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Scott’s Motion for Disqualification of Justice Denied

— December 1, 2017

Scott’s Motion for Disqualification of Justice Denied

The Florida Supreme Court denied the request by Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday to disqualify one of its justices, Justice Barbara Pariente, in a judicial appointments case because of a remark he apparently caught on a live microphone.

Scott had claimed a comment by Justice Pariente picked up on a ‘hot’ microphone after oral arguments in the case raised questions about her ability to be objective. Pariente said “crazy” as she spoke with another justice while gesturing to a document listing members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.  Specifically, Scott alleged Pariente replied: “Crazy” after reviewing the list, to which Justice Jorge Labarga then said: “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Pointing again to the document, Pariente appeared to say, “Look whose pick they’re getting ….”  The rest of the sentence was inaudible.  Scott’s disqualification motion that was ultimately denied asserted that the remark referred to himself or to his appointees to the commission.

Scott's Motion for Disqualification of Justice Denied
Image Courtesy of Scott Keeler, Tampa Bay Times

In the legal case of League of Women Voters of Florida et al v. Gov. Rick Scott, the central issue is whether Scott or his successor has the authority to replace Pariente and two other justices, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who must retire because of limitations put on the justices’ ages.  They will all be 70 years of age at that time, and their terms all will expire on the day Scott will leave office.

Initially, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause filed a 12-page response to Scott’s motion, which stated partially: “As titillating as a tale may first appear when it starts with judges being inadvertently caught on a `hot mic’ while chatting between oral arguments, it is now beyond clear that `there is no there there’ in this case.  No Supreme Court justice should be disqualified for unintelligible comments that — even as interpreted by the governor — had no possible relevance to the case that had just been heard and expressed no antipathy to any party or attorney in the case. Respondent’s (Scott’s) attempt to fan the flames of false controversy through his public remarks and the instant motion notwithstanding, a recusal here would set a dangerous precedent for a court that has heard innumerable recent cases in which the respondent is a party or has a direct interest and will no doubt hear many more in the remainder of his term.”

“Respondent (Scott) has decided not to presume good faith by a leader of a co-equal branch of government and instead presumes the worst based on nothing but partial quotes devoid of context and amplified by baseless speculation,” the court agreed in its decision. “None of the comments attributed to Justice Pariente bear any reasonable relationship to the parties, lawyers, or any issue presented in this case.”

Scott, though denied, still isn’t buying it.  “Governor Scott expects all judges to be fair and impartial,” his spokesman John Tupps said in response to the decision, “It is disappointing that today’s decision was made without providing any plausible justification for Justice Pariente’s comments. Given the gravity of this case, Floridians deserve better.”


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