Judges refuse to step aside from schools case

Gavel (Pixlr)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – After getting skipped over for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court, appellate judges Lori Rowe and Timothy Osterhaus on Tuesday refused to disqualify themselves from a legal battle about a state order to reopen schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Florida Education Association and other plaintiffs last week filed a motion requesting that Rowe and Osterhaus step aside from the case, which is pending at the 1st District Court of Appeal.

The request stemmed from the possibility that Gov. Ron DeSantis — one of the defendants in the case — could consider them for a seat on the Supreme Court.

Rowe and Osterhaus were on a short list of Supreme Court candidates submitted to DeSantis in January. But on Monday, DeSantis appointed 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Jamie Grosshans to fill the Supreme Court seat. That led to a one-paragraph order Tuesday that said Rowe and Osterhaus “find the motion to be legally insufficient and it is therefore denied.”

The case involves a challenge by the statewide teachers union and other plaintiffs to a July 6 state order requiring schools to reopen classrooms in August.

DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, who issued the order, took the case to the Tallahassee-based appeals court after a Leon County circuit judge agreed with arguments by the plaintiffs that the order violated the state Constitution.