The state of the upcoming merit retention elections for Florida judges and the contract holdout of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew were issues addressed at Monday’s meeting of The Jacksonville Bar Association.
Former The Florida Bar President Hank Coxe was invited to the podium at the head table Monday to introduce guests at the table. One of the guests at that table was Jaguars General Counsel Sashi Brown.
“It would mean a lot to the people in this room, when we finish this lunch, if you could go get that contract signed. You want to leave early? Leave early,” said Coxe to Brown, talking about Drew’s holdout from the Jaguars as he seeks a new contract.
The discussion turned more serious when guest speaker Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente stepped up to the podium to discuss the need for educating the public on judicial merit retention. Pariente is one of three justices, the other two being Justices Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are up for merit retention votes in November.
Under merit retention, the governor appoints new justices from a list of three to six names submitted by a Judicial Nominating Commission. The governor must select from the list. Once appointed, justices eventually must face voters in a “yes” or “no” vote as to whether they should remain on the bench.
“This was our Founding Fathers’ belief that this was a way to keep the judicial branch immune from politics in order to do their job,” said Pariente.
She explained that recent trends and financial influence have shown that this might not be the case in the current state of politics.
“Considerable pressure has arisen, not only in this state, but in the nation, to politicize our courts. It’s clear that the movement is one that will inject politics back into our appellate courts,” she said.
Pariente has lent her time to the bench and Bar to assist in educating the public on merit retention and encouraging others in the legal community to join the effort.
“Judges must be accorded the ability to perform their functions free from political interference and intimidation. I am concerned that this essential principle is under attack,” said Pariente.
She cited the “2010 grassroots campaign through the Internet that targeted Justices Perry and Labarga.” This campaign accused the two justices of supporting Obamacare.
Later that evening, at an educational session on merit retention at the Downtown office of Holland & Knight, former The Florida Bar President Howard Coker supported Pariente’s stance.
“If we allow an outside influence to affect merit retention, it becomes a cottage industry. We’ve got to keep this out of our judicial system,” said Coker.
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