TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Gov. Rick Scott appointed Robert Dees to the 4th Judicial Circuit on Friday, choosing the Jacksonville attorney from a list six nominees that included a Republican state lawmaker who had become the target of gun-rights groups.
Dees, a partner with Milam, Howard, Nicandri, Dees & Gillam, P.A., will fill a vacancy created by the appointment of Judge Harvey Jay to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
Scott's pick for the 4th Judicial Circuit --- made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties --- drew attention because influential National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer initiated a letter-writing campaign in opposition to Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, who had wanted the job as judge.
"Exposing the self-serving conduct of a legislator who seeks to become a judge is important," Hammer, a past president of the NRA who also currently serves as executive director of the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said in an email on Friday. "That is not the kind of person you want to be a judge."
In a letter last month to NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida members, Hammer deemed McBurney "unfit" for a judgeship because, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he refused to move forward with a measure tied to the state's "stand your ground" self-defense law during the legislative session that ended in March.
Florida Carry later urged its members to oppose McBurney.
As of Friday morning, the governor's office had received 7,985 responses in opposition to McBurney and 134 in support, according to Scott's aides.
None of the five other nominees received any emails or letters in opposition. Three letters of support were submitted for Dees and Lee Kellison. The governor received 24 letters supporting Cyrus Zomorodian, five for Katie Dearing and four for Meredith Charbula, according to Scott's office.
McBurney, who had previously earned high marks from the NRA Political Victory Fund for his position on gun rights, said Friday that while the "perception" will be that the gun-rights groups influenced Scott, he doubted the governor was swayed by thousands of cut-and-pasted emails opposing McBurney's nomination.
Instead, McBurney said Hammer was sending a message to other lawmakers by opposing his nomination.
"The message she is sending is really to the legislators, that even if an issue doesn't concern the Second Amendment, and even if you leave the Legislature, if you disagree with me at all, I'm coming after you," McBurney said.
Hammer responded that she hoped McBurney wasn't "suggesting that because he's leaving the legislature that what he did was OK."
"McBurney's misdeeds were in the final week of session," Hammer wrote in the email. "He's lucky it was the last week otherwise Speaker (Steve) Crisafulli might have removed his chairmanship. No one belongs on the bench who sacrifices the rights of the people for personal gain. He talks about all of his previous votes but we all know that what you do today portends what you will (do) tomorrow."
In stand your ground cases, pre-trial evidentiary hearings are held to determine whether defendants should be immune from prosecution. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last year that defendants have the burden of proving during the hearings that they should be shielded from prosecution.
The bill that died during this year's legislative session would have shifted the burden of proof to prosecutors.
McBurney, a former prosecutor, has said the bill "would have victimized victims, especially those of domestic violence."
McBurney's committee did support measures that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry firearms on university campuses and to openly display handguns in most public places.
McBurney, whose term ends in November, said Dees is "well-respected" and "will make a great judge."