By Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
TALLAHASSEE — Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston announced Monday he will step down March 31, giving Gov. Ron DeSantis another opportunity to place his imprint on the state’s highest court.
In a two-paragraph letter to DeSantis, Polston, 67, did not detail reasons for his resignation after more than 14 years on the Supreme Court. Polston served from 2012 to 2014 as chief justice and also was a judge on the 1st District Court of Appeal before getting appointed to the Supreme Court.
“I truly am grateful for the opportunity to work with such great jurists, lawyers and all those involved with the judiciary,” Polston wrote in the letter.
Chief Justice Carlos Muniz issued a statement that said, “Ricky Polston is a good man, and he has been a treasured colleague, friend, and role model to all of us on the Court. We are grateful for Justice Polston’s decades of exemplary service to the people of our state.”
The resignation sets the stage for a nomination process that will lead to DeSantis appointing a replacement. While DeSantis will appoint a conservative justice, the choice likely will not result in a dramatic change on the court, as Polston has been reliably conservative on most issues.
Among recent cases, Polston in January wrote a majority opinion that rejected a challenge to a state law that threatens stiff penalties if local officials pass gun-related regulations. Cities and counties challenged the law after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The appointment will give DeSantis a chance to continue exerting his influence on the seven-member court. The Republican governor has appointed four of the current justices — Muniz, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans and Renatha Francis.
Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga were appointed to the court by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who, at the time, was a Republican. Crist later became a Democrat.
Until 2019, Polston and Canady often were part of a conservative minority on the court. But longtime Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — who had been part of a more-liberal majority — hit a mandatory retirement age in 2019, allowing DeSantis to replace them and create a solid conservative majority.
DeSantis last year named Francis to the court after Justice Alan Lawson resigned. Lawson was appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott.
Polston, who is from the small Northwest Florida community of Graceville, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2008. He served on the 1st District Court of Appeal from 2001 to 2008. Before going to law school at Florida State University, he worked as a certified public accountant.
Polston and his wife, Deborah Ehler Polston, have 10 children, including an adopted sibling group of six children, according to the Supreme Court.