Rick Scott appoints judge despite lawsuit

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Gov. Rick Scott has appointed a new circuit judge in central Florida despite a candidate still suing to get the seat filled by election. 

Scott last week tapped David V. Ward of Sebring for the judgeship. Ward, 47, has been an assistant state attorney since 2001. 

He will replace Judge Olin W. Shinholser for the 10th Judicial Circuit for Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties. 

Scott’s action follows a recent Florida Supreme Court decision that Shinholser’s seat was one of three that could be “filled by gubernatorial appointment,” rather than by voters.

Undaunted, Lakeland attorney Steve Pincket then filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief against Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who is the state’s chief elections officer.

That case, in Leon County Circuit Civil court, was still active as of Monday, according to court dockets. 

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

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

Pincket referred questions to his attorney, Nick James of Jacksonville. James was not immediately available at his law office Monday morning. 

Pincket, however, noted Shinholser doesn’t step down till late December. 

Scott’s appointment of Ward “doesn’t really matter,” Pincket told FloridaPolitics.com. “We’re staying the course” with the lawsuit. 

Shinholser had made his retirement effective 11:59 p.m. on 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.

Writing separately, 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.

In other action, Scott appointed Daliah H. Weiss and Cymonie S. Rowe to the 15th Judicial Circuit bench for Palm Beach County. 

Weiss, 46, of Wellington, has been a county court judge since 2012. Rowe, 47, of Boca Raton, is a senior trial attorney for Liberty Mutual. They replace Judges John L. Phillips and Amy Smith, respectively. 

Scott also named Christopher A. France to the 7th Judicial Circuit for Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties. France, 46, of Palatka, has been an assistant state attorney since 1997. 

He replaces Judge Joseph G. Will, another judge who had timed his retirement to ensure that Scott would be able to appoint his successor. 

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.