Fla. high court asked to bar 3 justice's retention

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - An Atlanta-based conservative legal group on Monday asked the Florida Supreme Court to prevent voters from retaining three of its own justices by blocking their up-or-down votes from being counted.

A spokesman for the justices called the petition "frivolous" and an attempt from outside Florida to undermine Tuesday's election.

The Southern Legal Foundation filed it on behalf of a Destin man, Denny Jones.

The justices, who are seeking retention to six-year terms, have been targeted for defeat by the Florida Republican Party and conservative groups on grounds they are "activists."

Their supporters, including Republicans as well as Democrats and many lawyers, say it's a conservative power grab and that the justices have followed the law and the Florida Constitution in their rulings.

The petition alleges Secretary of State Kenneth Detzner violated the law by allowing Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince to appear on the ballot in part because his office notified them shortly before the April qualifying deadline that their papers hadn't yet been filed.

The high court recessed an oral argument on redistricting so the justices could meet the deadline with just minutes to spare.

The petition contends they would have missed it if they hadn't been warned by the secretary's office. If that had happened, Detzner's boss, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, would have appointed replacements.

That also would be the result if the Supreme Court agrees with the foundation's argument. Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles appointed Lewis and Pariente while Chiles and incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush jointly named Quince.

The petition also alleges various technical violations of qualifying procedures including a failure to resubmit previously filed campaign documents during the qualifying period.

Other allegations are that Pariente and Lewis failed to submit all documents required to comply with the state's financial disclosure law or later submitted revised filings.

"This is a frivolous lawsuit filed by some Georgia residents who already have been defeated in the courts," said Brian Crowley, a spokesman for the justices.

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis in August dismissed a lawsuit filed by the foundation that also sought to have the three justices removed from the ballot on other grounds. It alleged they had illegally used court employees to advance their campaigns because staffers helped prepare their qualifying papers. The justices denied any wrongdoing.

Lewis ruled the two voters represented by the foundation in that case lacked standing to sue because there's nothing that sets them apart from any other voters.

Chris Cate, a spokesman for Detzner, said his office was reviewing the petition and that his top priority is a fair and accurate election.

The petition also argues the three justices are not interested parties to the case because they never lawfully qualified for retention.

Justices who are affected by cases in the past have not participated in those rulings, in some cases temporarily being replaced by judges from lower courts.

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