Democrats oppose politics in judiciary

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Rod Smith, a former state attorney who prosecuted Gainesville serial killer Danny Rollings in 1994, said Wednesday he will personally speak out against “politicization” of the judiciary — every chance he gets.

Smith, an ex-state senator from Gainesville, said the Florida GOP executive committee “made a dreadful decision” in voting unanimously to oppose retention of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente.

The Republican leadership cited a gruesome Tallahassee murder case, in which the state court ordered a new trial — but was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, as evidence of “judicial activism” by the three jurists.

Talking with Tallahassee reporters, Smith said for the Democratic Party to take a position on judicial retention would amount to doing the same thing he criticized the GOP for doing — injecting politics into non-partisan judicial races.

But as an individual citizen and lawyer, Smith said he had no qualms about endorsing the three justices for new terms on the high court.

“As a party, we will not take a position,” he said. “As a citizen, I will take a position every chance I get to speak out against politicizing the judiciary. That’s a mistake we ought not make.”

Florida appellate justices are appointed by governors and do not run against opponents. Every six years, Supreme Court members are up for a yes-or-no vote on their retention in office. No justice or District Court of Appeal judge has ever been turned out, but a vigorous campaign to oust Lewis, Quince and Pariente has been mounted this year by conservative organizations.

“I have left the courtroom plenty of times in my life, both happy and unhappy with a decision,” Smith said of his days as a prosecutor. “Our system depends on someone to call balls and strikes.”

Photo credits: © 2012 Historic City News archive photograph by Ana Goni-Lessan

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