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Prominent Attorneys Move to Shutts & Bowen, Latest Sign of Major Shift in Florida's Legal Landscape

August 23, 2019 - 6:00am

For more than two decades the elite Miami Appellate Department of Greenberg Traurig was the most sought-after dream team for high-stakes court battles in Florida. Along with its Tallahassee partner Barry Richard of 2000 election recount fame, Greenberg Traurig was the go-to law firm for Fortune 500 companies with the resources to hire the very best.

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So when Julissa Rodriguez, chair of Greenberg’s Miami Appellate Department left this week to join Shutts & Bowen, it got the attention of people throughout Florida’s business and legal communities. But to some insiders, Rodriguez’s move to Shutts was no big surprise.

Julissa Rodriguez Julissa Rodriguez

“There has been a seismic shift in the Florida judiciary toward constitutionalist judges who follow the textualist judicial philosophy advocated by the late Justice Antonin Scalia," said Bob McClure, president of the James Madison Institute, prominent Tallahassee-based public policy think tank. "It’s no secret that several attorneys at Shutts & Bowen worked behind the scenes finding qualified, competent jurists, and helped make that transformation happen.”

McClure is referring to the chairman of Shutts & Bowen’s Appellate Practice Group Jason Gonzalez, and his law partners Dan Nordby and Ben Gibson. Gonzalez is the state chairman of the Federalist Society, founded by Scalia and others. Gonzalez and Nordby served as general counsels to Govs. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, and Gibson served as general counsel to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition office. The governor’s general counsel serves as chief advisor on all judicial appointments. Every current member of the Florida Supreme Court was appointed during the terms of service of Shutts partners Gonzalez, Nordby and Gibson, and the trio had various roles in the appointments of more than half the 63 judges on Florida’s five district courts of appeal.

“Shutts has continued to build an outstanding team with the addition of Ben Gibson last year, and Dan Nordby and Julissa Rodriguez this year,” said William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, which has retained Shutts to file briefs in several high profile appeals. “It makes a lot of sense to hire textualist lawyers to argue before textualist judges. 

"Lawyers trying to make public policy arguments to the new majorities on these courts will be in for a rude awakening,” Large added.

An article earlier this year published in National Review noted a similar phenomenon at the federal level following the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both of the new justices, as well as Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito follow a text-based judicial philosophy and have been active Federalist Society members for many years. “Originalism and textualism dominate the Supreme Court but are foreign to the legal academy,” wrote Nicholas Gallagher. And for the time being, only a handful of Florida lawyers are genuine textualist practitioners.

“I believe Florida now has the finest judiciary in the entire nation. Our goal all along was to remove the politics and personal ideology of judges from the process, and that happens when our courts are applying textualist and originalist principles in their opinions. Textualism is not a second language to the lawyers in my office. We’ve been preaching it for two decades, even when we were in a tiny minority. Now we are able to attract the finest attorneys in Florida like Julissa Rodriguez and offer our clients optimal trial and appellate representation,” said Gonzalez.

Florida Chamber of Commerce President Mark Wilson said he agrees. “In addition to the Florida Chamber’s efforts and superb judicial appointments by the governor," explained Wilson,  a small group of judges and lawyers including the Shutts team have changed the legal culture in Florida for decades to come. It’s an entirely new legal landscape that’s bringing consistency and predictability to Florida’s civil justice system. That’s good news for individual liberty and good news for job creation and economic development.”

Reach Nancy Smith at [email protected] or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith