Florida Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, en route to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, received a friendly vetting Wednesday by a Senate committee.
President Donald Trump tapped the two Florida justices for the Atlanta appeals court just months after Gov. Ron DeSantis named them to serve on the Sunshine State’s highest court.
“Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert J. Luck faced little pushback from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee during their nomination hearing Wednesday morning, as they fielded questions about “judicial activism” and how they would approach precedent as members of the federal judiciary,” The National Law Journal reported Wednesday.
If Lagoa and Luck get the go-ahead to join the appellate court, as is widely anticipated, DeSantis will have the opportunity to appoint two new state court justices to take their place.
That would put the governor in the rare position of appointing five Florida Supreme Court justices in his first term as the state’s chief executive.
The Judicial Nominating Commission is responsible for delivering a list of names to the governor to fill the vacancies.
But that process won’t kick in until Luck and Lagoa officially leave the bench after being confirmed by the Senate, a process which could drag on until December.
Once the vacancies occur, the JNC has 60 days to give a list of possible replacements to the governor and DeSantis will have an additional 60 days to make his choices.
There’s been lots of reaction to the 5-2 decision from the Florida Supreme Court today backing up Gov. Rick Scott in his decision to strip 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala of death penalty cases.
Here’s a sample:
“Today’s ruling is a great victory for the many victims and families whose lives have been forever changed by ruthless, evil acts of crime. I absolutely disagreed with State Attorney Ayala’s shortsighted decision to not fight for justice. That’s why I’ve used my executive authority to reassign nearly 30 cases to State Attorney Brad King. These horrific cases include Markeith Loyd, an accused cop killer who murdered his pregnant ex-girlfriend and Orlando Police Department Lt. Debra Clayton; Everett Glenn Miller, another alleged cop killer who is accused of ambushing and murdering two Kissimmee Police Officers, Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard; and Callene Marcia Barton and Lakesha Chantell Lewis, who are accused of killing a helpless toddler.
Crimes like these are pure evil and deserve the absolute full consideration of punishment – something that State Attorney Ayala completely ruled out. She unilaterally decided to not stand on the side of victims and their families, which is completely sickening. In Florida, we hold criminals fully accountable for the crimes they commit – especially those that attack our law enforcement community and innocent children.” — Gov. Rick Scott
“I respect the decision and appreciate that the Supreme Court of Florida has responded and provided clarification.
The Supreme Court of Florida ruled today that a case-specific determination must be made on first degree murder cases. To ensure today’s Court’s decision is heeded, I have organized a Death Penalty Review Panel comprised of 7 well-versed and experienced Assistant State Attorneys. This panel will evaluate each first-degree murder case in the 9th Judicial Circuit.
With implementation of this Panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly.” — State Attorney Aramis Ayala
“Today’s Florida Supreme Court decision is a tremendous victory for victims and their loved ones. As my Solicitor General argued, the Governor has every right to reassign these cases to prosecutors who will uphold the laws of our great state. This year, we have seen the brutal murders of law enforcement officers in State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s circuit, and her unconscionable decision to never seek the death penalty will not be tolerated. The governor and I will continue to do all we can to protect our citizens.” — Attorney General Pam Bondi
“Today is a victory for victims and their families, and I congratulate the Florida Supreme Court for such an unequivocal stand for the rule of law. I also commend Governor Scott for his courageous action in this case. The people of the state of Florida support the death penalty as a punishment for the most evil among us and those sworn to uphold the law and enforce the law need to remember that the people have spoken. I hope this message resonates loud and clear with all government officials who think they have the power to ignore or override the will of the people. When it comes to the most evil among us the people demand justice and today they got it.” — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes.
“The decision by the Florida Supreme Court reaffirmed what the Governor and many members of the Legislature already knew – no State Attorney is above the law. State Attorney Aramis Ayala’s blanket refusal to seek the death penalty, even in the most heinous cases, including the cold-blooded murder of police officers, showcases a basic lack of understanding of the Florida Constitution.
“With the Governor’s authority to reassign cases no longer impeded by court challenges, victims and their families can have certainty in knowing that Governor Scott and State Attorney’s from around Florida will pursue every avenue to bring justice to those who’ve committed these horrific crimes.” — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor.
“This is a deeply disappointing decision. Florida law gives independently elected State Attorneys broad discretion to determine how best to seek justice in the cases they are responsible for prosecuting. Florida State Attorneys answer to the voters they represent, not to the governor.
Governor Scott’s intervention in State Attorney Ayala’s cases dangerously undermines the independence of our state’s prosecutors, and the Supreme Court’s regrettable decision today opens the door to further politicizing of our justice system.“ — ACLU of Florida Deputy Director Melba Pearson.
“Today, the Supreme Court affirmed that Governor Scott acted in the best interests of Floridians in reassigning more than 30 death penalty cases from State Attorney Ayala in the Ninth Judicial Circuit to Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. As a representative of the law, Ayala was not serving to the best of her ability when she announced she would not consider the death penalty in any of those cases.
We thank Governor Scott for his continued support of law enforcement in this great state, and his desire to ensure justice is served without bias or prejudice. The Sheriffs of Florida will continue to be guardians of the law and protectors of every Florida resident.” — Florida Sheriffs Association
“This ruling is certainly a victory for victims of crime and their families, especially for the colleagues, families and friends of fallen law enforcement officers. The Florida Police Chiefs Association feels very strongly that when an officer is harmed or killed, every sentencing option should be on the table. We appreciate that the Court has affirmed this and we are very grateful for Governor Scott’s leadership on this issue.” — Miami Shores Police Chief Kevin Lystad, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.
The state’s high court is warning of “several widespread email and phone scams” where tricksters tell targets they have to pay money to avoid going to a Florida court to face charges.
The scams appear to target individuals with limited English-language skills, the elderly, health-care workers, or relatives of people who recently died, according to a press release issued by the Florida Supreme Court this morning.
Courts don’t work that way, SCOFLA spokesman Craig Waters said in the press release.
“People can avoid being victimized with a little foreknowledge. Most importantly, state courts in Florida do not make initial contact by email or by phone to tell people to appear before a judge or to pay money. You normally would be told in person or by regular-delivery mail,” Waters wrote.
The alert also details the different kinds of scams reported thus far:
- One scam sends emails saying that the recipient – often a health-care worker – is a defendant in a “Court of Appeals” case about a “Health Care Service Violation.” In reality, no Florida state court would ever make its initial contact with any “defendant” by email.
- A separate telephone scam targets Spanish speakers in Southeast Florida, especially Dade and Broward Counties. It often displays a fake caller ID phone number that spoofs the actual phone number of the Florida Supreme Court clerk’s office. Usually the caller tells the intended victims they must pay money or make a wire transfer to avoid being charged with offenses like kidnapping, child pornography or human trafficking.
- A third scam targets the family or heirs of people who recently died, claiming that someone else owes money to the deceased person’s estate. Usually the scam occurs by asking the family or heirs to pay an upfront “tax” or some other fee in order to receive payment. At least one email scam of this type included the bogus signature of a Florida judge.
- A fourth scam widespread throughout the United States can come by phone or email and relates to jury duty. Usually it falsely claims that the person must pay a fine for missing jury duty or must disclose sensitive personal information like a Social Security number that can be used in identity theft.
The court cautions anyone receiving similar emails or phone calls not to give out their personal information, and to contact law enforcement or the attorney general’s office.
Waters also advised individuals who want to check out such suspicious email or phone calls to forward them to the Florida Supreme Court at firstname.lastname@example.org.