With state appellate courts poised for an overhaul, five candidates to become judges — including a lawmaker and the chairman of the Florida Gaming Control Commission — face challenges to their eligibility.
Two cases, filed late Thursday at the Florida Supreme Court, contend that Rep. Mike Beltran, R-Lithia, Florida Gaming Control Commission Chairman John MacIver and three other candidates do not meet residency requirements to serve as judges in a new 6th District Court of Appeal and a revamped 5th District Court of Appeal.
The Legislature this year approved a plan (HB 7027) that added the 6th District Court of Appeal and revised the jurisdictions of the 1st District Court of Appeal, the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the 5th District Court of Appeal. The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, and Gov. Ron DeSantis will appoint judges to fill vacant positions.
Judicial nominating commissions reviewed applicants and sent lists of candidates to DeSantis.
In one of the challenges filed at the Supreme Court, newly elected state Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, contends that three of 18 candidates, including Beltran, are not eligible for appointment to the 6th District Court of Appeal.
The other challenge, filed by Volusia County resident Whitney Boan, contends that two of 15 candidates, including MacIver, are not eligible for appointment to the 5th District Court of Appeal.
The 6th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Polk County, will hear cases from the 9th, 10th and 20th judicial circuits — an area that includes Orange, Osceola, Hardee, Highlands, Polk, Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties. The new appellate court will have nine judges.
Beltran lives in Hillsborough County. Thompson also is challenging 6th District candidates Stephen Everett, a Leon County circuit judge, and Jared Smith, who the case identified as a Hillsborough County attorney.
“The Florida Sixth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nominating Commission exceeded the limits of its authority by certifying three nominees to Governor DeSantis who do not meet the constitutional requirements to hold the office of judge on the Sixth DCA,” attorneys William Ponall and Lisabeth Fryer wrote in Thompson’s challenge. “On the date the JNC certified Judge Stephen Everett, Florida State Representative Michael Beltran, and Attorney Jared Smith as nominees, none of them resided in the territorial jurisdiction of the Sixth DCA.”
The revamped 5th District Court of Appeal, which will be based in Volusia County, will hear cases from the 4th, 5th, 7th and 18th judicial circuits — an area that includes Duval, Nassau, Clay, Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Sumter, St. Johns, Putnam, Flagler, Volusia, Brevard and Seminole counties. It will have 12 judges. MacIver lives in Leon County, according to the legal challenge, which also disputes the eligibility of Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Paige Kilbane.
“Permitting individuals who reside outside the territorial jurisdiction of a district court of appeal to be nominated for positions on that court would violate the Florida Constitution and contradict this (Supreme) Court’s stated goal of achieving proportional geographic representation,” Ponall and Fryer wrote in the 5th District Court of Appeal case.
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