, because 47 percent of the 234 JNC members statewide now are made up of women and minorities. Seiler also said laymembers now have a leadership role in the JNC process, even chairing two commissions. “I submit to you that this is going to be a very dangerous bill,” Seiler said. “This bill serves as an attack on the independence of our judiciary, an attack on our bench and an attack on our Bar.” House Majority Leader Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, spoke in favor of the bill that would dilute the role of the Bar in nominating judges. “At least when the governor, whomever it may be, a Republican or a Democrat, makes appointments, he or she will be accountable for their actions to the people back home. But that special interest group, The Florida Bar, is accountable to no one.” While Rep. Jeff Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, supported the bill, he also defended the Bar. “When we attack a group like The Florida Bar, we detract from the substance of the debate,” Kottkamp said. “One of the reasons I support this bill is because it ensures that five members of the Bar sit on the JNCs, and who better than the people who are in court every day to play an active role in deciding who should be nominated for judge?. . . We should view the Bar as our partner in this process, and not the adversary they have been made out to be.” In advocating for the passage of the bill that gives greater power to the governor to appoint the judiciary, Kottkamp continued: “We hear arguments all the time that this is going to make it more political. There is already plenty of politics in the process. This simply brings it out in the open. And we’re all about government in the Sunshine. The bill — which came to a vote under a closed rule which allowed for no amendments from the floor — has no Senate companion, but is similar to SB 1470, sponsored by Sen. Anna Cowin, R-Leesburg. That bill had yet to be assigned to a committee as this News went to press. “Any reasonable person who looks at this bill can see its only purpose is to give the governor more power over the selection of judges,” said Rep. Doug Wiles, D-St. Augustine, who also spoke against the bill. Wiles said Gov. Bush has been “fairly good” about making appointments in the best interest of the state and not to reward political patronage. But, Wiles said, Bush will not always be governor and that is where the danger lies. “Some may say this is a little bill that makes a little change in the process of appointing judges,” Wiles said. “But I say there are no little changes in the judiciary, that anything we do risks injecting politics into the process and opens it up for something that we all will regret.” Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Dania Beach, said the Bar does a fine job representing the people of this state and Florida’s JNCs are a model for the nation. “Don’t support a punitive and retaliatory effort to pack the JNCs,” Ryan said. “Florida’s judiciary is highly respected, let us not regress with this bill.” Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said Florida needs a judicial system free of partisanship and urged: “Don’t go back to something we were ashamed of.” Representatives of the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Florida Retail Federation also supported the bill. Speaking a week earlier before the House Council for Smarter Government, Wade Hopping, Jr., lobbying for the chamber, said the bill “seems reasonable” in that it still ensures lawyers are represented on the commissions. Brummer said the bill also addresses a “separation of powers conflict” wherein Bar members, who are officers of the judicial branch, make appointments to an executive branch function. “With the public sentiment about the bench not being partisan, why are we giving the governor all the appointments and allowing it really to become a spoils system?” asked Rep. Ken Gottlieb, D-Miramar. Russomanno said the JNC system which was established when voters amended the constitution in 1976 has worked well and produces high quality judges. He also said there has been no public outcry to change the system and that you “can count on one hand” the problems that have arisen with the system in the past 30 years. “The Bar is proud to be involved in this process, and we work so closely with the governor from the standpoint of selection of candidates that are sent to the governor for his selection,” Russomanno said, noting Gov. Bush’s former general counsel, Carol Licko, and his current general counsel, Charles Canady, work with the Bar in its JNC member education efforts. “And since there has been no data that we have seen, no public call for change that the system is not broken why fix it?” Russomanno also said, like the governor, the Bar is committed to diversity and has done a good job in increasing the number of minority representation on the JNCs. Council Chair Gaston Cantens, R-Sweetwater, who is a former director of the Cuban American Bar Association, asked why then did it take the Bar 30 years to appoint the first Hispanic lawyer to the 11th Circuit JNC. “It is inexcusable, and there is no explanation,” Russomanno responded. “And I would state the same question if you went back to our governors. If a governor took so long to do it. . . . No one should be proud of that because we believe in diversity.” Russomanno did, however, note the makeup of the current 11th Circuit JNC consists of five Hispanics, three African-Americans, and one white women. “Do you feel that a person of the stature of the governor of the State of Florida is incompetent to make nominations to the nominating commissions, but yet some attorneys of The Florida Bar board are competent to make such a determination?” asked longtime Bar critic Rep. Jerry Melvin, R-Ft. Walton Beach. “Absolutely not,” Russomanno said. “This governor is committed to having a diversified bench, a bench that has the vision of the State of Florida. But the governor himself, in an open letter to the members of the Bar, talked about how his administration respects and will do nothing to interfere with the integrity and independence of the judicial nominating commissions.” Russomanno said Gov. Bush has made no public pronouncements that the JNC process is in need of amending, and the proponents of the bill have shown no evidence that the system as it now stands is not working. Responding to a question from House Majority Leader Fasano, Russomanno said the Bar would be willing to participate in a legislatively created task force to examine the JNC system much like it did in last year’s Supreme Court Workload Study Commission. But without any supporting data of any abuses, he said, it would be a “rush to judgment” to amend the JNC process now. Rep. Stacy Ritter, D-Coral Springs, said when she was growing up her mom taught her that if you didn’t have anything nice to say, you should say nothing at all. “Therefore, I’m going to make my mom proud today and say to the sponsor of this bill, `I have nothing to say,’” Ritter said. House moves JNC billlast_img
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