The three justices are on the retention election ballot this fall, and they have been targeted by conservative groups. The justices did not break the law in using court staff to notarize campaign paperwork, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded, according to a Palm Beach Post article.
“It is well established that the law does not concern itself with trifles. In general, there is no prohibition against a notary employed by the state, notarizing a document for their boss, or even as a public service to the citizenry,” State Attorney Willie Meggs wrote in a letter to FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey.
Meggs said the justices might have technically violated the law, but “No charges will be filed and this matter should be closed.”
The investigation was condemned earlier by a Palm Beach Post editorial as a “political witch hunt” and a “threat to an independent judicial branch” (see Gavel Grab). ”[P]oliticians who disagree with how these justices have ruled want to corrupt the system,” it added. The investigation was launched following inquiries from Republican elected officials.
“Neither the Justices nor the Supreme Court staff interviewed considered the notarization of these documents to be, in any way, campaign related, and no evidence indicating an abuse of either position or public resources was revealed during the course of this inquiry,” the FDLE report said. Florida law bars candidates for office from using state employees to help their campaigns during working hours.
Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who has disagreed with some of the court’s rulings, had asked FDLE to determine if an investigation was warranted. This week, Scott said he would await a decision by a Leon County court, according to a Miami Herald article.
A conservative, Georgia-based group, the Southeastern Legal Foundation, has filed suit in that court to remove the three justices from the retention ballot (see Gavel Grab for background).
“According to FDLE findings, it appears using state employees to complete and file campaign forms and other documents is ‘common practice,’” Scott said. “Now this case is before the courts where a determination will be made as to whether this ‘common practice’ is legal. Whatever the ruling, we will accept it and act accordingly.”
Defenders of fair and impartial courts have heavily rallied on the side of the justices, saying retention elections should not be influenced by politics, according to a News-Press article.
News accounts and editorials have reported that it is commonplace for Florida justices to use court employees for notarizing election paperwork.