By Jan Pudlow
Ricky Polston — proud to be the first Florida State University alumnus to serve as chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court — has applied for the top job at FSU.
He declined to be interviewed by the News “out of respect” for his judicial office, but provided his May 31 letter of application to the FSU Presidential Search Advisory Committee.
The last paragraph provides a strong hint of Polston’s reason to jump into the controversial fray of choosing FSU’s next president, after the respected Eric Barron left to take the presidency of Penn State University.
“Thank you for considering my application,” Polston wrote. “Rather than closing the process, I hope that you will allow me to interview for the position with the potential to be considered by the Board of Trustees with Senator Thrasher if approved.”
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, a political heavyweight who chairs Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign, moved ahead of all other potential candidates, thanks to a FSU search committee consultant who said his candidacy was discouraging other high-profile candidates from applying. Former FSU president and law school dean Sandy D’Alemberte wrote a letter of recommendation for Thrasher, citing his ability to work the Legislature to bring resources to FSU.
Polston’s candidacy had a swift impact. Search committee chair and trustee Ed Burr notified the committee on June 3 that Thrasher’s interview previously set for June 11 will instead be a regular meeting of the committee to set a deadline for closing the application process. Allan Bense, chair of the FSU Board of Trustees, called Polston “clearly a qualified candidate” worthy of consideration.
“While I have spent considerable time in the classroom, I would not be considered an academic,” admitted Polston, who has served as an adjunct law professor at FSU since 2003.
“Many would consider the work of an appellate court to be very academic in nature because of the extensive research and writing required. This is evidenced by the textbooks and course materials in law schools that contain published opinions, the work product of appellate courts,” wrote Polston, who graduated from FSU College of Law in 1986, was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to the First District Court of Appeal in 2001, and to the high court in 2008 by Gov. Charlie Crist.
“And while I have spent considerable time at the highest level of leadership in Florida government and have been on a statewide ballot for merit retention, I would not be considered a politician. I am in neither category but have experience and the qualities required by both.”
Polston touts his “great love or FSU that started by following the athletic programs when I was young.”
“My dad would bring me and my brother to FSU football games, even back in the 1960s,” Polston told The Florida Bar Journal in 2012, in a profile detailing his small-town upbringing in Graceville, where his father, Sidney Polston, was a mill worker and farmer.
After receiving his undergraduate degree in accounting from FSU, Polson began his career as a certified public accountant.
FSU, Polston wrote, “is my university. I value my degrees and experiences obtained there, and I deeply desire that the future for FSU is set so that our students in the future will share that feeling. The affection for FSU by itself is obviously not enough, but it demonstrates loyalty to the university. I would not be applying to any other university.
“I am not seeking a career path upward in the university system. I am not being critical of President Barron in any way for leaving, but the practical effect of his exit is that we are now faced with following through with a plan in the initial stages, and in a very disruptive search proceeding. This is not a relay race with the baton being passed seamlessly every five years. We lose momentum. FSU needs continuity for the office. I am interested in providing that continuity for at least the next 10 years.”