‘Common-sense dictates there is a legal duty to complete the tasks and functions of their constitutional position as sheriffs…’
(Anthony Man, Sun Sentinel) Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a sometimes blistering legal filing with the Florida Supreme Court, argued Tuesday there are no grounds for the courts to overturn his suspension of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.
At one point, the governor’s filing belittles Israel’s attempt to get the courts to intervene, accusing him of “grasping at straws.” He also criticized Israel’s “continued delay tactics.”
“[Israel] was suspended from office for his failures as the Sheriff of Broward County,” the governor’s legal team wrote.
“Under his leadership as Sheriff, mass shootings resulted in the tragic deaths of seventeen innocent students and faculty on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, five deaths on January 6, 2017, at the Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport and dozens of injuries that resulted from a botched response from the Sheriff’s Office.”
DeSantis suspended Israel on Jan. 11, just three days after the governor took office. He said lessons from the 2017 shooting were not implemented, contributing to a disorganized response in Parkland that cost lives and eroded trust in the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
In a separate motion, also filed Tuesday, DeSantis’ attorneys argued that the case is so clear that the justices should “expedite disposition” and decide based on the written filings—without hearing oral arguments from each side. Israel wants oral arguments before the Supreme Court justices.
If the court agrees with Israel and orders oral arguments, DeSantis wants them scheduled as quickly as possible.
In Israel’s argument, filed with the Supreme Court on Saturday, his attorneys argued that “the actual reason for the suspension was a brazen, partisan political usurpation of the electoral decision of the Broward County voters to choose Scott Israel as their Sheriff” and accused the governor of “political pandering intended to fulfill a campaign promise to the National Rifle Association and various Marjory Stoneman Douglas parents.”
Israel’s side said the governor exceeded his constitutional authority and that the mass shootings weren’t his fault.
“The horrors of those two days [of mass shootings], none of which resulted from any action or inaction on the part of Sheriff Israel … could not have been avoided by any means, and serve merely as a political ploy.”
The governor’s attorneys said that the January suspension of the sheriff “lists specific grounds of suspension” required in the Florida Constitution, and “it supports the grounds with factual allegations.”
In another section, the governor’s office dismissed Israel’s contention that DeSantis couldn’t suspend him because the governor didn’t list a failure to comply with specific state statutes.
If Israel’s “argument is to be taken seriously,” the governor’s filing states, the court would have to “conclude that sheriffs throughout Florida have no legal duty to: set up command centers, hire competent deputies, train their deputies with sufficient regularity, dictate policies governing the office, etc. But common-sense dictates there is a legal duty to complete the tasks and functions of their constitutional position as sheriffs.”
Separately on Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Mary Beth Jackson, who DeSantis suspended as the elected Okaloosa County superintendent of schools the same day he removed Israel.
Jackson, making different arguments than Israel, asked the court to rule that DeSantis overstepped his authority. The Florida Constitution gives the Florida Senate the authority to rule on gubernatorial suspensions. But Israel went to court, seeking to overturn the suspension, and the Senate put off action until all court proceedings are complete.
On April 4, Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes upheld DeSantis’ use of his executive authority. The 4th District Court of Appeal said the issue is important enough that it should go directly to the Supreme Court, bypassing the intermediate appeals step.
It now is in the hands of the Supreme Court.
DeSantis’s motion complained that that Israel waited 56 days to go to court—after the suspended sheriff and the governor’s office were “active participants in the Florida Senate’s removal process.”
If Israel hadn’t gone to court, resulting in Senate proceedings being put on hold, the final legislative hearing on the case would have been scheduled during the week of April 8, DeSantis’ attorneys wrote.
Time is running out for the Senate to act; the annual legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on May 3.
(c)2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.