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DeSantis said to pre-select for Florida Supreme Court his once rejected choice: Renatha Francis

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Renatha Francis thanking Gov. Ron DeSantis for nominating her to the Florida Supreme Court on September 9, 2020 at a press conference in Miramar. Photo: You Tube

By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org

Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis has already been seen checking out the Florida Supreme Court’s underground parking garage by St. Augustine Street; she let it be known she wants a coveted spot near the elevator to the justices’ chambers.

Space in the exclusive, heavily fortified garage won’t be available until Aug. 31, when Justice Alan Lawson retires. But Francis can count on getting what she wants, according to a court insider who communicated with Florida Bulldog on condition of anonymity because the Lawson succession plan is top secret.

“There is talk here that [Gov. Ron] DeSantis told the justices he is going to name Judge Renatha Francis to replace Justice Lawson because now she meets the qualifications,” the insider said.

That is, she fulfilled the minimum requirement of practicing law for at least 10 years. Francis was licensed in September 2010.

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Outgoing Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson

Replacing Lawson with Francis, who is 45, would be an extraordinary move in several respects. She would be the first black Jamaican-American to join the court—a good optic for the swing voters DeSantis hopes to attract this election year.

When DeSantis replaces Lawson he’ll have a four-justice majority of his own appointees on the seven-member court. Much like the governor himself, his preferred jurists have been shaped by the Federalist Society, an arch-conservative legal influencer and kingmaker.

GOVERNOR JUMPS THE GUN AGAIN

DeSantis selected Francis, an active Federalist Society member, two years ago. Then the Supreme Court told him to pick someone else, saying he overstepped his bounds by trying to promote to its ranks a lawyer who hadn’t quite reached the 10-year mark.

Now DeSantis will get another chance.

The governor is supposed to wait for an independent judicial vetting process to run its course and produce a short list of recommended candidates. The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) sought applicants on May 11. Its role is to then conduct interviews and present three top contenders.

The governor may reject them all and consider three more names. But JNC rules do not contemplate the chief executive tagging the winning candidate before the commission even puts out a call for applications.

Yet DeSantis may well have done exactly that if he has informed the justices that Francis will replace Lawson.

LATEST MOVE IS ‘SO DESANTIS’

“It’s a sham,” said former Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer. “This is more evidence of the politicizing of the judicial branch that’s making people regard the courts as a mere extension of a fiercely partisan executive like DeSantis.

Bennett Brummer

“The same is true at the U.S. Supreme Court level, with Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate,” Brummer said. “Destroying our constitutional separation of powers attacks the structure that keeps us free.”

University of Miami law professor Michael Froomkin said he wasn’t surprised to hear from Florida Bulldog that DeSantis already made up his mind about his next Supreme Court appointment.

“It just seemed so DeSantis,” he explained in an email.

In 2020 DeSantis reacted defiantly when State Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, sued him for choosing Francis instead of a more experienced black applicant. The Supreme Court agreed with Thompson that putting Francis on the court would violate the state Constitution’s 10-year rule.

DeSantis responded by holding 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,” the Tampa Bay Times reported.

FRANCIS TOUTED FOR FEDERAL BENCH

Eventually the governor backed down. He announced in September 2020 that he was appointing Judge Jamie Grosshans of the Fifth District Court of Appeal to replace Justice Robert Luck, who went to the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

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.

DeSantis’s office did not respond to questions from Florida Bulldog. Neither did Francis. Court spokesman Paul Flemming wrote, “If Chief Justice [Charles] Canady has a comment, I will convey it to you.” No comment followed.

Francis would bring atypical credentials to the state’s most powerful court. While Justice John Couriel, her fellow appointee in 2020, graduated from Harvard’s college and law school, Francis would be the first justice from the low-ranked but expensive Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.

Courlel had been an assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted complex federal cases. In contrast Francis spent six years, the bulk of her pre-judicial career, as a staff attorney supporting the work of judges on the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

THIN CREDENTIALS BUT FEDERALIST TIES

But what Francis lacks in training and experience, she must make up for –- at least in DeSantis’s mind – with her Federalist Society pedigree and connections.

For several months before Gov. Rick Scott appointed her to the Miami-Dade County Court trial bench in 2017, Francis worked in Shutts & Bowen’s Miami office as an insurance defense lawyer. Shutts partner Daniel Nordby, a Federalist Society leader in Tallahassee, still chairs the Supreme Court JNC like he did in 2020, when the commission sent Francis’s name to DeSantis.

At the time, Florida Family Policy Council president John Stemberger used a Federalist Society buzzword to praise Francis in a blog. He called her “a ‘textualist’ in the tradition of Clarence Thomas.”

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Rep. Geraldine Thompson

Textualists such as U.S. Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Samuel Alito take a strict, literal approach to interpreting the law. They do not recognize the right to privacy, for example, because the word “privacy” doesn’t appear in the U.S. Constitution.

Last week Rep. Thompson said in an interview that Francis, a family and probate trial court judge, “remains the least qualified” of the seven African-American lawyers who applied to the Supreme Court JNC in 2020.

THOMPSON STILL SCORNS FRANCIS

Five of the other six are judges; they have from 11 to 26 more years practicing law than Francis. None, however, has any apparent ties to the Federalist Society.

In the two years since Francis’s Supreme Court detour, “she’s gotten a little bit more experience, but she’s also gotten a number of complaints with the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” Thompson said.

She said she saw three complaints—all confidential unless and until the JQC finds probable cause to file ethics charges. 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 she has not been formally accused of any misbehavior. Asked about Thompson’s allegation in an email, Francis did not respond.

Last week Thompson repeated what she said in 2020: DeSantis has better options for making the all-white Supreme Court more diverse without sacrificing excellence.

“The governor has yet 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 this appointment.”

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Comments

8 responses to “DeSantis said to pre-select for Florida Supreme Court his once rejected choice: Renatha Francis”

  1. Carl Buehler Avatar

    Turning a blind eye to QUALIFIED Supreme Court nominees again Governor Desantis demonstrates Justice is blind. With the official short list of nominees yet to be named by the official nominating committee, Desantis has already announced his pick, even if not on that list. No wonder Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Renatha Francis has confidently already let it be known she wants a coveted spot near the elevator to the justices’ chambers. As the only candidate with the support of the arch-conservative Federalists Society, that is the ONLY QUALIFICATION of merit in the eyes of Desantis. For all our Governor cares, it could be a dog the Federalist Society endorses, and when that dog barked the court deputy would have to take it out for a walk to go to the bathroom.

    Seriously, where is the oversight to Governor Desantis blindly appointing justices based on arch-conservative Federalists Society endorsement without regard to real judicial merit and experience?
    Are the courts an independent arbiter ruling on justice, or a political hammer of the Governor?

    Granted this article refers to the STATE Supreme Court, however the same principle of the role the US Supreme Court applies, as defined in the US Constitution:
    The Supreme Court has a special role to play in the United States system of government. The Constitution gives it the power to check, if necessary, the actions of the President and Congress. It (the Supreme Court) can tell a President that his actions are not allowed by the Constitution. It can tell Congress that a law it passed violated the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, no longer a law. It can also tell the government of a state that one of its laws breaks a rule in the Constitution. The Supreme Court is the final judge in all cases involving laws of Congress, and the highest law of all— the Constitution.
    The Supreme Court is like a referee on a football field. The Congress, the President, the state police, and other government officials are the players. Some can pass laws, and others can enforce the laws. But all exercise power within certain boundaries, set by the Constitution. As the “referee” in the U.S. system of government, it is THE SUPREME COURT’S JOB TO SAY WHEN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS STEP OUT-OF-BOUNDS.

    As a referee the court must be independent of political influence. Clearly Governor Desantis has turned a blind eye to that criteria, cutting a leg out from under Democracy.

  2. Lewis C Shigley Avatar
    Lewis C Shigley

    Don’t do it Governor DeSantis!

  3. steve shortland Avatar
    steve shortland

    Anything involving lawyers is political. The largest constituency in the Democrat Party is the Trial Lawyers cabal.
    Go pound sand.

  4. Margherita Downey Avatar
    Margherita Downey

    Thank you CARL BUEHLER for your comments. And also REP. THOMPSON who knows about this JUDGE — an immigrant from the Monarchy of Jamaica. “In the two years since Francis’s Supreme Court detour, “she’s gotten a little bit more experience, but she’s also gotten a number of complaints with the Judicial Qualifications Commission,” Thompson said. Judge Francis did not dispute this.

    In PALM BEACH COUNTY FAMILY Court, she REPEATEDLY DENIED CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS such as DUE PROCESS OF LAW and RIGHT TO A JURY TRIAL to a poor litigant. Is it right for a Judge to: NOT enforce Support payments; NOT enforce the Parenting Plan Timesharing of the minor Child; NOT enforce parents’ Marital Settlement Agreement contrary to long time Florida Contract law; GRANT 50% custody to a parent who never pled/asked for it and now the child has a two (2) hour daily School commute; to attend unnoticed EX PARTE Hearings; to refuse to SERVE over 15 Court ORDERs by MAIL to a Party though NOTICE is required by the Constitution and Florida Rules of Court??
    Is it right for a Judge to give the OATH to a LAWYER as a “FACT” Witness for his Client (a “Conflict of Interest”) and after witnessing their perjurious TESTIMONY, allow the Lawyer to remain as his Client’s ‘advocate’ though forbidden by Bar Rules? Is it right for a Judge to then STRIKE her own PBSO served Witness SUBPOENA (4.29.22) by entering an ORDER in CASE #2007DR008773? Details on failure to follow LEGAL PRECEDENT are documented in KNOWN Cases 2021 Cases: PALM BEACH County Cases #2018 DR007981; CASE #2007DR008773 and from the 4th District Court of Appeal Cases #4D21-1772; #4D21-1128; #4D21-1402; #4D21-1303 (vacated Sanctions Order in-Part); #4D21-2551; #4D21-2678 (Jury Trial); #4D21-3299 (8 Court Orders not properly served and some Ex parte); 4D21-3549.
    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” John Stuart Mill. Again, thank you to Mr. Buehler and Rep. Thompson for speaking up.

  5. Michael Durham Avatar
    Michael Durham

    If a candidate is not a textualist, how is that person qualified? Is the US Constitution (or any constitution for that matter), a living document that can be interpreted by the whims of whoever is in charge? Nay.

    A Harvard Law graduate, or anyone with vastly more years of experience, is unqualified if they approach law subjectively by abandoning what the original intent of terms mean. Chaos reigns because logic fails when terms cannot be agreed on.

    Noreen Marcus is disingenuous how she framed the “right of privacy” argument, by ignoring the basic belief of textualists: the US Constitution doesn’t grant rights, it constrains government. If a document is required to have privacy in your own home…..my we have fallen into to utter stupidity not understanding inalienable rights.

    “the Constitution wasn’t written as a vehicle to grant us rights. We don’t derive our rights from the Constitution. Rather, in the minds of the Founders, human rights are inalienable — inseparable — from humans themselves. We are born with rights by simple fact of existence, as defined by John Locke and written by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the Founders wrote. Humans are “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights….” These rights are clear and obvious, the Founders repeatedly said. They belong to us from birth, as opposed to something the Constitution must hand to us, and are more ancient than any government.”

    https://www.spiritofchange.org/cultural-crossroads-clarence-thomas-and-our-right-to-privacy/

    Get your facts straight.

  6. ‘…a good optic for the swing voters…’ good luck with that.
    Don’t think he’ll get a second term.

  7. […] said, Francis is confident enough of an appointment, according to reporting by The Florida Bulldog, an investigative news site, that she has already been seen in the high […]

  8. Edward Alan Crespo Avatar
    Edward Alan Crespo

    WAIT A MINUTE!!! You’re all OVERLOOKING the most glaring question of all: HOW did this woman become a Judge in the FIRST PLACE??? She WASN’T EVEN ADMITTED to the Fla. Bar until LATE 2010, yet she’s been a Family Court Judge for at least two years??? She would have BARELY been out of the YOUNG LAWYERS DIVISION when she became a Judge!!! How the HELL did THAT happen??? Her first nomination by DeSantis for the SC was REJECTED because she DIDN’T have 10 years time in the Florida Bar! Now she DOES and she’s already looking at the HIGHEST court in the state!!! A NEW SPEED RECORD!!! Something STINKS about this whole situation and it’s NOT just the fact that she lied on her application! A lawyer…ANY lawyer, is supposed to have MANY YEARS of experience practicing the law before becoming a member of the judiciary. But NOT Francis!!! As both a Young Lawyers Division “green horn” lawyer AND a Family Court Judge, she has NO EXPERIENCE handling the BIG cases – like the DEATH PENALTY cases which are ALWAYS the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction! What happens when, due to her LACK of experience, she helps send an innocent man to the gas chamber, or to life in prison without the possibility of parole??? Then finds out later on that she made a “mistake?” Before anything else, a THOROUGH INVESTIGATION should be conducted to determine HOW she became a Family Court Judge so quickly! SOMEBODY is “pulling strings.”

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