Florida Supreme Court to hear judge appointment fight in October


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up a dispute about whether Gov. Rick Scott has the authority to appoint a Northeast Florida circuit judge.

Justices issued an order Thursday accepting the case and scheduled arguments on Oct. 2.

But the order showed a divided court, with justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Jorge Labarga backing the decision to take up the case and Chief Justice Charles Canady and justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson opposed.

The case stems from the upcoming retirement of Judge Robert Foster in the 4th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

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 argues -- and the 1st District Court of Appeal agreed -- that the governor’s acceptance of a judicial resignation before the start of an election-qualifying period creates a vacancy that should be filled by appointment, rather than election.

If Foster retired on Jan. 7, the post would be filled by election. Jacksonville attorney David Trotti filed the legal challenge arguing that the opening should be filled in this year’s elections. Trotti tried this spring to qualify to run for the judicial spot but was denied.

The Supreme Court arguments will come about a month before the Nov. 6 general election but after ballots are printed.