TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Former Gov. and current U.S. Sen. Rick Scott violated a former state election official's constitutional rights when he suspended and "vilified" her without first allowing her to make her own case, a Florida federal judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis must grant former Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes a "meaningful opportunity to be heard" regarding her suspension by March 31.
Snipes came under fire during the contentious recount that followed 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 suspended her. Snipes then attempted to rescind her resignation and challenged the governor's suspension as "malicious" and politically motivated.
Walker ruled that Scott's decision was an "effective termination" and violated Snipes' due process rights. The judge also said that Scott's order suspending Snipes contained "falsehoods."
Still, Walker said he does not have the authority to reinstate Snipes, writing that the court is "not determining what the ultimate outcome will or should be."
Attorneys for Scott had argued the governor had the authority to remove her from office. A Scott spokesman said, "We are reviewing the decision from this liberal judge, but Senator Scott stands by his decision. Supervisor Snipes violated state law and turned Broward County's elections operation into a laughing-stock. She failed to fulfill her duties, and for that she was suspended and should stay suspended."
DeSantis did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the decision.
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."
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.