The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

A Most Disorderly Court and Reubin O’D. Askew — The Golden Age of Florida Politics

Book Reviews

Edmund Burke is often misquoted as stating, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Spanish philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And, Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Two books by Martin Dyckman written over a decade ago are immensely valuable to aid those lawyers who treasure the Florida judicial system and Florida government as a whole. Dyckman covered local, state, and national government and politics and wrote editorials during an almost half-century career with the former St. Petersburg Times and for about a decade he was chief of the newspaper’s Tallahassee bureau.

A Most Disorderly Court is a brilliantly written story of political scandal and reform. In the 1970s, Florida Supreme Court justices were popularly elected. But a number of scandals threatened to topple the court until public outrage led to profound reforms and fundamental changes in the way supreme justices were seated. The book chronicles Dyckman’s investigative journalism during the time which led to the resignations of two Supreme Court justices and to the constitutional amendment providing for merit selection and retention of Florida appellate judges. The work tells the story of a justice abruptly retiring after being filmed on an expensive junket to Las Vegas; of two other justices trying to fix cases in lower courts on behalf of campaign supporters; and about a fourth justice destroying evidence by shredding his copy of a document and flushing it down a toilet in his Supreme Court chambers. In 1984, The Florida Bar Foundation recognized Dyckman’s writing on judicial reform with its Medal of Honor award.

In Reuben O’D. Askew — The Golden Age of Florida Politics, the story is told of Florida’s post-reformation transformation from the era of Florida’s Pork Chop Gang, which controlled the Florida Legislature through most of the 1960s into a modern state facing a volcanic population explosion. Askew was elected to serve as governor in 1970 as part of a remarkable wave of progressive politics and a desire for legislative reform. Although his initial issue of focus was the corporate income tax, Askew led a bipartisan group of politicians pursued and achieve government reform that included the enactment of judicial reform, legislative redistricting addressing constitutional requirements (at the time 1/3 of the state elected about 2/3 of the state’s legislators), race relation, approval of the Sunshine Amendment by Florida voters mandating ethical standards in government, and declaring that “public office is a public trust.” Dyckman asserts in convincing terms that the Askew era was a golden age of Florida politics. In today’s bitter partisan and tribal wars, it is beneficial to look back and reflect if we can achieve another golden age.

Lessons from the past may not always ward off doom, but they can provide insights into the present and even into the future. These books will help the caring legal professional by providing those insights.

Lonnie N. Groot practices in Daytona Beach Shores.