Accusing Gov. Rick Scott of a “malicious and politically motivated” executive order, suspended Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes has filed a federal lawsuit against Scott and Senate President Bill Galvano as she tries to regain her job.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court in Tallahassee, follows a tumultuous period that included high-profile reports of election problems in Broward County, Snipes’ announcement that she would resign from the job in January, Scott issuing an executive order to suspend Snipes — and Snipes saying she was rescinding her resignation.
In the lawsuit, Snipes argues that her due-process rights are being violated. It came four days after Galvano said the Senate, which has the constitutional authority to remove from office or reinstate suspended elected officials, would not take up the matter.
The 27-page lawsuit said Snipes has “suffered a significant deprivation” of her rights.
“She has been publicly humiliated by being closed out of her job and further not being paid during the suspension,” the lawsuit said. “At this point, Governor Scott’s allegations have gone unchallenged as he sits high on a ‘throne’ utilizing state resources to continually humiliate Snipes. Due process clearly applies.”
But John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, characterized the lawsuit as a “desperate move.” Scott and other Republicans hammered Snipes because of problems in the aftermath of the Nov. 6 elections, which included Scott defeating Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in a race that required machine and manual recounts because of its narrow margin.
“The governor’s action to remove Ms. Snipes from office for misfeasance, neglect of duty and incompetence speaks for itself, and the media has reported on multiple instances where she broke the law (in handling the election),” Tupps said in an email Tuesday. “This lawsuit is a desperate move from someone who has already officially submitted her resignation. This is simply an attempt by Ms. Snipes to rewrite the history of her failed leadership.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has scheduled a conference call Thursday afternoon to begin moving forward with the case.
Snipes, a Democrat who was first appointed elections supervisor in 2003 and has been elected four times, announced Nov. 18 that she would resign effective Jan. 4. But on Nov. 30, Scott issued an executive order suspending Snipes and replacing her with Pete Antonacci, whose past roles have included serving as Scott’s general counsel.
The day after the executive order, Snipes held a news conference and rescinded her resignation. The lawsuit said Snipes’ attorney contacted Senate General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes on Dec. 3 about starting the process for a Senate hearing to fight the suspension.
But Galvano said Thursday that the Senate considers Snipes’ resignation “unconditional and effective Jan. 4, and the Senate will be taking no action.” In a memo to senators, Galvano also said there wouldn’t be time to conduct a “full investigation into the serious assertions” in Scott’s executive order. The Senate will not hold committee meetings before Jan. 4 and doesn’t begin the 2019 legislative session until March 5.
“Past Senate practice as recently as 2012 dictates if a term ends prior to the Senate being able to take action, then no further proceedings are held. … This decision in no way reflects on Dr. Snipes, the governor, or their actions,” Galvano wrote. “The decision merely reflects that no timely action can be taken by the Senate. Nothing precludes Dr. Snipes from seeking a judicial determination of any rights she may have related to the Office of Broward County Supervisor of Elections.”
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to block Scott and Galvano from enforcing parts of state law and a Senate rule dealing with suspensions. It also seeks a judgment that those parts of state law and the Senate rule are “null and void” because they deprive Snipes of due process.
“In this case, the suspended public official’s loss of pay or the orchestrated shattering of her reputation was without due process of law,” the lawsuit said. “Also, the laws do not provide any procedural safeguards for notice and an opportunity to be heard. In the case of Snipes, there has been no opportunity to respond to Governor Scott’s executive order.”