Gov. Rick Scott named Duval County Judge Lester Bass to fill an upcoming vacancy on the 4th Judicial Circuit Court.
Scott’s announcement Thursday came hours after the 1st District Court of Appeal in Florida overturned a lower court’s ruling, allowing him to appoint a replacement for Judge Robert Foster, who tendered his resignation April 2.
“Throughout his career, Judge Bass has demonstrated a commitment to his community and to public service,” Scott said in a statement.
“His service on the county court has reflected the values we should expect from the judiciary: integrity, a tireless work ethic, respect for the rule of law and an unwavering belief in equal justice under the law,” he said.
Foster’s resignation is effective Dec. 31, one week before his term expires Jan. 7. That led to a legal challenge by a potential candidate for the seat, Jacksonville attorney David Trotti.
Because Scott accepted Foster’s resignation before the April 30 qualifying period for an election for a circuit court judge, a special election to fill the vacancy wasn’t necessary. Instead, Scott’s gubernatorial powers allow him to appoint a replacement.
Trotti, a Jacksonville attorney, was the only candidate to submit paperwork during the qualifying period. While the state Divisions of Elections approved Trotti’s qualifications, he was informed the seat would not be filled by an election.
Trotti filed suit in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, asking it to require the seat be filled by an election.
He questioned Foster’s motives for resigning a week before his term expired, noting that doing so gave the governor the power to appoint a judge of his choosing instead of letting voters decide.
Leon County-based Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with Trotti.
Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner then appealed the ruling to the 1st District Court of Appeal, which on Thursday said the circuit court “erred in granting the injunctive relief.”
A three-judge panel of Judges L. Clayton Roberts, Timothy Osterhaus and T. Kent Wetherell overruled the circuit court’s decision.
“In our view, allowing for the immediate appointment to fill Judge Foster’s seat respects the language of the Florida Constitution,” said Roberts, who authored the opinion.
Roberts cited a 2014 case also involving Trotti, who at the time sought to fill a vacancy left on the 4th Judicial Circuit by Judge Donald Moran Jr.
The case, referred to as Trotti I, is similar in that Moran also resigned before his term’s expiration and the governor also accepted the resignation before a qualifying period.
The appeals court upheld the decision allowing Scott to appoint a new judge in 2014, as did the Florida Supreme Court.
For the 2018 case, Roberts stated that the court could not consider the “subjective intent” of Foster’s motives “in the hopes of determining whether the resignation was a matter of political gamesmanship.”
“Such an analysis of subjective factors poses a slippery slope that, in our opinion, is avoidable under the plain language of the Florida Constitution and the case law interpreting it.”
Scott intends to formally appoint Bass to the 4th Judicial Circuit when the 1st District’s decision becomes final.
Bass, 55, of Jacksonville, has served as a Duval County judge since 2014. He previously served 11 years as general magistrate and hearing officer in the 4th Judicial Circuit. Bass also was an assistant public defender with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.