Outgoing Broward Elections Supervisor Antonacci On Florida DOAH Shortlist
TALLAHASSEE --- Outgoing Broward County Supervisor of Elections Pete Antonacci and an administrative law judge who successfully challenged his suspension over alleged insubordination are among six finalists to become chief judge of the state Division of Administrative Hearings.
Antonacci, who drew a number of high-profile appointments from former Gov. Rick Scott, and Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham are among the finalists scheduled to be interviewed Tuesday during a state Cabinet meeting. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Cabinet oversee the division.
Antonacci, named by Scott as Broward County elections supervisor in 2018, has held posts such as Palm Beach County state attorney, general counsel to Scott and executive director of the South Florida Water Management District. He did not run for the elections supervisor job when it was on the ballot this year.
The Division of Administrative Hearings, commonly known as DOAH, typically plays a low-profile --- yet critical --- role in deciding cases involving government agencies. Administrative law judges, who have employment rights similar to other state workers, oversee cases ranging from detailed disputes about state awards of multimillion-dollar contracts and regulatory decisions to challenges over sanctions on barbers.
The chief judge job opened when John MacIver, an ally of DeSantis, stepped down in June, after the Florida Senate did not confirm his appointment during this year’s legislative session.
MacIver’s resignation also followed a controversy in which Van Laningham received a five-day unpaid suspension this spring after he accused MacIver of making what are known as improper “ex parte communications” when reviewing an order in a case about a South Florida horse track.
The Van Laningham suspension was the first in the agency’s history and drew widespread interest in the legal community. But Van Laningham fought the discipline at the state Public Employees Relations Commission, later spawning a case at the 1st District Court of Appeal about whether MacIver could be forced to testify in the dispute.
The legal wrangling ended when Van Laningham and the division reached a settlement in September. Under the settlement, DOAH agreed to rescind Van Laningham’s suspension and pay the judge for the five days he did not work. Also, the division agreed to pay Van Laningham’s legal fees and costs, up to $70,000.
Beau Beaubien, DeSantis’ director of Cabinet affairs, said Wednesday that background checks by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have already begun on the chief-judge candidates. Fourteen people applied for the position. Three withdrew their names prior to the shortlist being announced during a Cabinet aides meeting Wednesday.
Other candidates chosen for interviews are:
--- Mary Li Creasy, who has been an administrative law judge since 2013. Previously, Creasy was co-chair of the Labor and Employment Law Group at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick in Tampa for more than a decade.
--- J. Bruce Culpepper, an administrative law judge since 2015 who began his law practice as a judge advocate with the U.S. Air Force and spent 14 years in private practice.
--- Colin Mark Roopnarine, a partner with the Berger Singerman firm who spent nearly two decades with the state, most recently a three-year stint as general counsel at the Florida Office of Financial Regulation. Roopnarine has also served as a deputy general counsel with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, a hearing officer with the Public Employees Relations Commission and a managing attorney in the Department of Financial Services.
--- Tom Thomas, a deputy general counsel with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. Thomas, who spent more than a decade as a deputy staff director with the Florida House of Representatives, also served two years as general counsel of the Florida Department of Transportation.
MacIver was appointed to the chief judge job last year, but his selection created partisan friction.
As the head of the Tallahassee chapter of The Federalist Society, a prominent conservative legal group, MacIver told DeSantis and the Cabinet his goal would be to hire “the correct ALJs who have the correct judicial philosophy,” one that he called “apolitical.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the lone Democrat on the Cabinet, questioned MacIver’s appointment because he lacked experience for the post.
MacIver now serves as general counsel to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who along with Fried and Attorney General Ashley Moody make up the Cabinet.