DeSantis said the Florida Supreme Court shortlist once turned down Renatha Francis
By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis has already been spotted inspecting the Florida Supreme Court’s underground parking garage on St. Augustine Street; She let it be known that she would like a coveted spot near the elevator to the judges’ chambers.
Space in the exclusive heavily fortified garage will not be available until August 31st when Judge Alan Lawson retires. But Francis can rest assured she’ll get what she wants, according to a court insider she’s been in touch with Florida bulldog on condition of anonymity as the Lawson succession plan is top secret.
“That’s what we’re talking about here [Gov. Ron] DeSantis told the judges he will be appointing Judge Renatha Francis to replace Judge Lawson because she now qualifies,” the insider said.
This means that she met the minimum requirements for at least 10 years of practice as a lawyer. Francis was licensed in September 2010.
Replacing Lawson with 45-year-old Francis would be an extraordinary move in more ways than one. She would be the first black Jamaican-American to join the court — good optics for the swing voters DeSantis hopes to attract this election year.
If DeSantis replaces Lawson, he will have a four-judge majority of his own appointments in the seven-member court. Much like the governor himself, his favorite lawyers were shaped by the Federalist Society, an arch-conservative right-wing influence and kingmaker.
GOVERNOR JUMPS THE RIFLE AGAIN
DeSantis selected Francis, an active member of the Federalist Society, two years ago. Then the Supreme Court asked him to pick someone else, saying he overstepped his bounds in trying to promote to its ranks an attorney who hadn’t quite reached the 10-year mark.
Now DeSantis gets another chance.
The governor is to wait until an independent judicial review process has run its course and a short list of recommended candidates has been drawn up. Florida Supreme Court Nominating Commission (JNC) wanted applicants on 11. His job is to then conduct interviews and present three top candidates.
The governor can reject them all and consider three other names. But JNC rules do not require the chief executive to mark the winning candidate before the commission even issues a call for applications.
Yet DeSantis may have done just that when he told the judges that Francis would replace Lawson.
THE LATEST STEP IS ‘SO DESANTIS’
“It’s a sham,” said former Miami-Dade public defender Bennett Brummer. “This is further evidence of the politicization of the judiciary, leading people to view the courts as mere extensions of a highly partisan executive branch like DeSantis.
“The same is true at the US Supreme Court level, with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate,” Brummer said. “The destruction of our constitutional separation of powers attacks the structure that keeps us free.”
Michael Froomkin, a law professor at the University of Miami, said he wasn’t surprised to hear from him Florida bulldog that DeSantis has already made a decision on his next Supreme Court nomination.
“It just seemed like DeSantis,” he explained in an email.
In 2020, DeSantis reacted defiantly when State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, sued him for selecting Francis over a more experienced black applicant. The Supreme Court agreed with Thompson that bringing Francis’ indictment in court would violate the state constitution’s 10-year rule.
DeSantis responded with 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 community.” Tampa Bay Times reported.
FRANCIS RECOMMENDED FOR BUNDESBANK
Finally the governor relented. He announced in September 2020 that he would be appointing Judge Jamie Grosshans of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to succeed Judge Robert Luck, who went to the Atlanta Circuit Court of Appeals.
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.
The DeSantis office did not respond to questions from Florida bulldog. Neither does Franz. Court spokesman Paul Flemming wrote: “If Chief Justice [Charles] Canady has a comment, I’ll forward it to you.” No comment followed.
Francis would present atypical testimonies to the most powerful court in the state. While Judge John Curiel, her 2020 colleague, was graduating from Harvard College and Law School, Francis would be the first judge at the low-ranking but expensive Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.
Courel had been an assistant US attorney prosecuting complex federal cases. In contrast, Francis spent six years, most of her pre-trial career, as a clerk assisting the work of judges on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.
THIN REQUIREMENTS BUT FEDERAL BINDINGS
But what Francis lacks in education and experience, she has to make up for — at least in DeSantis’ view — with her pedigree and ties to the Federal Society.
Before Governor Rick Scott appointed her to the trial bench of Miami-Dade County Court in 2017, Francis worked in Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office for several months as an insurance defense attorney. Shutt’s partner Daniel Nordby, a leader of the Federalist Society in Tallahassee, is still chairman of the Supreme Court’s JNC, as he was in 2020 when the commission sent Francis’ name to DeSantis.
At the time, Florida Family Policy Council President John Stemberger used a Federalist Society buzzword to blog about Francis. He called her “a ‘textualist’ in the tradition of Clarence Thomas”.
Textual scholars, such as US Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Samuel Alito, take a strict, literal approach to interpreting the law. For example, they do not recognize the right to privacy because the word “privacy” does not appear in the US Constitution.
Last week, Rep. Thompson said in an interview that Francis, a family and probate judge, “remains the least qualified” of the seven African-American attorneys who applied to the JNC Supreme Court in 2020.
THOMPSON STILL DESPERATES FRANCIS
Five of the other six are judges; You have 11 to 26 more years of legal practice than Francis. However, none have obvious ties to the Federalist Society.
In the two years since Francis’ detour through the Supreme Court, “she’s gained a little more experience, but she’s also received a number of complaints to the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” Thompson said.
She said she’s seen three complaints – all confidential unless the JQC finds probable cause for filing ethics claims. 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 no wrongdoing has been officially charged against her. When asked about Thompson’s allegation in an email, Francis did not respond.
Last week, Thompson reiterated what she said in 2020: DeSantis has better opportunities to diversify the all-white Supreme Court without sacrificing excellence.
“The governor has another opportunity to appoint a highly qualified African American to the Florida Supreme Court from among those who applied in 2020,” Thompson said, “and I hope he will seek quality in that appointment.”