Why it matters how three Florida Supreme Court justices filled out the candidate paperwork

By on May 1, 2012

Invoking the names of Florida political legends Dempsey Barron and Tom Adams (who?), the no-longer-retired Bill Cotterell argues that it  is “not a criminal” offense that three Florida Supreme Court justices - Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince – relied on state employees during their working hours to help them complete their candidate qualifying paperwork.

Two weeks ago, Dan Stengle, the legal counsel for the merit retention campaigns of the three justices was told by the justices’ campaign treasurer that the three justices hadn’t completed all the paperwork needed to run in their merit retention election on the November ballot. Stengle then literally ran the paperwork over to the courthouse.

According to news accounts, Stengle was taken into the office of Lisa Goodner, the state courts adminstrator, whose office is right next to the courtroom. There, the justices completed the qualifying forms, had them notarized by a member of Goodner’s staff and filed them by the noon deadline.

Cotterell doesn’t think this is a big deal, or at least doesn’t rise to the level of criminality:

“OK, it shouldn’t have happened. A professionally run retention team would have taken care of this much sooner. But, as mentioned earlier, politics is not these guys’ day job.

Maybe there is a bit of hubris here. In the rarified, above-politics atmosphere of the judicial branch, judges can confuse “appointed” with “anointed.” If there were, in fact, a few minutes of the taxpayers’ time spent on filing legally required documents — well, it’s not like staffers were making fund-raising calls on state phones or running campaign leaflets through the clerk’s postage meter.”

Tell that to Neil Combee, a candidate for the State House in 2010 who didn’t make the ballot because his qualifying check was a penny less than it was supposed to be.

Tell that to the Tampa City Councilmembers who had to resign early because they goofed up their qualifying paperwork.

Tell that to the Florida House candidate who, in 2008, was removed from the ballot in Leon County after he failed to file a resignation letter in time.

Tell that to the judicial candidate who wasn’t able to run for an open seat because he missed the qualifying deadline.

Florida Supreme Court justices, above all, are suppose to be the government officials who adhere to deadlines and uphold standards.  ‘The dog ate my homework’ can’t be good enough for them.

So, sure, maybe — and I am not ready to agree to this — this issue does not warrant criminal prosecution.

But it deserves to be treated more seriously than regarding it as a ‘comedy of errors.’

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