Judicial candidate still fighting to get on ballot

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Despite a Florida Supreme Court decision to the contrary, a judicial candidate still wants to get on the ballot.

Lakeland attorney Steve Pincket lodged a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, also the state’s chief elections officer.

A declaratory judgment determines whether someone has a legal right to action. An injunction is a court order requiring someone to act.

Pincket’s suit was filed in Leon Circuit Civil court last week. Pincket wants to run for the seat being vacated by Circuit Judge Olin Shinholser of the 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties.

Earlier this month, the state Supreme Court ruled that Shinholser’s seat was one of three that could be “filled by gubernatorial appointment,” rather than by voters.

But four of the seven justices agreed reluctantly, saying their hands were tied because of prior court decisions they were bound to follow.

Their issue was with the way Shinholser vacated his seat. He made his retirement effective 11:59 p.m. this Dec. 26, saying in a letter it was his “desire and request” that Scott appoint his successor.

“While there are certainly debatable points as to the pros and cons of succession by appointment versus election, it is my belief based upon years of observation that the appointment process is superior to the election process in the judicial context,” he wrote to Scott on April 1.

Justice Barbara Pariente noted his letter came “just prior to the start of the qualifying period for elections on May 2, 2016, but … his last day in office would not take place until late December, leaving just four working days remaining in his term.”

“The personal preferences of individual judges, however well-motivated their intentions, should not be the basis for determining whether a vacancy exists that can either be filled by election or appointment,” she wrote.

The “better way to resolve this issue for the future is by a declaratory judgment—or, if necessary, a clarifying constitutional amendment,” Pariente added.

Pincket now wants a circuit judge to find that the state Division of Elections’ refusal to qualify him to run was unconstitutional, and to order that office to put his name on the ballot for Shinholser’s seat.

Otherwise, he says in his complaint, voters will be “deprived of the opportunity” to exercise their constitutional right.

An initial hearing in the case has not yet been docketed.

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.