A House panel voted Thursday to put a measure on the ballot that would give the Legislature the power to impeach state attorneys and public defenders. As Jim Ash reports, Republican Jackie Toledo of Tampa thinks those public servants need another layer of oversight.
Florida’s Constitution gives the Legislature the power to impeach the governor, the lieutenant governor, Cabinet members, Supreme Court justices and judges, for alleged “misdemeanors.”
Conspicuously absent from that list of elected officials are Florida’s 20 state attorneys and public defenders. And Toledo thinks that’s wrong.
“With current House leadership wanting to aim at having more transparency in government, this provides additional oversight over this portion of the judicial branch.”
It’s also a matter of fairness, Toledo told the Public Ethics and Integrity Committee.
“This would also be leveling the playing field between state attorneys, public defenders and judges, who are subject to impeachment.”
But Democrats on the committee, including Representative David Richardson of Miami Beach, appeared worried about a hidden agenda.
For example, former Jacksonville Public Defender Matt Shirk was embroiled in ethics and grand jury investigations throughout his eight years in office, but couldn’t be investigated by the Florida Bar because of his elected status.
“Do we have any instances with state attorneys or public defenders that maybe in need of corrective action? Where is this coming from?”
Toldeo insists the legislation isn’t targeting a specific case.
Pasco County Public Defender Bob Dillinger says Toledo’s claim about leveling the judicial playing field doesn’t hold water. He’s worried about giving a vindictive prosecutor a tool to get rid of rival public defender.
“Feud may be too strong a word but one state attorney is upset with a public defender, they file a misdemeanor, and here we go.”
The measure passed 15-1, but faces two more House committees. A Senate companion has yet to move. Even if the House and Senate approve the measure, voters would have to give their OK in November.