Saturday, November 26, 2005

Jeb Bush ends 30 years of separation of the judicial from the executive branch

If you are in the know you know that for 17 years Ambassador Melvin Sembler and his wife Betty operated the world's largest juvenile drug rehabilitation program. You also know that Straight was one of the most destructive rehab programs the world has ever witnessed. You also know that the virus started 30 years ago in Ft. Lauderdale at a US government-backed program called The Seed which lost its momentum towards becoming a national program in 1974 after the US Senate accused it of using North Korean brainwashing methods on kids.

Another reason was because citizens in Dade County had refused to allow a Seed there because the state of Florida had no provision in state code to monitor Seed foster homes where Seedlings slept at night. Art Barker appealed to then governor Reubin Askew and Askew formed a commission to recommend proceedures for the state to monitor Seed foster homes. The commission returned a recommendation that basically said the kids need to be allowed their human rights. Barker balked on this recommendation and so it was up to the state of Florida to try to enforse the new regulations on the Sembler's Straight program which followed.

But Gov. Askew, a Democrat, had other problems too. Before he came to office the governor of Florida had complete discretionary powers to appoint judges and many bad appointments had been made by Askew's immediate predecessor, Republican Claude Kirk. One of those had been the appointment of Supreme Court Justice David McCain who turned out to be so corrupt and unethical that he had to resign to save himself from impeachment.

To solve the problem Gov. Askew limited his own powers by promoting legislation to have judges appointed from beyond the control of the chief executive. Essential to system was the institution of 26, nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs) established around the state. For each commission the governor appointed three commissioners and the Florida Bar appointed three. Together those six selected three more from the public. Thus there were 26 JNC with nine commissioners each. When there was a need for the governor to appoint a judge (say a judge dies in office or is impeached and removed) attorneys interested in the vacant bench would apply to the JNC which would screen applicants and submit a list of from three to six finalists to the governor who would make the final selection. And that's how things worked in Florida for 30 years until Jeb Bush became governor.

A 1999 eMail to Jeb Bush from Frank Jimenez, the governor's assistant general counsel, outlined a proposed plan to recruit judges who are ideologically compatible with Bush. Jimenez noted that Bush himself had asked his staff to "organize attorney friends throughout the state to help recruit ideologically compatible, desirable candidates" to apply to the JNCs." "We need to be careful," wrote Jimenez, "because we don't want to create a 'kingmaker' perception." St. Petersburg attorney (now mayor) Rick Baker was specifically mentioned as a potential attorney friend. Back when he was just an attorney Rick Baker had been the local campaign chairman for both Gov. Jeb Bush and President George W. Bush. The governor made a one-line response to Jimenez's eMail, "Come by and visit with me on this."

In 2001 Bush persuaded Florida's Republican-heavy Legislature to change Askew's 30 year old system to let HIM appoint all nine members of each nominating commission. Later the law was changed to placate the Florida Bar by allowing the Bar to appoint four commissioners and the governor five. But the Bar must submit a list of three names to the governor for each recommended position, and he can reject any list. Thus, once again, the governor of Florida has total control of appointed judges. Not surprisingly, today nearly eight of every 10 commissioners are now Republican--"more than twice the party's share of the electorate."

Bush appointed his general counsel (and a former congressman) Charles Canady to the 2nd District Court of Appeal at Lakeland (the appeals court over Pinellas, Pasco and Hillsborough Counties). Bush has even appointed one of his staff members to a circuit judgeship.

In 2002 Gov. Bush appointed the following to the Sixth Circuit JNC: Cassandra D. Jackson, 42, of St. Petersburg, family development specialist, Family Service Centers; Sallie D. Skipper, 52, of New Port Richey, attorney, Law Offices of Skipper & Skipper, P.A.; and George E. Tragos, 52, of Clearwater, attorney, Law Office of George E. Tragos.

Related articles:


SPT 10-1-1999
SPT 5-1-2005
SPT 5-22-05
SPT 9-7-03


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