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Court blocks Rick Scott from picking judge

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Gov. Rick Scott won’t be able to appoint a new judge for the Palm Beach County court, the Florida Supreme Court decided Friday.

The unanimous decision means Palm Beach voters get to pick a replacement for outgoing County Judge Laura Johnson. She resigned to run for a circuit judgeship.

The court relied on its previous decisions to rule that state law “is an exception to the Governor’s (constitutional) power of appointment in the context of judicial vacancies.” Normally, state constitutions trump state statutes.

The law in question says that when a sitting official resigns to run for another state office, “the resignation creates a vacancy in office to be filled by election.”

“While it is true that the Constitution has been amended in some respects since those decisions were rendered, the logic of those decisions still controls,” the court said.

All seven justices agreed, though Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston concurred in result only. That means they agreed with the decision, but not the legal reasoning behind the decision. They did not write separate opinions. 

The court ordered state officials to “direct the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections (to) reinstate the election for this judicial office.”

Candidates can now qualify to run between noon on June 6 and noon on June 10 for the Aug. 30 special election, the order says.

The case had been brought by Gregg Lerman, a West Palm Beach criminal defense attorney, who asked the court for a “writ of quo warranto.”

As the court explained, “The term ‘quo warranto’ means ‘by what authority,’ and the writ is the proper means for inquiring into whether a particular individual has improperly exercised a power or right derived from the State.”

Lerman could not be immediately reached at his office.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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