TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A Florida federal judge will decide whether or not outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott unfairly "targeted" the top elections official in one of the state's Democratic strongholds.
Attorneys for former Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes and Scott squared off for nearly two hours in federal court Monday during a hearing in which U.S. District Judge Mark Walker peppered both sides with questions.
Snipes, who was in the courtroom, wants to be reinstated to her job. She came under withering criticism for her handling of the 2018 elections and a legally required recount in close races for governor and U.S. Senate. In the aftermath of the November election, Snipes said she would resign on Jan. 4, but Scott immediately her suspended. Snipes then attempted to rescind her resignation and challenged the governor's suspension as "malicious" and politically motivated.
"We believe this was a targeted action on behalf of the governor and was designed to humiliate and embarrass her," said Burnadette Norris-Weeks, who is representing Snipes.
Walker did not rule during the hearing, but he did raise questions about whether Snipes was given a chance to defend herself against the allegations made by Scott.
Scott suspended Snipes for misfeasance, incompetence and neglect of duty, and appointed his former general counsel to take her place. In his executive order, Scott cited problems during the recount, including reports of more than 2,000 ballots being misplaced. Norris-Weeks contended that some of the problems cited by Scott were not caused by Snipes.
Daniel Nordby, who has been Scott's general counsel, said the governor took action when he did because he "determined the people of Broward County deserved a supervisor of elections" who could prepare for upcoming spring municipal elections in a "competent manner."
Although Walker did not signal how he would rule, he did at one point ask if Scott had criticized other supervisors for their performance during the 2018 elections, citing the example of a north Florida supervisor who allowed voters in a county affected by Hurricane Michael to vote by email or fax in apparent violation of state law. The answer was no.
Snipes is suing both Scott and the GOP-controlled Florida Senate. The lawsuit named the Senate because that chamber's Republican leader said there was not time to investigate the allegations against Snipes before her resignation took effect. Florida law requires the Senate to either remove or reinstate county officials who are suspended by the governor.
Snipes had been the top elections official in Broward County since 2003, when then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her. She had been elected three times and her current term was not scheduled to end until 2020.