Analysis: the investigation into Florida's Supreme Court justice - FOX 13 News

Analysis: the investigation into Florida's Supreme Court justices

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Governor Rick Scott has directed state police to investigate the three justices appointed by Democrats.

At issue is re-election paperwork the justices filed, and how they filed it. The fallout from the investigation could reshape the state Supreme Court, which has happened in other states.

The reason why is that citizens vote whether or not to retain state Supreme Court justices once they are on the job, but the governor can appoint new justices if they get voted off.

The background: how and why the investigation started

Back in April, justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis almost missed the deadline to go on the ballot.

In the last minute rush, reports show court staff helped them with their paperwork by notarizing it.

That's where they may have broken the law, because you cannot use state workers for campaign work during work hours.

Supporters of the justices contend that state employees routinely notarize candidates' papers, and election records show the four justices on the ballot in 2010 all had their paperwork notarized by court employees.

"Notaries do that all the time for all kinds of people," said Raoul Cantero, a former Supreme Court justice and chairman of Pariente's campaign. "That does not constitute using a state employee to assist a campaign."

The politics of health care

The justices under investigation were all appointed by former governor Lawton Chiles, a Democrat.

Now, those three justices are drawing opposition largely over the Supreme Court's decision two years ago to remove from the ballot a proposed state constitutional amendment sponsored by Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, and passed by the Republican-led legislature.

It would have made it illegal for Florida to require that citizens buy health insurance similar to a requirement in President Barack Obama's national health care overhaul. Republicans saw it as a way for voters to express their opposition to the federal legislation.

The high court pulled the 2010 amendment because it had an inaccurate and misleading ballot summary. The legislature has since then put a revised version on this year's ballot and passed a law allowing the attorney general to rewrite defective summaries.

The implications of the investigation

The FDLE could charge the justices, and if convicted, they could be removed from the bench.

But even if this FDLE investigation goes nowhere, the three justices still have a major public relations problem.

FOX 13 asked some people, if you heard the Supreme Court justices were under investigation for campaign violations, would you vote yes to keep them on the bench?

Most answered "no."

That's how conservative super-PACs can use the mere 'existence' of an investigation to take down these last three justices appointed by Democrats.  

And that's how Governor Scott could wind up stacking the court.

"Mark my words, there will be a vicious attack on these three justices on anything you can imagine," Fitzgibbons said.

Attack ads in Iowa

It has happened before. Two years ago, conservative groups went after three Supreme Court justices in Iowa who supported gay marriage. It was the first time third party groups could pour limitless money into attack ads—and they did, big time.

"You can express your opinion about [the Iowa] chief justice and her husband hosting an underage drinking party for daughter at home," the announcer says in one ad.

LINK: Watch the ad here 

The Iowa judges lost, the new Republican governor picked three new justices, and conservative groups vowed to take on others across the nation. 

"There is no doubt the Iowa experience has changed the game," Fitzgibbons said.

The FDLE has not said how long it would take to conduct the investigation here. But there is little doubt this controversy over campaign papers will trigger a big push to reshape the Florida Supreme Court. 

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