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The Increasing Disconnect between the lawyers, judges and the people. The corruption of the American Judiciary

November 11, 2010

How did a Florida Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga get the highest score in a Bar Association poll, but  the lowest retention vote of any high court judge in state history last Tuesday.


That disconnect reveals a growing gap between the public and legal elites who nominate state judges.

Labarga and fellow Justice James Perry were targeted for removal by a conservative coalition angry over the court’s decision to kick Amendment 9 off the fall ballot. The measure would have given voters the opportunity to exempt Florida from the Obama health care law.

Labarga and Perry, who joined three other justices in killing Amendment 9 (they called its wording “unclear”), were retained with votes of 58.9 percent and 61.7 percent, respectively.

The two justices who ruled to keep Amendment 9 on the ballot — Chief Justice Charles Canady and Ricky Polston — were retained by votes of 67 percent and 66 percent.

Tea party groups and an organization called Citizen2Citizen claim credit for the lower approval levels of Labarga and Perry.

“This campaign was totally a grass-roots effort that was completely unfunded, yet it created an 8-10 point swing in the polls. In an election in which nearly 4.5 million people voted, that’s fairly substantial,” said Tom Tillison, a tea party activist in Orlando.

“The real success of this campaign is that it began just six weeks prior to the elections. Had we gotten an earlier start and had acquired any source of funding, I believe both judges would have failed to achieve retention. I think we’ve got their attention, regardless,” Tillison said.

Since judicial retention votes began in 1978, no Florida state judge has failed to be retained, and favorable votes generally run in the 60- to 70-percent range. Labarga’s 58.9 percent was the lowest ever for a Supreme Court justice.

Ironically, Labarga received the highest score – 88 percent – in the Florida Bar poll of lawyers of the seven Supreme Court justices.


But some dissenting members of Florida’s legal community believe that the judicial selection process is fixed, and that retention votes are exercises in futility.

So Much for Freedom of Speech in the Law.  The Judiciary has anyone with a meaningful voice worried about sanctions for questionning the fairness of an institution that needs an overhaul.

One lawyer — who requested anonymity because any criticism of the Bar invites its sanctions, including disbarment — argues that the Bar Association wields almost complete control over nominations through the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission.

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