Gov. Rick Scott is asking that Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente be disqualified from ruling on a case focused on whether Scott has the authority to appoint three new justices before leaving office in early 2019.
In a motion filed Monday, Scott’s lawyers requested the disqualification of Pariente because of comments she made that were caught on a “hot mike” after oral arguments in the appointments case this month. Pariente is a West Palm Beach lawyer who served on Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeal before Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed her to the Supreme Court in 1997.
Scott has said he plans to appoint three Supreme Court justices before he leaves office. The governor’s final term and the terms of three justices — Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — all end in January 2019.
The three justices’ terms are ending because they face a mandatory retirement age. They are part of what is widely considered a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.
The issue in the case is whether Scott or his successor will have the power to make the appointments — an issue that could shape the balance of the court for years, if not decades.
Scott’s lawyers have maintained that Scott has the authority to appoint replacements for the justices before he leaves office on Jan. 8, 2019.
But the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, which filed the lawsuit in June, contend that Scott’s successor holds the privilege of naming the new justices.
Scott’s lawyers are now arguing that Pariente is biased against the governor, based on comments made Nov. 1 and other remarks she uttered during a merit-retention campaign in 2012.
“In the present case, disqualification is likewise required because the actions and comments by Justice Pariente would place a reasonably prudent person in fear of not receiving a fair and impartial hearing,” Scott’s lawyers argued in the 17-page motion Monday.
After the conclusion of the arguments in the case, Pariente was seen pointing to a piece of paper and speaking to Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, also a former lawyer and judge in Palm Beach County. The exchange was captured on a video by The Florida Channel, which broadcasts court arguments.
Labarga reacted to the document by saying the name “Panuccio,” and Pariente could be heard saying the word “crazy,” although the entirety of their exchange could not be heard.
Labarga then said, “Izzy Reyes is on there. He’ll listen to me.” Pariente appeared to say, “Look whose pick they’re getting …”
Pariente then turned to Quince, saying “did you see who…” before the next oral argument began, according to the court filing.
Throughout the conversation, the justices referred to a paper brought to the bench by Pariente. A public records request by Scott’s lawyers found that the document was a list of the governor’s appointees to the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, along with the dates when each commissioner’s term is set to expire.
Jesse Panuccio and Reyes are both members of the commission. The document was not a part of the record in the case or part of the oral arguments, according to the motion filed Monday.
Pariente “publicly used the pejorative term ‘crazy’ in an apparent reference to either Governor Scott or to the governor’s appointees to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission — the constitutional body that will be responsible for nominating her successor on this court,” Scott’s lawyers wrote.
Scott’s lawyers also pointed to remarks Pariente made in 2012, urging voters to keep her — along with Quince and Lewis in office because a vote against retention “will give Gov. (Rick) Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”
Pariente’s public comments “are reasonably perceived as expressing a bias against Governor Scott on the question of whether he should be prohibited from appointing her successor,” the governor’s lawyers argued.
Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters said the court could not comment on pending motions.
Scott’s lawyers also accused Pariente of breaking the code of judicial conduct, which says that judges “shall not, while a proceeding is pending or impending in any court, make any public comment that might reasonably be expected to affect its outcome or impair its fairness or make any nonpublic comment that might substantially interfere with a fair trial or hearing.”