DeSantis Rescues Florida Judge Who was in Hot Water over Abortion Ruling

Governor Ron DeSantis appointed scorned Hillsborough Circuit Judge Jared Smith to the recently created 6th District Court of Appeal on Thursday.

The newly created circuit produced three vacancies, one of which DeSantis filled with Smith. The new court will be based in Lakeland, and Smith’s appointment will take effect on January 1st.

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Before becoming a judge, Smith was a partner in the firm of Rumberger, Kirk, and Caldwell and a captain in the U.S. Air Force. Smith was appointed as a Hillsborough County judge by former Gov. Rick Scott in 2017. DeSantis elevated him to the circuit level in 2019.

He lost re-election to Hillsborough Circuit in August to Tampa Attorney Nancy Jacobs after a controversial decision in an abortion case put a target on his back for abortion advocates.

Smith had ruled that a 17-year-old girl seeking an abortion without parental consent did not demonstrate the maturity, intelligence, and other qualities necessary to make the decision and denied her request for a judicial waiver. A court of appeals overturned Smith’s finding and, in a 2-1 ruling, a three-judge panel decided that Smith somehow abused his judicial discretion.

While judicial races are supposed to be non-partisan, Smith’s race against Jacobs had a political element, with Jacobs being backed by abortion advocates. Jacobs ran for judicial vacancies twice before but won on this third attempt by defeating Smith 52-48 percent in the election. It is rare for a sitting judge to lose re-election.

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Shortly after losing, Smith applied through a Judicial Nominating Commission to be on the new appeals court, which was created in June and will include nine judges who will hear appeals from the trial courts in 10 counties in Central and Southwest Florida, but not Hillsborough. Smith was one of 33 applicants to the vacancies and one of 18 finalists, one of whom was Republican State, Rep. Mike Beltran.

But Smith hit another speed bump; Democrat State Rep. Geraldine Thompson filed a challenge in the Florida Supreme Court. She claimed Smith, Beltran, and two other nominees were ineligible to serve because they did not live in the new district.

Her arguments were rejected last week as a news release from the governor’s office announcing Smith’s appointment Tuesday states that he’s a resident of Lakeland after previously residing in Lutz.

DeSantis has been active in his appointments to bureaucratic positions, presumably to clean out the swamp. Apart from his success in school board position endorsements, this is his 19th DCA judicial appointee.

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