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Bar board opposes term limits for the judiciary

Senior Editor Regular News

Bar board opposes term limits for the judiciary

Term limits for any state court judges in Florida, either on the trial or appellate bench, is a bad idea, according to The Florida Bar.

The Bar’s Board of Governors at its December 4 meeting unanimously approved the recommendation of its Legislation Committee to adopt an official legislative position opposing judicial term limits at all levels for Florida state courts. The issue has come up as joint resolutions have been introduced in the Florida House and Senate to send a constitutional amendment to voters setting term limits for Supreme Court justices and district courts of appeal judges.

Some Bar sections prepared their own identical request to advocate against term limits for state courts.

Since October, the Legislation Committee has been collecting and considering information on the issue.

Michael Tanner “We have done our due diligence. We have heard from our members in the circuits; we have heard from our sections,” said committee Chair Michael Tanner, adding that media op-eds have also editorialized against the proposal. “Those are uniformly against term limits.

“It is the view of the committee that term limits for judges is bad policy for the citizens of the state of Florida.”

Tanner said the committee had received an opinion from outside counsel Barry Richard that The Florida Bar does have the authority to advocate on the proposed constitutional amendment.

He said the committee recommended, “The board vote for The Florida Bar to adopt a position in opposition to the legislation that would establish term limits for judges at any level of the courts of the state of Florida.”

Without discussion, the board voted unanimously to find that the subject was within the purview of the Bar for legislative activity and then — in another vote — unanimously to approve the position.

“The committee will request that our legislative consultants — when they are asked about this, and undoubtedly they will by other branches of government — they make it clear this was done in a deliberative way. We heard from our members. And this position has broad support among our members,” Tanner said. “It was done with respect to the Legislature and the other branches of government, but we believe this is best for the citizens of the state of Florida.”

A formal notice of the new legislative position is in this Bar News.

The Young Lawyers Division and the Business Law, Appellate Practice, and Trial Lawyer sections had taken steps to formalize their own legislative positions against judicial term limits, Tanner said. After the Legislation Committee voted to recommend the Bar take an official position on the proposals — which allow any section to separately advocate in the same manner — the committee deferred those section requests until the board acted on the overall Bar position. After that vote, the board agreed that section lobbying against judicial term limits could also proceed.

The board action came after the filing of HJR 197 by Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, and SJR 322 by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast.

According to information by the National Center for State Courts and provided by the Legislation Committee to the board, no other state in the U.S. has term limits for state court appellate judges. Only New Mexico probate judges, who do not have to be lawyers, are subject to term limits, and that may be because of a drafting error.

In 2006, Colorado voters have rejected by a 57-43 percent margin a constitutional amendment to impose term limits on that state’s appellate judges. Ten years earlier, Nevada rejected a bill limiting judges to two terms 59-41 percent. In 1995, Mississippi voters rejected a broad term limits bill for public officials including judges by 54-46 percent.

A few states legislatures have considered judicial term limit measures in recent years, but none have passed.

The proposed joint resolutions would limit appellate judges to no more than two appearances on the merit retention ballot, which, depending on when they were appointed, would give a maximum term of between 12 and 15 years.

The proposals initially applied the limit to sitting as well as future judges and justices, but the House version was amended to apply only prospectively when it passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee on November 3 by an 8-5 vote. It next goes to the Appropriations and the Judiciary committees.

The Senate bill has not been heard in committee and has been referred to the Judiciary, Ethics and Elections, and Rules committees. It has not yet been scheduled for its first committee appearance.

The 2016 legislative session begins January 12.

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