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Law School Email Draws Fire Amid Hotly Contested Retention Election for 3 Top Florida Judges

Posted Oct 9, 2012 10:42 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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An unusual political battle over an upcoming retention election for three Florida Supreme Court justices has now embroiled one of the state's law schools.

As detailed recently by the Tampa Bay Times, the Republican Party of Florida, in an unprecedented move, announced last month that it would oppose the retention of the three justices in November. The judges face no opponents in the election, but if they do not retain their seats, the state's Republican governor could appoint their replacements.

The party said in a written statement that its opposition to retaining the three judges, who sit on the state's top court, is primarily based on a 2003 decision. Two of the three justices seeking retention agreed with the 5-2 majority in a capital case that a convicted murderer should be given a new trial because his lawyer admitted his guilt to the jury without his permission. However, Joe Elton Nixon remains on Florida's death row after the U.S. Supreme Court, the following year, unanimously held that Nixon had failed to raise the legal representation issue at several earlier opportunities.

Now an official at the University of Miami School of Law is taking fire over an email about the retention election sent to students at the University of Miami School of Law. He forwarded to them a message from The Florida Bar that informs recipients about the contested race and the money being raised to oust the three justices. But the email went too far, the law school dean said in a written statement, by adding a brief personal comment suggesting how students how should vote.

"Neither the University of Miami nor the Law School take an official position on issues which have been put to the electorate to decide," wrote Dean Patricia D. White in a Friday email to the ABA Journal. An assistant dean "appropriately forwarded to the law school student body a usefully explanatory and nonpartisan statement by The Florida Bar about how judicial elections work in Florida," her statement continues. "He should not have added his own editorial comment. He has sent the student body list serve an apology."

Both White and the assistant dean are out of the office until Oct. 20, and he could not immediately be reached by the ABA Journal for comment.

Hat tip: The Watchdog.

Additional coverage:

Miami Herald (opinion) "Trying to buy the court"

Post on Politics (Palm Beach Post): "Fla GOP defends campaigning against justices"

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