A former appellate judge asked the Florida Supreme Court on Monday to order Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint his replacement from a list of six nominees even though none is black.
Retired 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Robert J. Pleus Jr. said he felt he had no alternative because Crist has refused to name a successor after a nominating commission rejected the governor's demand for a slate including black nominees.
The appellate court in Daytona Beach has no full-time black judges. Crist has stressed diversity in recent court appointments and named Hispanic and black justices to fill the past two vacancies on the Supreme Court.
The 5th District appointment should have been made by Jan. 5, from the six names already submitted, Pleus said.
After repeated efforts to get movement from the governor's office, I
have now determined that we must assure compliance with the
constitution," Pleus said in a statement.
The Florida Constitution states that the governor shall make an appointment within 60 days after getting a certified list of three to six nominations.
That leaves Crist no choice, said Pleus's lawyer, Florida State University President-emeritus Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte.
"I want to review the pleading before making a determination," Crist
said in Miami. "I guess we're in a bit of a standoff ... The issue for
me is pretty straightforward. Diversity is very important to me."
Crist commented after touring the set of the television show "Burn Notice," which is filmed in Miami's Coconut Grove neighborhood.
The governor in December asked the 5th District Court of Appeal
Nominating Commission to send him a new list, writing that "at least
three well-qualified African-Americans" had applied. But the panel
resubmitted the same nominees - four men and two women but none black.
Commission chairman James H. Fallace, a Melbourne lawyer, wrote Crist that those six are the most qualified candidates.
Crist has suggested he may wait until he can replace some of the nominating commissioners when their terms expire.
"I applaud the governor for seeking diversity," said D'Alemberte, a former American Bar Association president.
Crist, though, should have asked the Supreme Court for an advisory
opinion on whether he has the authority to leave the position vacant,
D'Alemberte said. He said if the governor should seek such an opinion,
Pleus would put his request on hold.
"We just want to see some movement," D'Alemberte said. "Judge Pleus is not angry at the governor."
Pleus, though, last week wrote in a letter to Crist that his failure
to name a replacement "is adversely impacting the court" and justice.
He noted that in a recent stint back on the appellate court as a senior
judge he ruled on 12 criminal cases that had languished since January
while awaiting his successor.
If any of those rulings had resulted in a reversal of conviction,
"your delay would have inflicted a grave injustice," Pleus wrote.