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Florida Governor Appoints Second Judge to Top Court

On the heels of promising to end judicial activism in the Sunshine State, newly elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday named his second of three appointments to the Florida Supreme Court's seven-member panel.

(CN) – On the heels of promising to end judicial activism in the Sunshine State, newly elected Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday named his second of three appointments to the Florida Supreme Court's seven-member panel.

DeSantis announced he is selecting Miami judge Robert Luck, a 39-year-old former federal prosecutor, to serve on Florida's highest court. DeSantis praised Luck as a jurist with "a deep understanding of the Constitutional separation of powers and the proper role of the courts."

President Donald Trump stands behind gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis as he speaks at a rally, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Fla. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

The governor had said during his Jan. 8 inaugural speech that his election meant "judicial activism ends, right here and right now."

"I will only appoint judges who understand the proper role of the courts is to apply the law and Constitution as written, not to legislate from the bench,” he said.

DeSantis, who prevailed over Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum in Florida's chaotic November recount, ended up with the power to fill three of the seven Florida Supreme Court seats due to a trio of justices reaching the mandatory retirement age. 

The governor's picks will replace Justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente. Lewis and Pariente were appointed by Democratic Governor Lawton Chiles. Quince was a joint appointment of Chiles and Republican Governor Jeb Bush in 1998. 

DeSantis' picks for the Florida Supreme Court are final, and not subject to confirmation by the Legislature. Candidates came from a list compiled by a state judicial nominating commission. 

The new governor picked his first justice, Barbara Lagoa, last week, in a series of selections that will likely shift the ideological balance of the court to the right. Lagoa is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, and Luck is also associated with the group.

In his application for the position, Luck said he understands "how the judiciary - what Hamilton called our least dangerous branch - fits into our system of government." 

"Having worked in each of the three branches, I understand the modest role of the judge in reviewing the laws enacted by the legislature, the actions taken by the executive, and the findings of the lower courts," he wrote. 

Luck said he fits the bill because he has extensive experience working in death penalty cases, is a seasoned legal writer and tackled massive case loads as a trial court judge in Miami.

"For my first two years as a circuit court judge, I was assigned to the felony division. On my first day, I had 580 cases, including burglaries, white collar embezzlements, sexual batteries, and murders. In those two years, I presided over more than forty jury trials. At the end of the two years, I had less than 300 cases on my docket -- the lowest in the felony division," the application states.

Luck's time as an appellate judge has been somewhat brief, with the judge having served on Florida’s Third District Court of Appeal since mid-2017.

He authored some appellate opinions of note, including holding up sovereign immunity for the Miccosukee Tribe in a vicious multi-year court battle with its former attorneys, despite the tribe's previously waiving immunity in a related action.  

In one civil case fielded by Luck and the Third District panel, political candidate Alfie Leon sued to invalidate former Republican Miami Mayor Joe Carollo's win over him in a city commission race. Leon said Carollo did not meet a local minimum length-of-residency requirement to serve as commissioner. 

Affirming a lower court decision and citing lengthy case precedent, Luck wrote that judges "have no inherent power to determine an election contest after a candidate has been elected."

He noted a narrow exception for courts to intervene when a candidate is legally ineligible to hold office. But he found that the Miami charter -- which says "candidates for the city commission shall have resided within the district at least one year before qualifying" -- governed who could "run" for office, not "hold" office.

Luck wrote that the court's role "is to apply this law as it is written, and not to write-in requirements that are not there or to fix holes that are." Aside from the jurisdictional question, the lower court had already found Carollo had met the residency requirement, according to court documents.

Luck worked as a federal prosecutor in Miami from 2008 to 2013, during which time he handled a $50 million health care fraud case and tackled one of the largest student visa scams ever prosecuted, according to his CV. He went on to serve on Miami-Dade County's Eleventh Judicial Circuit before moving up to the Third District Court of Appeal. 

He made local headlines in 2015 after he was attacked on the bench by a defendant who had been deemed to be incompetent to stand trial on an assault charge.

"He and I tumbled down the steps of the bench, and as I was laying on the floor, [the defendant] was on top of me, punching my head," Luck wrote of the incident. 

Luck recused himself from that case. 

The University of Florida graduate, who grew up in the Miami area, says that "despite the bleeding and bruising," he "declined medical attention and refused to file a worker's compensation claim."

Categories / Courts, Government, Regional

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