Gov. DeSantis asks FL Supreme Court to stand pat in allowing Renatha Francis to take the bench

Florida Supreme Court. Photo: Colin Hackley

Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis have asked the Florida Supreme Court to reject a state lawmaker’s petition to reconsider its refusal to block Renatha Francis from joining the court because she hasn’t belonged to The Florida Bar for 10 years and therefore isn’t qualified.

In arguments filed Friday, the governor’s lawyers argued that the court has already ruled against Orange County Democrat Geraldine Thompson on the merits and should not take up the matter again.

“Petitioner’s efforts amount to no more than an impermissible attempt at a second bite of the apple,” the legal pleading says.

“[S]he does not state any point of law or fact that the court overlooked or misapprehended in denying her petition. Nor can she. And she alleges no judicial oversight, error, or defect that denied her a fair decision on the merits.”

The court ruled on Aug. 27 that DeSantis abused his authority in May when he appointed Francis, a Jamaican immigrant who now sits on a trial court in Palm Beach County, on the ground that she hasn’t been licensed to practice law through the Bar for the constitutionally mandated 10 years.

She is set to take her seat on Sept. 24, when she will have met the requirement. She would become the only Black justice on the seven-member court.

However, the court ruled that the remedy Thompson requested — ordering the judicial nominating commission that recommended Francis to reconvene and come up with a new list of potential justices — would be improper.

The court said it might have ordered DeSantis to select a different justice from the list the commission sent to DeSantis earlier this year, but because Thompson didn’t ask for that remedy it would not provide it.

On Sept. 1, Thompson asked the court either to rehear the case or do what the court had refused to do and order the governor to pick a new justice from that list.

Neither move would be appropriate, the governor’s lawyers argued in their new pleading. Indeed, they contended, Thompson had argued earlier that picking a name from the old list would be improper.

“She suggests no point of law or fact that the court overlooked or misapprehended in its decision. She does not contend the court erred at all,” they write.

“Courts have discretion to allow for amended pleadings in the interest of justice, but such grants are generally provided prior to final decisions on the merits,” the brief continues.

“Amendment should not permit parties to relitigate substantive issues the court already weighed and decided. Indeed, a review of case law reveals that parties have never been granted opportunities to fundamentally amend remedies on re-hearing to overturn the final, considered verdicts of this court.”

Although she hasn’t mentioned it in legal pleadings, Thompson has criticized the governor for turning for judicial appointments to the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a conservative-to-libertarian organization that promotes so-called “textualist” or “originalist” judicial philosophies as opposed to purportedly legislating from the bench.

Doing so, Thompson has argued, amounts to an improper litmus test for judges.