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House panel passes judicial term-limits bill, a priority for Corcoran

BY MATT DIXON - |02/09/2017 12:02 PM EST

Jennifer Sullivan

TALLAHASSEE — Some lawmakers want to ask voters to apply term-limits to some judges, a proposal that received pushback from the legal community Thursday, but ultimately passed its first committee stop.

The bill, HJR 1, if passed would ask voters to approve 12-year terms for appeals court judges and justices on the Florida Supreme Court. Under the proposal, judges could serve two six-year terms. Like any ballot measure, the proposal would require 60 percent voter approval to become law.

Several legal groups pushed back against the idea during a meeting of the House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee, arguing that the proposal would cause too much churn in the judicial community and weaken the pool of judges.

“The problem with this bill is it will prevent bright young attorneys who are in private practice from applying for judicial positions because they have an active book of business,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute.

Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican who is sponsoring the joint resolution, said that the proposal is about accountability. Judges must face voters during what are called “merit retention” process, but none has ever lost.

“I’ve not had one lawyer that has told me that if implemented ‘I won’t apply for the DCA,” she told the committee. “I think that is telling.”

She also said the bill would give more appeals court justices to serve on the Florida Supreme Court, which often does not have vacancies.

Passing judicial reform proposals is a high priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who has been critical of the judiciary in the past.

“Acting like an unelected super-legislature, they issue rulings that extend beyond the facts of the case and produce sweeping changes to the public policy of our state on issues ranging from the death penalty to education to insurance,” Corcoran wrote last month in an Orlando Sentinel op-ed.

The House bill has one remaining committee stop, but it does not yet have a Senate companion.