Florida Supreme Court Said Governor DeSantis Exceeded His Authority In Appointing Judge Renatha Francis, But Held Petitioner Thompson To The Remedy She Requested And Denied The Petition
The August 27th Opinion denied Representative Geraldine F. Thompson’s challenge to Governor DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court because the remedy sought was “legally unavailable under these circumstances.”
For those keeping an eye on this case, this dispute stems from Governor DeSantis’ appointment of Judge Francis to the Florida Supreme Court on May 26, 2020, and the undisputed fact that she has not been a member of the Florida Bar for the preceding ten (10) years—a milestone she will reach on September 24, 2020. Petitioner took the position that to be eligible for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court, the person must meet the requirements laid out in Florida’s Constitution at the time of appointment. Governor DeSantis took the position that the person must meet the requirements laid out in Florida’s Constitution at the time of actually taking the oath and assuming the duties of her office, which Judge Francis intends to do on September 24, 2020.
Rather than simply ask the Court to 1) find that Judge Renatha Francis is ineligible for office and 2) issue a writ of mandamus compelling Governor DeSantis to appoint someone else from the short list sent up on January 23, 2020, Petitioner asked the Court to compel the JNC to create a new list from the original applicants and to compel Governor DeSantis to appoint someone from that new list.
The Court found that “[w]hen we read Article V, section 8 together with article V, section 11, the only reasonable conclusion is that the Bar eligibility requirement attaches at the time of appointment.” This is contrary to the Governor’s position.
Although the Court cleared up the dispute as to the time all constitutional eligibility requirements must be met, it ultimately denied the petition because of the relief sought by Petitioner:
There is no legal justification for us to require a replacement appointment from a new list of candidates, rather than from the one that is already before the Governor. And the correct remedy (an appointment from the existing list of eligible nominees) would be contrary to Thompson’s stated objectives in filing this case. Therefore, we hold Thompson to the remedy she requested and deny her petition.
This Opinion leaves us wondering what will happen next as there is still close to a month before Judge Francis meets the constitutional eligibility requirement and the Court clearly stated that she needed to have met it at the time of appointment. Will Petitioner, or another Florida Citizen, challenge the appointment of Judge Francis, and this time request the correct relief as pointed out by the Court? Will Governor DeSantis revoke his appointment and select one of the remaining 7 individuals on the January 23, 2020, list to avoid further litigation? Will it be status quo until September 24th and Judge Francis becomes Justice Francis?
The remaining individuals on the January 23rd list, aside from Judge Francis and now Justice Couriel, are:
Kyle is a commercial litigator at Conrad & Scherer LLP in Fort Lauderdale.
Petitioner Thompson filed a Motion for Leave to amend, and also filed an Amended Emergency Petition for Writ of Quo Warranto and Writ of Mandamus yesterday.
She is asking the Court to do exactly what it said would be the appropriate remedy and declare that Judge Francis was ineligible for appointment, and to compel Governor DeSantis to immediately appoint one of the 7 remaining on the January 23, 2020, list.