The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission has opened a 30-day application period ending Dec. 24 to replace two justices tabbed by President Donald Trump and confirmed by the U.S. Senate to serve on the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, the five justices remaining on the bench are calling for reinforcements, not for the Supreme Court but in the state’s circuit and county courts.
In an annual “opinion” – or legislative request – forwarded to the state Legislature Wednesday, the Florida Supreme Court called for the addition of 10 jurists to remedy a “demonstrable need for additional circuit judges.”
The request seeks two more judges in the 9th Judicial Circuit that hears cases in Orange and Osceola counties; one in the 1st Judicial Circuit, which covers Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties; and another in the 14th Judicial Circuit, which spans Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties.
The Supreme Court also requests four additional Hillsborough County judges, and one more in Orange and Leon counties.
The request also calls for lawmakers to “close” two Brevard County judgeship and one each in Monroe and Collier counties.
During the 2019 session, lawmakers approved the addition of two circuit court and two county court judgeships, the state’s first increase in circuit and county jurists since 2006. Three district court judges were added in 2014 by the Legislature.
The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) convened Monday to discuss “procedures and timing” of the selection process for DeSantis’ fourth and fifth appointments to the state’s highest court following the elevations this month of Justices Robert Luck and Barbara Lagoa to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Lagoa, Luck and Carlos Muniz to the state Supreme Court upon assuming office in January when the three seats were vacated by Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince because they had reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges.
The Supreme Court JNC, one of 26 state commissions that vet court nominees before submitting finalists to the governor, has 60 days to provide a list of three to six finalists for each opening. DeSantis then has 60 days to make selections.
The Supreme Court JNC on Monday set a 30-day deadline for applications – Dec. 24, 6 p.m. – and a Jan. 25 deadline to forward finalists to DeSantis, who said he will make the selections shortly afterward, most likely during the Legislature’s 2020 session, which begins Jan. 14.
Governor’s Office general counsel Joe Jacquot in a Monday letter to the JNC on DeSantis’ behalf requested the legal maximum of 12 candidates – six each – for the vacant seats.
Supreme Court JNC Chair Daniel Nordby said it was critical to begin the process immediately with the holidays approaching, posting the vacancies through the Florida Bar Association.
“With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching I didn’t want us to lose any time in advertising the vacancies once we are requested to convene,” Nordby said.
The same day the JNC convened to officially initiate the search, DeSantis named Harout Samra, a conservative Miami attorney who specializes in international arbitration and civil litigation, to the nine-member panel.
Samra is affiliated with the Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies, the conservative-libertarian organization vetting judges for DeSantis and President Donald Trump, along with the Heritage Foundation.