- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2000

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Republican outrage with the Florida Supreme Court's role in the presidential contest is spawning an organized effort to oust Justice Harry Lee Anstead.

Balance to the Bench, a new political action committee, intends to campaign against Justice Anstead, a former appellate judge in West Palm Beach, when he faces a merit-retention election in two years.

"The Supreme Court has shown itself in the past few weeks to be extremely partisan," said Susan Johnson, a spokeswoman for the PAC in Orlando, Fla. "It's important for the public to know that you can vote to replace these folks."

Justices are appointees of the governor, but voters decide every six years whether to retain them on the bench.

Justice Anstead became the group's target because of his votes in support of manually recounting ballots during the contentious postelection period. The state Supreme Court's decision to overturn Leon County Circuit Judge N. Sanders Sauls' refusal to recount disputed ballots particularly irked Republican supporters.

"Our major focus is Justice Anstead, who was an important part of the gigantic fiasco of the past few weeks," Mrs. Johnson said.

Six of the court's seven justices were appointed by Democratic governors. The seventh, Justice Peggy A. Quince, was appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles with the approval of incoming Gov. Jeb Bush.

Justice Charles Wells and Justice Major Harding also face retention votes in 2002, but both dissented on two key rulings in Vice President Al Gore's challenge of the Florida election result. It was Justice Wells who wrote a scathing dissent to the decision to conduct a statewide hand count of contested ballots, predicting the ruling would be reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Persuading voters to dump a sitting justice isn't an easy task, said Lance DeHaven-Smith, a political science professor at Florida State University.

"Justices are much less visible than other offices, and it's hard for most voters to even know who they are," he said. "Still, this might be a little different in that these recent decisions have made the court highly visible."

Voters have never ousted a judge under the merit-retention system. In 1992, abortion opponents campaigned to oust Justice Rosemary Barkett, but she received the approval of about 60 percent of the voters. She now sits on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

State Rep. Johnnie Byrd, Plant City Republican, said he has urged people to go slow in considering any call to oust a sitting supreme court justice.

"Let's get through this," he said. "It shouldn't be done in a knee-jerk kind of way."

However, there are some reforms he would like to consider, Mr. Byrd said, adding that the House task force on judicial workload is already considering whether the high court needs additional members.

Balance to the Bench simply wants justices to reflect the political philosophy of the state, which is increasingly conservative, said Mrs. Johnson, wife of former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Davy Johnson.

Other organizers of the PAC are Plant City businessman Sam Rashid, a Republican activist; and Bill O'Dea, a retired Tampa insurance agency owner.

Justice Anstead, 63, was appointed to the state Supreme Court in 1994 by Mr. Chiles. Before that, he spent 18 years on the 4th District Court of Appeals in West Palm Beach. Voters retained him as a justice in 1996 with 69 percent of the vote.

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