Applicants to fill vacancies would diversify the Florida Supreme Court

By: - December 27, 2019 7:00 am
Florida Supreme Court

Florida Supreme Court. Credit:

Of the 32 applicants for two vacancies on the Florida Supreme Court, the seven with the best chance to see their names forwarded to Gov. Ron DeSantis include three state appeals judges, two trial judges, an international litigator, and an overseas development official.

Two of the seven are African American males, and one is openly gay — two constituencies now lacking on the state’s highest court. Several have ties to the Federalist Society, the conservative-libertarian organization to which DeSantis turns for advice on judicial appointments and, frequently, for appointees.

What gives the seven a leg up is that they reside within the 3rd District Court of Appeal’s jurisdiction — and under the Florida Constitution, at least one of the eventual appointees must reside in that area so that all five of the state’s appellate districts are represented on the high court. The district covers Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

A judicial nominating commission released the list of applicants on the Christmas Eve deadline. Commission members must select candidates for interviews and, ultimately, refer nominees to the governor. The process opened on Nov. 25, and the panel had 60 days to complete its work. The governor then has 60 days to make his choices.

DeSantis is shopping for replacements for Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, former 3rd DCA judges he’d placed on the Supreme Court early in his term but who subsequently won confirmation to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Only a few of the applications had posted as of Thursday to the Florida Bar’s website, pending redaction of personal information. We’ll post updates as they come in, but here’s what the Florida Phoenix has found out thus far about the candidates who live within the 3rd District:

John Couriel is a litigator at Kobre & Kim, working in the Miami and Buenos Aires offices, where he specializes in international disputes. Previously, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, where he participated in prosecutions of wire and health care fraud and oversaw extraditions. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003.

Couriel was an unsuccessful Republican candidate in 2016 for state House District 114, which covers portions of southern and eastern Miami-Dade County.

Norma Lindsey has served on the 3rd DCA since June 2017. Before that, she was a trial judge at the county and circuit court levels. She last applied to serve on the Supreme Court in October 2018, during the process that ended in the appointments of Lagoa and Luck.

According to her application, Lindsey was one of three founders in 1991 of the U.M. student chapter of the Federalist Society and served as president of the South Florida lawyers chapter between 1996 and 1998. She also belongs to the Cuban American Bar Association and the Association of Women Lawyers, and was affiliated with the Gwen S. Cherry Black Women’s Lawyers Association.

Among her qualifications, Lindsey listed “a firm commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law, and a keen understanding of the limited role of the judiciary” — precisely what DeSantis has said he looks for in judges.

Lindsey is a former collegiate track and field athlete who worked her way through the University of Miami School of Law, graduating in 1993. She listed Lagoa among her references. She disclosed her net worth as of November 2018 at $581,138 and her ethnicity as white non-Hispanic.

Bronwyn Miller has served on the 3rd DCA since 2018, and before that as a trial judge at the county and circuit court levels in Miami-Dade, beginning at the age of 32. (She has described being mistaken by attorneys for an underling. “Because you’re female and you’re standing there and you’re not wearing a robe, the assumption is that you’re a judicial assistant,” she said.) Her background includes service as a prosecutor, including as a felony division chief.

Miller is a product of the University of Miami School of Law and earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard College.

Eliott Pedrosa is U.S. executive director of the Inter-American Development bank, which finances projects in Latin America and the Caribbean. The position required confirmation by the U.S. Senate and reportedly Pedrosa has been helping to promote the Trump administration’s hard line on Cuba and Venezuela.

Earlier, Pedrosa led the Miami litigation department for Greenberg Traurig and served a stint during the early 2000s in the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division.

Pedrosa’s LinkedIn page lists interests both in the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society (and his Bloomberg profile says he has served as board member in the society). He’s another product of Harvard Law School.

Ed Scales, of Monroe County, was appointed to the 3rd DCA in 2013, following a long career as a litigator and in public service. According to his application, he began at the Lane, Trohn, Clarke, Bertrand, Williams law firm, became general counsel to Historic Tours of America Inc., and ran his own law firm for 13 years before shifting to of-counsel status at GrayRobinson, which had absorbed Lane Trohn. His practice emphasized appellate representation for corporate clients.

Scales also served as general counsel to the Florida Citrus Commission and helped oversee major revisions to the Florida Citrus Code that were enacted in 2012. He served on the Florida Commission on Ethics between 2011 and 2013, and on the Key West City Commission. He is a former governor of the Florida Bar.

Scales disclosed pleading no contest to DUI involving property damage in 1997, following a traffic accident. “While this was certainly a dark day, and I was absolutely culpable, every cloud does have a silver lining; I have not consumed alcohol since that day,” he informed the screening panel.

Scales, who listed his ethnicity as white non-Hispanic, last applied for a Supreme Court seat in September 2018. His net worth as of Nov. 30 was $3,108,408, and he disclosed participation in at least one Federalist Society event.

Scales attended the University of Florida on scholarships and served there as a cheerleader, president of the student body, student member of the Florida Board of Regents, and political columnist and board member for The Independent Florida Alligator. His references include Luck and Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady.

William Thomas is a judge in the civil division of the 11th Judicial Circuit, covering Miami-Dade. He is African American and openly gay, according to reports published after former President Obama nominated him to the federal trial bench in 2012. The nomination collapsed after Sen. Marco Rubio withdrew his support in 2014, reportedly to placate Tea Party activists.

Thomas received his law degree from Temple University in 1994. He worked as a public defender in Florida and in federal trial courts in Miami-Dade before winning election to the circuit court in 2005.

Daryl Trawick also is African American, and also sits on the 11th circuit, presiding over the appellate division, and has served by appointment by the chief justice as a temporary judge of 4th DCA.

Trawick is a former U.S. prosecutor in Miami and served for 23 years in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps, earning the rank of lieutenant colonel and appointment as a military judge, according to his application. While stationed at Homestead Air Force Base, he helped with the legal work arising from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

He voiced a belief in judicial modesty aligning with DeSantis’ philosophy. “Had I chosen to be a legislator, my path and duty would have been quite different,” Trawick wrote.

Trawick earned his bachelor degree from U.M. and his law degree in 1984 from Howard University School of Law. He disclosed a net worth of $721,774.70.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal.