Two Florida Supreme Court justices face the possibility of disqualification from cases challenging the eligibility of candidates to become judges on revamped state appeals courts.
Justices John Couriel and Charles Canady served as references for candidates seeking seats on the new 6th District Court of Appeal, including Couriel providing a reference for state Rep. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican seeking appointment to a judicial post, according to documents posted Monday on the Supreme Court website.
“Justice John D. Couriel agreed to serve as a reference in support of the application of Representative Michael Beltran for appointment to the Sixth District Court of Appeal,” a letter sent to attorneys in the cases said. “Pursuant to (a canon) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, if the parties agree that Justice Couriel should not be disqualified on that basis, he may participate in the proceedings.”
The letters came in two cases filed Thursday at the Supreme Court that allege Beltran, Florida Gaming Control Commission Chairman John MacIver and three other candidates do not meet residency requirements to serve as judges in the 6th District Court of Appeal and a revamped 5th District Court of Appeal.
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, and Gov. Ron DeSantis will appoint judges to fill vacant positions.
Judicial nominating commissions reviewed applicants and sent lists of candidates to DeSantis for consideration.
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In addition to Beltran, the 6th District Court of Appeal case challenges the eligibility of Leon County Circuit Judge Stephen Everett and Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jared Smith. 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.
The other case challenges the candidacies of MacIver, a Leon County resident, and Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Kilbane in the redrawn 5th District Court of Appeal. That court, 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.
The documents posted Monday were letters sent by Supreme Court Clerk John Tomasino to attorneys in both cases. The letters said Canady served as a reference for Danielle Brewer, a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit, and Michael T. McHugh, a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit.
Brewer and McHugh are on a list of candidates that the 6th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission sent to DeSantis for consideration. As a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit, which includes DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties, Brewer is not part of the area that will be covered by the 6th District Court of Appeal — though she was not named in the case challenging Beltran, Everett and Smith.
Monday’s letters gave attorneys until Dec. 2 to advise the Supreme Court about whether they “consent” to Couriel and Canady taking part in the cases.
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