The difficulty for being Adam Smith, the St. Petersburg Times political editor (other than his getting dressed for the TV program “Political Connections,” on which Smith displays both an ability for insightful journalism and horrendous wardrobe choices, is that his newspaper spent the last four years sleepwalking through the GOP ascendancy in Pinellas politics. That’s why Smith is forced to write catch-up pieces, such as today’s article debating the apoliticalness (new word!) of the Pinellas-Pasco Judicial Nomination Commission.
Smith writes with the same shock — shock! — that Captain Renault displayed when he learned that there was gambling going on in Rick’s American Cafe. “Since the Legislature gave the governor more control over appointments to the state’s 26 judicial nominating commissions in 2001, critics have complained that they have become more political and less independent.”
Um, yeah. This “intersection” of partisan politics and the judicial system has been occurring since Jeb Bush took office. (And don’t say this sort of thing has been going on forever because the Republican Legislature only recently gave the governor the power to influence the composition of the state’s JNCs). If Smith wanted to go farther, he would see that most of the governor’s selections are determined on a partisan basis.
I know this because I have assisted in the preparation and submission of dozens of Judicial Applications for several clients, most of whom went on to a judgeship and all but a few made the final selection (making the final selection group is very, very important even to those who don’t go on to be appointed. That’s because most of these applicants apply again and again for judicial positions that ooen up. More importantly, many of these applicants brag about the fact that they were “a finalist” in their campaign advertisements when they eventually determine that it’s easier to buy a judgeship through the electoral process than it is to survive the appointment whims of this imperial governor.)
Smith’s identification of George Jirotka as a partisan appointment is both appropriate and insignificant. Jirotka is a fire-breathing Republican that has been heavily involved with the Pinellas GOP’s decision to endorse judicial candidates. But George Jirotka is also a brilliant attorney who certainly merits appointment to the bench. Skip Schaffer was also elevated to the bench recently and he, like Jirotka, is a partisan appointment that deserves the selection.
Still, what has occurred in the 6th Judicial Circuit and throughout the rest of the state, will be one of the most enduring aspects of Jeb Bush’s legacy. I believe he has appointed more people to the bench than any other governor. And with a full slate of judicial appointments set to be funded by the Legislature this session, Jeb Bush will only increase the number of conservative members of the Florida judiciary.
See, I certainly didn’t write this post as well as Adam wrote his article, but I think I’ve addressed some issues that I wish the Times would further investigate. My only hope is that by the time they do decide to investigate this issue, it will not be too late.