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DeSantis ignores inconvenient facts to appoint Judge Renatha Francis to Florida Supreme Court

judge renatha francis
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis, right, declaring herself the ‘epitome of the American dream’ at a press conference Friday after Gov. Ron DeSantis announced her elevation to the Florida Supreme Court. Joining her are her husband, Phillip Fender, her mother, Hyacinth Francis and her children. Photo: WPBF

By Noreen Marcus, FloridaBulldog.org

Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Palm Beach Circuit Judge Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court Friday, ignoring documented incidents that call into question her fitness to serve on the state’s most powerful tribunal.

As of Sept. 1, Francis, 45, will be the first Jamaican-American on the Tallahassee court. With her appointment, DeSantis will have named a majority of the seven justices, all but one of whom are far-right conservatives. She replaces Justice Alan Lawson, who will retire on Aug. 31.

The court is the final stop for some of the most significant issues decided by the state judiciary, among them constitutional matters and death penalty cases. The justices will eventually review, and are expected to approve, the Florida Legislature’s latest abortion ban.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead recently wrote an opinion piece for the Tallahassee Democrat in which he implied that adding Francis to the court would be an “embarrassment” because she lacks experience. He could not be reached Friday for comment. 

Retired Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead

Florida Bulldog reported on May 18 that DeSantis pre-selected Francis for the Lawson opening even before the formal vetting process began. He previously chose her for the court in 2020 but said Friday he closely reviewed her background again before making his decision.

“I believe that this appointment of Judge Francis is one that will really reinvigorate and fortify our judiciary in a very positive way,” DeSantis said on Friday to cheers at the West Palm Beach courthouse where Francis works in the family division.

“Judge Francis is proof that you can start out with long odds and you can still do great things,” he said.

‘EPITOME OF THE AMERICAN DREAM’

 “I stand before you the epitome of the American dream,” Francis said. “I’m not only grateful, I’m humbled.”

Florida Bulldog reported on June 19 that Francis has been the subject of ethics complaints to the Judicial Qualifications Commission but did not disclose them on her Supreme Court application. She has been accused by multiple litigants of trampling on their due process rights and disfavoring pro se parties who do not have lawyers to speak for them.

At every opportunity, including on Friday, Judge Renatha Francis professes her philosophical kinship with the arch-conservative Federalist Society. She spoke of “respecting and observing the limited role that judges play,” one of their favorite concepts.

On Aug. 1, Florida Bulldog reported an allegation that Francis’ husband Phillip Fender picked up and inspected a stranger’s baby at a condo pool pavilion in West Palm Beach on July 4. Then Francis accused the baby’s mother of neglect and reported her to state authorities and the sheriff’s office in Polk County. Both launched continuing investigations that have not resulted in charges.

The courthouse crowd that gathered to hear DeSantis’ announcement gave him a standing ovation. But others who weren’t there expressed disappointment.

“It’s sad for the people of Florida that a judge who reportedly lied has been promoted to the highest court in Florida,” said Margherita Downey, the attorney for Angela Bentrim and other family court litigants who claim Francis has mishandled their cases.

ORGANIZING TO REMOVE FRANCIS AS A JUDGE

Francis dropped Bentrim’s case soon after Downey filed a petition in the Supreme Court that could have put the justices in the position of reviewing the work of their future colleague. They kicked the petition to a lower court without reviewing it.

Downey has been organizing an effort to petition DeSantis to remove Francis as a judge because of her failure to acknowledge ethics complaints on her Supreme Court application. As of Friday volunteers had collected 122 signatures,

judge renatha francis
Rep. Geraldine Thompson

Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, said, “Floridians lack confidence in the courts because they see that people are being appointed based on political agency rather than knowledge of the law and fairness. It’s disturbing.”

Thompson said DeSantis “shows that he does not respect the law or feel that it applies to him. He has received very little pushback and therefore continues to act in a very authoritarian manner.”

The state legislator filed the lawsuit in 2020 that forced DeSantis to drop his first Francis appointment and name Justice Jamie Grosshans instead.

He showed on Friday that he hasn’t forgotten. DeSantis didn’t mention Thompson by name, but referred to her as “someone” who filed “an eleventh-hour lawsuit” to thwart his first effort to put Francis on the Supreme Court. “It was all politics, it wasn’t anything that was based on principle.”

‘RACIAL PANDERING’?

Thompson, who is black, has called DeSantis’ choice of Judge Renatha Francis “racial pandering.” She protested that he could have promoted one of a crowd of far better qualified black lawyers if he wasn’t determined to continue elevating Federalist Society-approved candidates.

James Uthmeier, DeSantis’s general counsel and chief of staff, did not respond to an email asking about the Francis appointment. Uthmeier “directs” Florida’s judicial nominations process, according to his biography on the Federalist Society’s website.

judge renatha francis
Attorney Eugene Pettis

“It’s unfortunate that the judicial nominating process has regressed to its roots in political patronage instead of objective merit-selection, which it maintained for 30 years,” said Supreme Court historian Neil Skene. “Appointees no longer bring with them a presumption of their merit as lawyers and judges outside of political compatibility with the governor who appointed them.”

One minority lawyer who was perhaps Francis’s most ardent supporter in 2020 didn’t stump for her second appointment.

Eugene Pettis, the first black president of the Florida Bar, served as Francis’ spokesman in 2020, when she was on maternity leave. He said at the time she was “uniquely qualified” and stood out from six other “outstanding” African-American trial court judges who had applied for the Supreme Court opening.

Only one of the other six black applicants from 2020 tried again this time. Francis was the only black applicant on the short list of six that the Judicial Nominating Commission gave DeSantis in June.

On Friday Pettis did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

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  • An JUSTICE for all, just took a back seat to Justice, at all. As a first hand victim, of her abusive, destructive, bias, and unethical conduct, in a Courtroom, I can tell you, this is a very hard pill to swallow. She clearly has, less interests in the law, as much as she does, her hard life sob stories, that brought her to the top of her, sad hard journey to succeed. This is an awful thing to see. Is there anything we can do now?

  • Are there any avenues available to the citizens of Florida to remove or recall an appointment?

  • Mr. Stevenson, I would recommend contacting reporter Noreen Marcus, writer of this article. I’m with you. Something has to be done to correct the injustice. In November, we can vote out DeSantis, but this woman needs to be removed, before she destroys anyone else’s lives. As I have said, I myself have filed a very fact filled Complaint, with proof of her actions, from my hearings on tape, and am more than willing to go public with them, but our strengths, MUST come in numbers. There are literally 100’s of folks just like you’ and I, and we need to speak up, per our First Amendment Right, and make ourselves heard. I can not believe, for one second that any of the Justice’s on the High Court now, can, or will argue, the Laws, that Govern our State, and overlook, a “Judge”, that committed prudery, “Lied” on her application, and of course, unethically, used her Judicial Authority, to Publicly, Bully, a Mother, of 3, at a Holiday Event.

    Florida’s Highest Court, and “We the People” Deserve, and demand, far better. Please do not sit in silence. The life you may save from her actions, may VERY WELL, be your own.

  • As a patriot who loves our Country, I’d also like to ask Mr. Stevenson’s question above: WHAT CAN we do to recall Gov. DeSantis’ appointment? I applaud Mr. Wade too for speaking up. He is right. We the “people” deserve better! It looks like Reporter Marcus is the only journalist so far and the BULLDOG News is the only Media outlet that made an effort to review Judge Francis’s May 2022 Supreme Court Application and then exposed her for LYING under oath. That’s perjury right and a crime! Thank you for reporting the Truth of Judge Francis!

  • This is appalling!!! This JUDGE has used her authority to harass citizens both on and off the bench. Now despite MULTIPLE complaints being known about her she was nominated for a position with even more power. Makes me wonder just how corrupt our
    legal system actually is! Many have signed petitions and voiced their concerns on this nomination, yet here we are. Very sad! I will have to make sure I pay attention to this disregard of support for the PEOPLES options when it comes time to VOTE for those in charge!!!

  • When you have been in the unfortunate position of experiencing the judicial system with the likes of Judge Francis, you quickly realize we are living in a false democracy, with zero human rights, and zero constitutional rights. A system with a judge who doesn’t allow facts, and disregards any proof presented in a case, because she is manipulated by a bully attorney, and has engaged in the worst kind of Parental Alienation. A system with judges, particularly this judge who has no empathy or regard for a child’s well-being and is basically perpetuating child abuse and legalized kidnapping because she allows a powerful, rogue attorney to get away with extortion, blackmail, and racketeering, and keep a father from having a relationship with his son. That has been the torment and torture for me and my son. I have spent years and lost millions trying to be his father, while her actions have kept us separated, and have him believing I abandoned him. It is cruel to both of us, and at the hands of Judge Francis. This heartless, void of empathy judge has willfully, not only caused this devastating heartbreak to me, but to a child who thinks his dad doesn’t want him. If this judge and attorney weren’t shielded by their titles and positions, they would be arrested as gangsters.
    Yet, my nightmare is not unique to me. Unfortunately, many good fathers are enduring this in many courts around the country. It is an epidemic or pandemic of another kind, and is fostered by similar corrupt and manipulated judges, who have no regard for the devastation and destruction they are causing. When will a politician do the right thing? At what point will everyone say, “enough is enough”! Wake up everybody! This madness has to stop!! Unless there are extenuating circumstances, a child needs a father.

    It is an extremely sad day in the State of Florida, that the Governor chose to elevate someone of this low caliber to its highest court. A person void of integrity and empathy, who is responsible for destroying so many families and lives.

  • I, a mother who has a shared custody agreement with 2 children, lost serveral parental rights to my children due to the lack of Family Judge Francis ability to hear the truth/my side I had prepared in a notebook to my 1st and only court hearing. Prior to Judge Francsis hearing where I lost my parental rights, I only had a traffic ticket misdemeanor and I had no time to prepare for an attorney to defend me in court.
    Hello, can some one out here please explain to me this: If Judge Francis can not take care of a small measly, and remedial problem from a peasant like me, then how will now appointed Supreme Court Judge Francis take care and solve BIG problems? Hello? Im still waiting….

  • BARRY STEVENSON: One tactic you would likely approve of is donning white sheets and burn a cross to protest the appointment. This intimidation ploy has been used by racists for generations. Anybody opposed to this appointment is basing their grievence on racism, plain and simple.

  • Deeply disturbing to read some of the contrary positions spotlighting possible unprofessional, unwise judgement demonstrated by Judge Francis. We must find a better way to find nominees for SCOTUS than lists from the Federalist Society.

  • Why does DeSantis want this judge so badly ? Something isn’t right here ! Despite her lying on her application which is a misdemeanor and being a TERRIBLE and unethical judge with NUMEROUS complains she is going to the Supreme Court !! DeSantis ignored all the terrible things that she has done and promoted her anyway ! Why ? This is corruption ! What can be done ?

  • This is Denisha Robinson it’s very sad to hear that she hasn’t been impeached yet every night I go to sleep thinking about the horrible march 29 when she took my daughter’s from me and placed them with the father and his abusive girlfriend she has ripped a piece of my soul from me and I don’t know what kind of pull she has with dcf but I can’t even get them to help me despite multiple evidence Father please tell me what I did to deserve such a life sentence. My daughters are always coming home with bruises last week Courtney was forced to eat her food so fast she nearly choked she couldn’t even sit because she had a such a horrible rash and because of the court order she placed on me I can’t even take them to see a Dr. I called desantis about this but of course no response. My question is what are they going to do about the all the children who’s lives she has ruined I’m so tired of crying and so are my daughters

  • This is Denisha Robinson it’s very sad to hear that she hasn’t been impeached yet every night I go to sleep thinking about the horrible march 29 when she took my daughter’s from me and placed them with the father and his abusive girlfriend she has ripped a piece of my soul from me and I don’t know what kind of pull she has with dcf but I can’t even get them to help me despite multiple evidence Father please tell me what I did to deserve such a life sentence. My daughters are always coming home with bruises last week Courtney was forced to eat her food so fast she nearly choked she couldn’t even sit because she had a such a horrible rash and because of the court order she placed on me I can’t even take them to see a Dr. I called desantis about this but of course no response. My question is what are they going to do about the all the children who’s lives she has ruined I’m so tired of crying and so are my daughters and the nerve of her to post a pic with her family after ripping apart our

  • But clearly judicial system only cares about what they care about no one cares that two little girls are being forced to perform sexual acts weekly or that they now suffer from mental disorders they’re 7 and 8 Francis/desantis

  • And then she made called dcf on a parent at the pool instead of talking to the parent but she knew that sexual and physical abuse was present and still is but she place my daughters in the environment anyway bruises confession reports and all I’m sorry you all but I am beyond hurt

  • This is so sad But God as My witness I am going to get my daughters back! As a hard working mom I trust God my question is though what are they going to do about the families who’s lives were ruined or are we just going to ignore the fact that children are still suffering

  • Governor Desantis has a history of nominating people that have lied or questioned about their self-serving public service. As a Democrat, I’m voting straight R this year. I love the Governor But, his Broward Sheriff appointment, and this Judge what is he thinking? I smell political correctness and there are many better-qualified professionals out there and when he sees the mistakes in tony/toney he could fix it, but appears that he wants honorable public servants to be abused by his picks.

  • Denisha please contact FACTsCourtWatch.org Families Against Court Travesties

    We have other parents, mostly protective mothers and their children who have been harmed by this person Renata Francis who should not even be a judge let alone an attorney.

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