Commentary: Billionaire Koch brothers try to buy Florida's courts

The Miami HeraldOctober 3, 2012 

HIAASEN CARL

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

TIM CHAPMAN — MCT/Miami Herald

The new stealth campaign against three Florida Supreme Court justices is being backed by those meddling right-wing billionaires from Wichita, Charles and David Koch.

They couldn’t care less about Florida, but they love to throw their money around.

Last week they uncorked the first of a series of commercials from their political action committee, Americans for Prosperity. The targets are Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince.

They were three of the five-vote majority that in 2010 knocked down a half-baked amendment slapped together by state lawmakers seeking to nullify the federal Affordable Health Care Act.

The Florida Supreme Court upheld lower court decisions in finding that the proposed amendment contained “misleading and ambiguous language,” the hallmark of practically everything produced by this Legislature. Stoned chimpanzees have a keener grasp of constitutional law.

Conservative groups have gone after local justices before. In Iowa, a place which has nothing but vowels in common with Florida, three state justices were fired by voters after being vilified for ruling against a ban on gay marriage.

On the November ballot, Lewis, Pariente and Quince are up for merit retention, meaning voters can choose to retain them or not. This simple system was put in place to keep the state’s high court above the sleaze of political races.

The mission of the Kochs, hiding as always behind their super PAC, is to get the three justices dumped at the polls so that Gov. Rick Scott can appoint replacements.

This is worth repeating: If the Kochs have their way, Rick Scott — yes, that Rick Scott — gets to pack the Supreme Court with his own hand-picked crew.

Yikes is right.

The head of the Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity is a person called Slade O’ Brien, whose job is to keep a straight face while saying things like: “We’re not advocating for the election or defeat of any of the justices. What we’re attempting to do is call more attention to them advocating from the bench.”

Meanwhile the state GOP’s executive board is less coy. It voted to oppose the retention of Quince, Lewis and Pariente, branding them “too extreme.”

Well, let’s have a peek at these dangerous radicals.

Justice Pariente, 63, has been on the court for 15 years. She was graduated from George Washington University Law School and clerked in Fort Lauderdale under U.S. District Judge Norm Roettger, who was no softie.

Justice Lewis, 64, who was graduated cum laude from the University of Miami Law School, has been on the court almost 14 years. Both he and Pariente were appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles, not exactly a wild-eyed liberal.

Justice Quince, also 64, is the first African-American woman on the Supreme Court. A graduate of the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University, she worked for years prosecuting death-penalty cases in the state Attorney General’s office.

In 1999, she was jointly selected for the high court by Chiles and that wacky left-winger, Jeb Bush.

Twice before Floridians have voted to keep these justices, but now the Kochs from Wichita say they know better. You won’t see David or Charlie in any of the campaign commercials because they don’t like people to know they’re prying.

Their multinational fortune comes from oil refineries, fertilizers, cattle, commodities, chemicals and paper mills. Next time you reach for Angel Soft toilet paper, think of the Koch brothers.

Both are MIT grads, philanthropists, unabashedly ultraconservative and anti-Obama. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to defeat the President and lesser officeholders all over the country who won’t bend to their will. Some Florida Republicans — respected judges and lawyers — are disturbed by the sneak attack on the Supreme Court, which they view as a bald attempt to politicize the judiciary.

The two other justices who voted against the inept Obamacare amendment were similarly singled out two years ago, when they were up for merit retention. Tea Party groups bought TV time blasting justices Jorge Labarga and James Perry, and urging voters to remove them from the court. It didn’t work.

Labarga was retained with about 59 percent of the vote, Perry with 61 percent. Those aren’t bad margins, considering that the justices can’t campaign in their own defense.

This time is different because Americans for Prosperity has a bottomless war chest to use against Lewis, Pariente and Quince. Be assured that Gov. Scott is rooting for the Kochs. He’d love to have three openings to fill on the Supreme Court.

The last thing these guys want is fair judges who know the law; they want partisan judges who’ll obediently support their political agenda

It’s worse than just trying to buy an election. It’s trying to hijack Florida’s justice system at the highest levels.

And all the Angel Soft in the world won’t wipe away the stink.

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