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My Turn
Other Views from Those in the Know
Jesse Phillips
president, Restore Justice 2012
Check Records of Florida’s Supreme Court Justices

This November you and I will join other Florida voters to consider retaining state Supreme Court Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis for another six-year term. A recent survey indicates 90 percent of Floridians have neither heard their names nor evaluated their records.

This leaves us with the questions, what makes a good judge and how will we make up our minds?

The Florida Bar, the professional association for lawyers, answers these questions differently than I. Recent press reports indicate 23 former Florida Bar presidents and 90 percent of lawyers polled by the Bar back the justices. This is no surprise since lawyers want to be on good terms with the judges that will hear their cases.

But what about you and me?

Although I'm no lawyer, I — like you — am personally impacted by the decisions they make. The opinions these judges render on issues like property rights, health care, education, the right to vote, frivolous lawsuits and justice for victims are important to me.

Asking the Bar for information on Supreme Court judges up for re-election will get you a nice family photo, some family history and their educational background. Don't count on a report card, because they don't have one.

That's why I worked with a group of folks statewide to create an organization to ask the question: Why should we re-elect them? When the Bar posed this question to state lawyers for its poll, it asked them to consider a judge's "quality and clarity of judicial opinions; knowledge of the law; integrity; judicial temperament; impartiality; freedom from bias/prejudice; demeanor; and courtesy."

But what about their decisions?

Did you know that the U.S. Supreme Court overruled them once in 2000 when they disenfranchised Sunshine State voters in Bush v. Gore, and again in 2004 after they threw out the conviction of a confessed murderer because of a little-known technicality? Did you know they've made it more expensive to do business here in Florida with rulings encouraging expensive frivolous lawsuits?

They rejected a challenge to Obamacare. They struck down a school-voucher law, siding with the teachers unions instead of parents trying to get their kids out of failing public schools. They sided with powerful regulatory agencies and made it nearly impossible at times for homeowners to get fair compensation for their land.

Pariente, Quince and Lewis have made decisions that negatively impact issues important to families and taxpayers, yet the Bar wants to stress how polite they are.

As the resident "experts," the state's lawyers have utterly failed in their responsibility to help voters. They should be openly analyzing and critiquing Supreme Court decisions on our behalf. Yet their inexcusable silence required me — an information-technology guy with a wife and three sons — to start this conversation with Restore Justice 2012.

For the first time in Florida's history, we've done a credible critique of our justices' decisions. With the help of concerned Floridians, more interest in our court system has been generated in two years than 90,000 lawyers have generated in the previous 30.

I believe the same self-regulating association that sanctions lawyers — the Bar — should also critique judges, encourage debate and facilitate conservative and liberal judicial experts to openly discuss decisions the justices have made.

The millions of dollars the legal community has raised have not quenched honest debate. I hope Florida voters will research decisions these justices have made and draw their own conclusions.

So how do you evaluate justices? Look at their records, not just their personalities.

Jesse Phillips is the president of Restore Justice 2012, which seeks to educate voters about the justices up for retention this year.

by Dr. Radut.