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Senate committee splits from House on court reform bill

The Florida Bar will retain its power to select members of judicial nominating commissions thanks to a late-filed amendment during a committee meeting Tuesday.

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, filed a handwritten amendment during the Senate Rules Committee that restored the Bar's influence of nominees to those commissions after protest from some senators and lawyers this week. The original bill would have given that power to the Attorney General.

"I support looking at ways we can do a better job in appointing our judges," he said. "But I think completely eliminating the Florida Bar as part of that is not appropriate."

The amended version of SB 2170, sponsored by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, passed the Rules committee without any negative votes. Flores acknowledged the bill's flaws on Monday but said she introduced it as a courtesy to House Speaker Dean Cannon. She was OK with Negron's amendment.

Currently, the governor selects five members of the judicial nominating commissions and selects four people for the remaining seats based on recommendations from the Florida Bar's Board of Governors. The Bar board sends three nominees for each position.

What the bill basically does now is terminate the terms of current members of judicial nominating commissions, and allow the governor to appoint new members for staggered terms.

Steve Metz, the Bar's chief lobbyist, said there was no reason for taking lawyers out of the process. It would be different if governors complained about the lack of vetting of nominees, "but that has never happened," he said.

The proposal would have politicized the nominating process for judges, he said. Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, said Monday that the Bar provides an "even hand" in judicial selection.

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, supported the original bill because it would have put an elected official in charge of nominees for those four seats, effectively providing for public input.

The full House has already passed its version of the bill, which reduces the size of the commissions to seven members and allows the governor to appoint all members to terms that run concurrently with the governor's.

Negron said he had not yet contacted any House members to see if they supported the change. He hopes they will.

"I'll start calling some," he said.

Posted by Katie Sanders on Tuesday, Apr. 26, 2011 at 4:51 PM

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