Fill-In Judge Named in Fight Over Appeals Court Candidates

TALLAHASSEE — A South Florida appellate judge will temporarily join the Florida Supreme Court to consider two cases challenging the eligibility of candidates to become judges on revamped state appeals courts.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Muniz on Monday appointed Ivan Fernandez, chief judge of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, to take part after Justice Jamie Grosshans recused herself from the cases and Justices Charles Canady and John Couriel drew objections to their participation.

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The seven-member Supreme Court’s rules require five justices to create quorums to consider cases. If five justices are not available, a temporary associate justice, such as Fernandez, is appointed.

Monday’s appointment was the latest twist in challenges to six candidates seeking to be appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the 5th District Court of Appeal and a newly created 6th District Court of Appeal. The challenges, filed Nov. 17 at the Supreme Court, contend the candidates are ineligible because they live outside the jurisdictions of the appeals courts.

Judicial nominating commissions reviewed applicants and sent lists of candidates to DeSantis for consideration.

Grosshans recused herself from the cases because her husband, Josh, is a member of the 6th District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission, a court filing Monday said.

Meanwhile, attorneys who filed the challenges objected to Canady and Couriel participating because the justices served as references for candidates.

Couriel was a reference for state Rep. Mike Beltran, a Lithia Republican seeking to be appointed to the 6th District Court of Appeal. Canady was a reference for Danielle Brewer, a judge in the 12th Judicial Circuit, and Michael T. McHugh, a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit, both of whom also are seeking appointments to the 6th District Court of Appeal.

The Legislature this year approved a plan (HB 7027) that added the 6th District Court of Appeal and revised the jurisdictions of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the 5th District Court of Appeal. The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, with DeSantis appointing judges to fill vacant positions.

In one of the challenges, attorneys for state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, contend that four of 18 candidates, including Beltran and Brewer, are not eligible for appointment to the 6th District Court of Appeal because they do not live within its jurisdiction. Thompson also is challenging the eligibility of Leon County Circuit Judge Stephen Everett and Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Jared Smith.

The 6th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Polk County, will hear cases from the 9th, 10th and 20th judicial circuits — an area that includes Orange, Osceola, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

The other case, filed by attorneys for Volusia County resident Whitney Boan, contends that two of 15 candidates for seats on the 5th District Court of Appeal are not eligible. Those candidates are Florida Gaming Control Commission Chairman John MacIver, a Leon County resident, and Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Kilbane.

The redrawn 5th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Volusia County, will hear cases from the 4th, 5th, 7th and 18th judicial circuits — an area that includes Duval, Nassau, Clay, Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Sumter, St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties.

The judicial nominating commissions for the two appeals courts face a Dec. 6 deadline for filing responses in the cases.
Fernandez has served on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, since 2011.


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