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Senate committee passes court reform bill, but they don't like it

APRIL 25, 2011

A bill that would cut the Florida Bar out of the selection of members of judicial nominating commissions passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday, but senators expressed serious concerns about the committee bill, which was presented by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami as a "conversation starter."

"I have grave reservations also," Flores said, after Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the proposal is a bad idea. But Flores said the bill needs to stay alive as a courtesy to House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. "This is something that is very important to him," she said.

As it is now, 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. SB2170 would have the state Attorney General take over the Florida Bar's duties.

William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, told the committee it makes sense for the attorney general, someone who is accountable to the voters, to help select the people who make recommendations for judgeships.

Others argued that the bill politicizes the process of nominating judges.

"There will be a day, I don't want to think about it, when the attorney general isn't of the same party as the ruling party today," Simmons said. "I know things aren't forever. We have a proponsity once we get into power to think we're immortal, that we're invincible."

The Florida Bar, he said, provides an "even hand" in the judge selection process.

"Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should do it," Simmon said. "We have an excellent judiciary in the state of Florida. It works."

Simmons voted for the bill, though. Only Joyner and Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, voted against the measure.

The full House passed its version of the bill last week. It reduces the size of the commissions from nine to seven members, and allows the governor to appoint all members to terms that run concurrently with the governor's.