TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida Gov. Rick Scott nearly got a chance to replace three veteran state Supreme Court justices.
That's because Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince almost missed the noon Friday deadline in order to qualify for the ballot this year.
The seven-member court abruptly put a court hearing on redistricting on hold for more than an hour in order to allow the justices to finish their paperwork and turn it into state elections officials.
When asked it about on Friday, a court spokesman said that a personal matter had come up unexpectedly.
Dan Stengle, a lawyer working on behalf of the campaigns of the three justices, acknowledged Monday that it was discovered at the last minute that certain forms had not been turned in due to an “oversight'' by the campaign treasurer.
State election records show that the justices turned in their forms with minutes to spare. Pariente's candidate oath form, for example, was filed just six minutes before the deadline.
“It was a little nip and tuck,'' Stengle said. “All's well that ends well.''
In Florida appeals judges and supreme court justices are appointed by the governor.
But instead of running for re-election, they are subject to an up or down or merit retention vote every six years. If the justices had failed to file their paperwork, Scott would have appointed new justices.
Lewis and Pariente were appointed by the late Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat. Chiles and incoming Gov. Jeb Bush agreed to appoint Quince jointly.
The three justices are expected to be the target of a fairly active campaign calling for their defeat since they have taken part in rulings that have been sharply criticized by Republican politicians.
Pariente recently was the lead author of a decision to strike down a state Senate redistricting plan that forced the Legislature to hold a special session to redo the plan.
Back in 2010, the state Supreme Court removed from the ballot three constitutional amendments pushed by the GOP-controlled Legislature including a “health care freedom'' amendment that would make it illegal in Florida to have a health insurance mandate. Legislators in 2011 reworked the amendment and placed it on this year's ballot.
House Speaker Dean Cannon responded to the court decisions by pushing his own overhaul of the state courts that will require future state Supreme Court justices to be confirmed by the state Senate. Voters will vote on Amendment 5 this November.
Scott himself has sharply criticized the high court especially over a ruling that stated Scott went too far when he ordered state agencies to freeze rulemaking and instead allow the governor to review and approve rules first. Legislators passed a bill this year that makes it clear Scott has power over state agency heads who report to him.