Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will have two Palm Beach County judges to choose from when he makes the next selections to Florida’s Supreme Court.
On Thursday, a selection committee nominated Circuit Judge Renatha Francis and 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Jonathan Gerber to a list of nine candidates from which DeSantis will choose to fill two vacancies on the state’s highest court.
However, Francis is legally barred from taking office at this time.
According to the Florida Constitution, a Supreme Court justice must have already been a member of the Florida Bar for 10 years.
Francis, who graduated from Florida Coastal School of Law a decade ago, will not reach that milestone until September 24 of this year.
During her interview with the committee earlier this month, Francis acknowledged that she is not currently eligible to serve. However, she said the Constitution does not block her from applying, but only from taking office.
She told them, “If I had the privilege of being nominated by you and being selected by the governor, I would take the commission and the office on September 24, 2020. I’m currently in my 10th year as a Florida Bar member. I would complete my 10th year at that time. In terms of the eligibility to serve, I don’t think there is anything that would be an impediment for me to do that,” Francis added.
DeSantis has 60 days to select replacements for departing Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who were elevated to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals last fall by President Trump. If DeSantis selects Francis, the seat would need to remain vacant for approximately six months.
Since she already was working as a judge, committee members said she was eminently qualified. She took office in November.
During her interview for the Supreme Court position, Francis referenced her appointment to the county’s circuit bench. She said, “I have the unique experience of being a judge in two of the largest counties in Florida — Palm Beach County and Miami-Dade.”
Francis also brought up her experience working as a small business owner during college, handling legal briefs at a Miami-Dade appeals court for seven years, as well as work she did for a private law firm that handles insurance cases.
“Collectively, these experiences show that I’m a diverse candidate — not only in terms of being ethnically and racially diverse and by gender — but also by experience. I think I lend something unique to that body that can only help strengthen it,” she added.
Gerber, who was passed over when DeSantis appointed three justices back in 2018, spent five years on the circuit bench before he was elevated to the West Palm Beach-based appeals court in 2009. As chief judge, he supervised the building of the appeals court’s new facility.
The court’s rules require that one of the two vacancies be filled by someone who lives in either Miami-Dade or Monroe counties. The nominees who live in Miami include Eliot Pedrosa, executive director of the Inter-American Development Bank; John Couriel, an attorney with the Kobre & Kim law firm and 3rd District Appeal Court Judge Norma Lindsey.
In addition, 1st District Court of Appeal Court Judges Timothy Osterhaus and Lori Rowe and 5th District Court of Appeal Judge Jamie Grosshans are under consideration.
Other Palm Beach County judges and attorneys who applied for the positions but were not selected include: attorney Manuel Farach, 4th District Court of Appeal Judge Jeffrey Kuntz; retired Circuit Judge Jack Schramm Cox and Circuit Judges Howard Coates and Cymonie Rowe.