As signs build that Florida’s new governor may suspend Broward County’s elected sheriff from office, a federal judge has ruled that the state’s former governor overstepped when he effectively fired Broward County’s elections supervisor. In a Wednesday evening order, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Walker found that Rick Scott exceeded his authority when, on the heels of a controversial election recount, he suspended Brenda Snipes from office. Due to the timing of her removal and her plans to resign in early January, Snipes was left without the ability to challenge her ouster or contest the allegations contained in Scott’s executive order. Walker declined to reinstate Snipes, a 15-year veteran of the elections department, which she had sought in the form of a preliminary injunction. He also agreed that the Florida Senate was right to deny her a hearing that by law is typically afforded politicians who seek to challenge a suspension by the governor.
But he did order Scott’s successor, the newly elected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, to issue a new order by the end of the month explaining the reasons for Snipes’ suspension, and demand that Snipes be granted a special hearing before the governor no later than March 31.
“Judges face murky legal issues every day. Today is not one of those days,” wrote Walker, who has been critical of Scott in previous rulings. “Flagrantly disregarding [Snipes’] constitutional rights fits into an unfortunate rhythm for Scott.”
Walker, of Tallahassee, was explicit that he was not mandating an outcome that Snipes be reinstated and wrote that he was not aware “of any principle demanding such a remedy.” But he said that Snipes must have a forum to be heard.