Judicial election fight remains in holding pattern

An appeals court Monday kept in place a stay in a legal battle about whether a Northeast Florida circuit judge should be elected or appointed and refused to quickly send the case to the Florida Supreme Court.

Jacksonville attorney David Trotti filed the lawsuit this spring, contending that an upcoming vacancy created by the retirement of 4th Judicial Circuit Judge Robert Foster should be filled in the November election, rather than through an appointment by Gov. Rick Scott.

Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson agreed with Trotti, but the Scott administration appealed, triggering an automatic stay of Dodson’s ruling.

Trotti then went back to Dodson, who ruled that the stay should be lifted.

But the 1st District Court of Appeal on Monday quashed Dodson’s order to lift the stay and said the case should remain on hold until the appellate court can rule on the underlying issues.

Also, Monday’s decision rejected a request by Trotti to send the case to the Supreme Court.

Foster was expected to leave office Jan. 7, 2019, which would be the end of his term, because of a mandatory retirement age.

But on April 2, Foster sent a letter to Scott making the retirement effective Dec. 31, four business days ahead of schedule.

The Scott administration takes the position that the governor’s acceptance of a judicial resignation before the start of an election-qualifying period creates a vacancy that will be filled by appointment, rather than election.

The 4th Judicial Circuit is made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

Trotti, who tried to qualify to run for the seat, contends it should be filled in the November election.