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Open mic at Florida Supreme Court leads to supreme controversy

Gov. Rick Scott asks for documents, audio recording

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A major controversy is brewing regarding a case at the Florida Supreme Court.

On Nov. 1, as lawyers were leaving the court, after arguing about the governor’s power to appoint future justices, Chief Justice Gorge Labarga leaned over to Justice Barbara Pariente, not knowing his microphone was still open.

“He can’t be there -- Panuccio,” Labarga is heard saying.

A tape of the courtroom incident then goes silent, before coming back: “Izzy Reyes on there. He’ll listen to me.”

Although the audio is not clear, the two appeared to be discussing a list of nominees to the Judicial Nominating Commission, which is the commission that will name potential replacements for the judges retiring in January.

The reference to Panuccio is Jesse Panuccio, a former lawyer for the governor. Reyes is a member of the nominating commission.

This week, Gov. Rick Scott asked for the documents and the audio recording. 

“Let’s find out what was going on,” Gov. Rick Scott said. “We expect our judges to be impartial. We expect (them to) simply do their job. And we’ve done a records request to see, what document were they talking about? What were they talking about? So, it's (important for) everybody to understand what was being discussed.”

When asked about what he thinks happened, Scott said, “We’ll find out once we see the documents.”

A reporter asked several high-ranking lawmakers for their opinions, but no one wanted to weigh in on the controversy. The case at the Supreme Court could reshape the court itself, depending on who gets to appoint three justices in early January.

Still, the conversation on the bench after the case was over is the issue grabbing headlines.
  
Scott could ask the judges to disqualify themselves from the case. A spokesman for Scott said, “Our office is evaluating the best path forward and all available options.”

All of the materials requested by the governor were turned over this week, according to an email from the Supreme Court’s public information officer.