The controversy about how Supreme Court justices filed papers necessary to run for re-election grew Thursday, as a Republican lawmaker called for an investigation into whether the justices broke the law.
The request by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, was the latest sign of what is likely to be a highly politicized battle about the future of the high court. Conservatives unhappy with the liberal bent of the court's majority have made it clear they will try to oust Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince in retention elections this November.
Plakon wrote a letter to Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday asking for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to look into reports that Lewis, Pariente and Quince had court employees notarize two documents in a last-minute scramble to file papers necessary to make sure the trio appeared on the ballot.
Critics have questioned whether that violates a ban on candidates using state employees "in furtherance of his or her candidacy." Any violation of that law is a first-degree misdemeanor.
"We have a responsibility to the people of Florida to see that our laws are followed by all, regardless of status or position," Plakon wrote.
After the first reports earlier this week that the papers were prepared during an unexplained hour-long break in oral arguments in the redistricting case last Friday, an attorney for the justices' retention campaigns insisted that some of the documents were required to be filed in the normal course of business and weren't actually electioneering documents.
But Plakon said in an interview Thursday that, at the very least, a loyalty oath that every candidate must sign to run for office was only part of the justices' campaign efforts.
"Their attorney conveniently doesn't talk about that. ... At the most, he's telling a half truth," Plakon said.
But in a statement issued Thursday, attorney Dan Stengle suggested justices are different because they are appointed, not directly elected, and that there was nothing inappropriate about the way the documents were handled.
"Any documents that they are required to file by virtue of their positions as appellate judges or justices to qualify for merit retention are part of routine court business, and these documents have been universally and historically handled in this manner," Stengle said. "Notarizing signatures is a ministerial duty and it is standard practice for court staff to notarize the signatures on such documents."
Plakon said he considers Jesse Phillips, the leader of Restore Justice 2012, which opposes the justices, a friend. But the lawmakers said he didn't coordinate with the group before writing the letter. The organization issued a statement that stopped short of arguing that that the three judges had broken the law.
"This whole ordeal illustrates the problems that inherently arise when activist judges selectively uphold the law when it is convenient to their agenda, and ignore or rewrite it when it?s not," the group said.