In 2000, Broward County voters approved term limits for their county commissioners by an 80% vote. Since then, politicians have chafed under the looming limits which go into full effect in 2012.
They knew the voters still support term limits by a wide margin, so how can they overturn the law and keep their jobs?
The answer: Sue the voters.
And so far, it’s working. On Election Day 2010, Broward Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips ruled for a gaggle of local politicians that the Broward county commission term limits are null and void and that term limits can only be mandated by a state constitutional amendment, not by an amendment of the county charter by the people.
There is no question the politicians found a friendly judge. Judge Phillips is the wife of former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, a term-limits opponent who was term-limited out of office in 2009.
In addition to her legal decision, Phillips adds to her ruling a personal disapproval of terms limits, claiming that “term limits are available at this time, each election and the voters have the undeniable right … to re-elect or vote them out.”
In her ruling, Phillips claims to be bound by the Cook v. City of Jacksonville and DeBlaker v. Eight is Enough in Pinellas, 823 So.2d 86 (Fla. 2002) case. In this controversial case, the Supreme Court of Florida voted 4-3 to toss out term limits for constitutional officers in Duval and Pinellas counties saying that because some disqualifications for office are set by the state constitution, additional ones cannot be added by individual counties.
However, that case dealt with constitutional officers – covered by article VIII section 1(d) of the Florida Constitution – not county commissioners. Constitutional officers include the sheriff, property appraiser, tax collector, supervisor of elections, etc. The Supreme Court has never ruled on the constitutionality of county commissioners (section 1(e)), hence Phillips decision is novel. It is currently being appealed.
Please note also the Broward case only applies to the Broward term limits law and, even if the Phillips decision is upheld, does not apply to any other counties’ law except for Broward’s. The Supreme Court has never spoken on county commissioner term limits, but it will. This case is NOT over.
(Pictured above: Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips hobnobs with Florida politicians, including husband Jim Naugle and former Gov. Charlie Crist.)