Florida Supreme Court allows Gov. Rick Scott to name replacement for retiring judge

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The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in a case earlier this year which focused on whether a state judicial vacancy opened up by an early retirement should be filled by an appointment from the governor or if the replacement should be chosen by voters.

The high court issued a 4-3 decision on Monday dismissing that case and allowing a lower court ruling to stand, which recognized the authority of the Florida governor — in this case, outgoing Gov. Rick Scott — to appoint the replacement for a retiring judge.

WLRN reported that the court actually decided by a count of 4-3 to not even rule on the merits of the case at all, which meant a ruling in Scott’s favor from the state’s 1st District Court of Appeals would prevail.

That lower court ruling means that Scott will be allowed to nominate a replacement for 4th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Foster, who is resigning his seat on the bench on Dec. 31, 2018, just four business days ahead of the Jan. 7, 2019 date he was originally expected to leave the bench due to his reaching the mandatory retirement age in Florida.

Appointment or vote?

Judge Foster had sent Scott a letter in April informing the governor of his decision to step down from the bench a few days prior to his mandatory retirement, which under Florida law appeared to allow Scott to name a replacement for Foster.

Had Foster waited until Jan. 7 to step down, his replacement would have been chosen in the election.

But an attorney in Jacksonville, David Trotti, had wanted to run in an election to win Foster’s seat, and filed a lawsuit challenging Scott’s authority to name a replacement.

That lawsuit eventually made its way to the Florida Supreme Court, and oral arguments were heard in October.

However, the majority of justices decided that the case never should have even been heard by the Supreme Court, and dismissed the case to allow the appeals court ruling in Scott’s favor to stand.

The three justices in the minority issued two separate but similar written dissents, one of which called the entire case a “travesty” and “sham” that manipulated state law by carefully manufacturing a vacancy to be filled by appointment rather than election, while the other dissent argued that voters should have been given a say in choosing the judicial replacement.

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“Long-settled law”

Attorneys for Gov. Scott had argued that Foster’s resignation should be considered as having been accepted when Scott received the letter in April, which according to “long-settled law” would mean Scott could name a replacement, even if Foster wasn’t actually stepping down until days before he was slated to leave regardless.

Even as the legal battle raged in the courts, Scott had already announced that he intended to appoint Duval County Judge Lester Bass to replace Foster. That appointment was made official on Monday.

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