DeSantis Said To Pre-Select For Florida Supreme Court His Once Rejected Choice: Renatha Francis


Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis has already been seen trying out the Florida Supreme Court’s underground parking storage by St. Augustine Street; she let or not it’s recognized she needs a coveted spot close to the elevator to the justices’ chambers.

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Space within the unique, closely fortified storage will not be accessible till Aug. 31, when Justice Alan Lawson retires. But Francis can depend on getting what she needs, based on a courtroom insider who communicated with Florida Bulldog on situation of anonymity as a result of the Lawson succession plan is prime secret.

“There is talk here that [Gov. Ron] DeSantis told the justices he is going to name Judge Renatha Francis to replace Justice Lawson because now she meets the qualifications,” the insider mentioned.

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That is, she fulfilled the minimal requirement of training regulation for at the least 10 years. Francis was licensed in September 2010.

Replacing Lawson with Francis, who’s 45, can be a unprecedented transfer in a number of respects. She can be the primary black Jamaican-American to hitch the courtroom—a very good optic for the swing voters DeSantis hopes to draw this election year.

When DeSantis replaces Lawson he’ll have a four-justice majority of his personal appointees on the seven-member courtroom. Much just like the governor himself, his most popular jurists have been formed by the Federalist Society, an arch-conservative authorized influencer and kingmaker.

DeSantis chosen Francis, an energetic Federalist Society member, two years in the past. Then the Supreme Court advised him to select another person, saying he overstepped his bounds by making an attempt to advertise to its ranks a lawyer who hadn’t fairly reached the 10-year mark.

Now DeSantis will get one other likelihood.

The governor is meant to attend for an impartial judicial vetting course of to run its course and produce a brief checklist of really useful candidates. The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) sought applicants on May 11. Its position is to then conduct interviews and current three prime contenders.

The governor could reject all of them and contemplate three extra names. But JNC guidelines don’t ponder the chief govt tagging the profitable candidate earlier than the fee even places out a name for functions.

Yet DeSantis could nicely have executed precisely that if he has knowledgeable the justices that Francis will change Lawson.

“It’s a sham,” mentioned former Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer. “This is more evidence of the politicizing of the judicial branch that’s making people regard the courts as a mere extension of a fiercely partisan executive like DeSantis.

“The similar is true on the U.S. Supreme Court stage, with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans within the Senate,” Brummer said. “Destroying our constitutional separation of powers assaults the structure that retains us free.”

University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin said he wasn’t surprised to hear from Florida Bulldog that DeSantis already made up his mind about his next Supreme Court appointment.

“It simply appeared so DeSantis,” he explained in an email.

In 2020 DeSantis reacted defiantly when State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, sued him for choosing Francis instead of a more experienced black applicant. The Supreme Court agreed with Thompson that putting Francis on the court would violate the state Constitution’s 10-year rule.

DeSantis responded by holding a press conference in Miramar, which has a large Caribbean population. Surrounded by local black leaders, he called Thompson’s lawsuit “an insult to the Jamaican-American group,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

Eventually the governor backed down. He announced in September 2020 that he was appointing Judge Jamie Grosshans of the Fifth District Court of Appeal to replace Justice Robert Luck, who went to the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

At the same time, DeSantis announced that then-President Donald Trump was “receptive” to the idea of nominating Francis for a federal judgeship. It never happened.

DeSantis’s office did not respond to questions from Florida Bulldog. Neither did Francis. Court spokesman Paul Flemming wrote, “If Chief Justice [Charles] Canady has a remark, I’ll convey it to you.” No comment followed.

Francis would bring atypical credentials to the state’s most powerful court. While Justice John Couriel, her fellow appointee in 2020, graduated from Harvard’s college and law school, Francis would be the first justice from the low-ranked but expensive Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.

Courlel had been an assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted complex federal cases. In contrast Francis spent six years, the bulk of her pre-judicial career, as a staff attorney supporting the work of judges on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

But what Francis lacks in training and experience, she must make up for –- at least in DeSantis’s mind – with her Federalist Society pedigree and connections.

For several months before Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the Miami-Dade County Court trial bench in 2017, Francis worked in Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office as an insurance defense lawyer. Shutts partner Daniel Nordby, a Federalist Society leader in Tallahassee, still chairs the Supreme Court JNC like he did in 2020, when the commission sent Francis’s name to DeSantis.

At the time, Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger used a Federalist Society buzzword to praise Francis in a blog. He called her “a ‘textualist’ within the custom of Clarence Thomas.”

Textualists such as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Samuel Alito take a strict, literal approach to interpreting the law. They do not recognize the right to privacy, for example, because the word “privateness” doesn’t appear in the U.S. Constitution.

Last week Rep. Thompson said in an interview that Francis, a family and probate trial court judge, “stays the least certified” of the seven African-American lawyers who applied to the Supreme Court JNC in 2020.

Five of the other six are judges; they have from 11 to 26 more years practicing law than Francis. None, however, has any apparent ties to the Federalist Society.

In the two years since Francis’s Supreme Court detour, “she’s gotten somewhat bit extra expertise, however she’s additionally gotten quite a lot of complaints with the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” Thompson said.

She said she saw three complaints—all confidential unless and until the JQC finds probable cause to file ethics charges. The JQC reviews complaints against state judges and makes disciplinary recommendations, but the Florida Supreme Court is the final arbiter.

No complaint against Francis has surfaced publicly, so she has not been formally accused of any misbehavior. Asked about Thompson’s allegation in an email, Francis did not respond.

Last week Thompson repeated what she said in 2020: DeSantis has better options for making the all-white Supreme Court more diverse without sacrificing excellence.

“The governor has yet one more alternative to nominate a extremely certified African-American to the Florida Supreme Court from amongst those that utilized in 2020,” Thompson said, “and I hope he’ll search high quality on this appointment.”

Florida Bulldog is an independent, nonpartisan, not-for-profit news site providing free authoritative local and regional watchdog reporting in the public interest. Outlier covering 9/11. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. You can support Florida Bulldog here.

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