Florida Elections Official Wins Fight Against Ex-Governor

(CN) – A Florida elections supervisor suspended by former Governor Rick Scott must be given a formal hearing in front of the state Senate because he violated her right to due process, a federal judge ruled late Wednesday.

Brenda Snipes, who faced criticism for delays in counting Broward County votes after Election Day, sued Scott and Florida Senate President Bill Galvano last month over the suspension.

Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes listens to reports Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, at her office in Lauderhill, Fla. (Joe Cavaretta/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

Snipes contended the suspension violated her due process rights, and Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee agreed.

“The issue here is whether Scott could suspend and publicly vilify a constitutional officer without a meaningful opportunity for her to be heard,” Walker wrote in the 15-page order. “The answer is no.”

Snipes, a Democrat, came under fire after Election Day for delays in counting votes and lack of transparency in the hotly contested elections for U.S. Senate, governor and agricultural commissioner.

Scott, a Republican who ended up winning his Senate race, filed lawsuits against Snipes during the recount process and alleged election fraud without offering proof. An official investigation never took place. 

In light of the harsh criticism from both Republicans and Democrats, Snipes announced on Nov. 18 she would resign her position in January. But Scott issued an executive order on Nov. 30 suspending her for “for misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty.”

He appointed Peter Antonacci, the head of the state’s economic development agency and former counsel for the governor’s office, to replace Snipes until county voters choose a new supervisor in 2020. Snipes countered by rescinding her resignation and filing a lawsuit.

In his decision, Judge Walker pointed to Florida laws that call for a Senate review of any suspension by the governor. The judge ruled Snipes must have a hearing when the Senate convenes in March.

Snipes, however, will not get her job back.

Walker found her resignation was unconditional and effective the day she announced it. Snipes must have an opportunity to be heard, he wrote, but the court is not requiring a specific outcome of that hearing.

“Snipes cites no authority requiring this court to reinstate her to public office nor is this court aware of any legal principle demanding such a remedy,” Walker wrote. “Rather, Snipes is entitled to a meaningful opportunity to be heard.”

Snipes’ attorney, Burnadette Norris-Weeks, did not immediately respond Thursday morning to a request for comment.

In a memo to senators, Galvano, the Senate president named in Snipes’ lawsuit, said the ruling affirmed the Florida Senate’s position that Snipes could not rescind her resignation and the Senate could not have had a timely hearing on the suspension.

“The court found there was no substantial likelihood of success regarding any claims made against the Senate,” he said.

Walker, appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2012, has chastised Scott repeatedly in strongly worded opinions. In Wednesday’s order, Walker wrote that Scott made several unsubstantiated allegations before suspending Snipes.

“Flagrantly disregarding plaintiff’s constitutional rights fits into an unfortunate rhythm for Scott,” he wrote.

Scott’s U.S. Senate office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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