ashley moody on florida business

Florida AG Moody Takes Aim At Challenges To Court Candidates

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is urging the Florida Supreme Court to reject challenges to the eligibility of six candidates for seats on revamped state appeals courts.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. File Photo

Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody is urging the Florida Supreme Court to reject challenges to the eligibility of six candidates for seats on revamped state appeals courts.

Moody late Tuesday filed documents at the Supreme Court disputing that the candidates are ineligible because they live outside the jurisdictions of the 5th District Court of Appeal and the new 6th District Court of Appeal. The attorney general argues the candidates do not have to meet a residency requirement until they are appointed, if they are ultimately selected by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The challenges, filed last month at the Supreme Court, target candidates included on lists sent to DeSantis by the 5th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission and the 6th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission. In the documents Tuesday, Moody cited what is known as Article V of the Florida Constitution, which details the structure of the judiciary and the court system.

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“The governor may appoint the person he considers most suitable for judicial office, but he must select from nominees selected by the JNCs (judicial nominating commissions),” lawyers in Moody’s office wrote. “Excluding the possibility of the governor’s even considering a worthy candidate who might otherwise meet the eligibility requirements in Article V … by the time of appointment would limit the governor’s appointment options in a manner the constitutional text does not support.”

Tuesday’s filings were the latest developments in challenges filed by state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, and Volusia County resident Whitney Boan.

Thompson contends that four of 18 candidates, including state Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, are ineligible for seats on the 6th District Court of Appeal because they do not live within its jurisdiction. Boan contends that two of 15 candidates, including state Gaming Control Commission Chairman John MacIver, are not eligible for seats on the 5th District Court of Appeal.

“Permitting individuals who reside outside the territorial jurisdiction of a district court of appeal to be nominated for positions on that court would violate the Florida Constitution and contradict this (Supreme) Court’s stated goal of achieving proportional geographic representation,” attorneys for Boan wrote last month in the 5th District Court of Appeal case.

The Legislature this year approved a plan (HB 7027) that added the 6th District Court of Appeal and revised the jurisdictions of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the 5th District Court of Appeal. The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, with DeSantis appointing judges to fill vacant positions.

The 6th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Polk County, will hear cases from the 9th, 10th and 20th judicial circuits — an area that includes Orange, Osceola, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

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The redrawn 5th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Volusia County, will hear cases from the 4th, 5th, 7th and 18th judicial circuits — an area that includes Duval, Nassau, Clay, Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Sumter, St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties.

In addition to challenging the eligibility of Beltran, who lives in Hillsborough County, Thompson is targeting the 6th District Court of Appeal candidacies of Leon County Circuit Judge Stephen Everett, Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jared Smith and Danielle Brewer, a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

In the 5th District Court of Appeal case, Boan is challenging the eligibility of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Kilbane and MacIver, a Leon County resident.

The nominating commissions filed documents last week urging the Supreme Court to toss out the challenges. The filings said the candidates, if selected, could meet the residency requirements at the time the appointments take effect.

“The JNC (the 6th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission) asked each of the nominees if they would become residents of the Sixth DCA jurisdictional territory, and each of the nominees confirmed they would,” one of the documents said. “The JNC thus fully complied with its obligations and this (Supreme) Court’s direction in determining that the nominees were willing and able to satisfy the residential requirement.”

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