TALLAHASSEE (CN) – Three Florida Supreme Court justices seeking re-election were improperly allowed on the November ballot after they broke state law by interrupting a court session to work on campaign documents, two Floridians claim in court.
Bernard Long and Veronico Flores sued Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, in Leon County Court.
Long and Flores claim the justices failed to comply with Florida law, which requires incumbent justices to submit complete financial disclosures and judicial loyalty oaths, and unlawfully asked state employees to work on their campaigns during working hours.
Florida Supreme Court justices are elected to 6-year terms. Incumbent justices are subject to a merit retention election and require a majority vote to be retained in office.
Lewis, Pariente and Quince, who all are serving the final year of their terms, were required to file certain documents by noon Friday, April 20, to qualify for the November ballot, according to the complaint.
The plaintiffs claim the justices failed to make complete financial disclosures, made false statements on their campaign documents and asked state employees to help with campaign items.
They claim the justices did not know they were supposed to file the campaign documents until the morning of April 20, 2 hours before the deadline.
When they realized they would miss the deadlines, the justices interrupted court proceedings and used state employees to help them meet the qualification requirements, according to the complaint.
“The justices’ campaign attorney subsequently contacted the State Courts Administrator,” the complaint states. “The attorney requested that the administrator assist the justices’ campaigns by interrupting the Florida Supreme Court proceedings in order to convene an ’emergency’ campaign meeting in the courthouse, for the purpose of preparing campaign documents to be executed by the justices, while the ongoing proceedings were suspended.”
The plaintiffs say the state courts administrator and the clerk of the Supreme Court complied and notified the chief justice of an “unspecified emergency.”
“Just prior to 11:00 am, the chief justice announced that the court would take a ten-minute recess,” the complaint states.
“While the litigants, their attorneys, numerous State of Florida employees, and others waited in the courtroom, the justices prepared their campaign documents for more than an hour.
“The delay caused by the justices cost Florida taxpayers thousands of dollars in additional legal fees for private outside counsel who were forced to wait while the justices worked on their campaign documents. Upon information and belief, the justices’ campaigns have not reimbursed the State of Florida or any private litigants for their costs and expenses caused by the delay.
“Upon information and belief, three judicial employees of the state court system who also report directly to the justices were directed by the justices to assist in the preparation of the campaign documents, including notarizing signatures on some of the forms.”
The plaintiffs claim the justices broke state law by interrupting court proceedings and asking state employees to help with campaign materials during working hours.
They claim the justices’ campaign documents contain false and incomplete information, including data related to net worth, asset value and value of gifts accepted by the justices.
The plaintiffs say the justices and the Department of State failed to respond to requests for documents that could clarify whether the justices qualify for the November ballot.
“Plaintiffs, as Florida taxpayers, citizens, and electors have a right to know whether the justices should not have been qualified for placement on the merit retention ballot in November, and to seek a declaration that they are ineligible for the ballot if no documentation exists to establish that their candidacies are proper and lawful,” the complaint states.
Long and Flores seek a declaration that the justices are ineligible for the November ballot, and want the Secretary of State enjoined from certifying them.
They are represented by Eric Haug.