Blind woman invokes Monty Python in lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott

Jun 20, 2011

The following article was published in the Tampa Tribune on June 20, 2011:

Blind woman invokes Monty Python in lawsuit against Governor Rick Scott

By Catherine Whittenburg

Gov. Rick Scott faces a blind woman on food stamps this month at the Florida Supreme Court, where the South Florida resident is challenging Scott’s handling of rulemaking by state agencies.

The hearing could prove to be colorful, if recent filings in the case — referring to a Monty Python comedy sketch — are any indication.

The court has scheduled a June 29 hearing in the case brought by Rosalie Whiley, a low-income resident of Opa Locka who is suing the governor over his Jan. 4 order to suspend rulemaking at all agencies subject to his authority.

The order by Scott — a pro-business conservative who ran on a pledge to create jobs — created an executive office to review every pending rule to ensure it did not unduly burden the private sector. The policy immediately froze hundreds of pending rules, affecting everything from environmental protections to healthcare.

Scott has since replaced that order with a related one directing agencies to continue submitting all proposed rules to the new office.

In her initial petition filed March 28, Whiley complained that Scott’s order was preventing the state Department of Children and Families from revising the state’s food stamps application through rulemaking to conform with federal law. Unable, as a blind person, to apply alone, Whiley said that the state’s application forced her to reveal too much personal information to whoever filled out the form for her.

A spokesman for DCF said Friday the department was not even pursuing a change to the rules, so that part of Whiley’s argument is irrelevant.

Attorneys for Whiley — who is represented both by legal aid attorneys and the firm of Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former Florida State University president — said the outcome of that situation does not change Whiley’s determination to challenge the governor, whom the plaintiff has accused of overstepping his constitutional authority. According to the plaintiff, Scott usurped legislative authority by replacing the existing rulemaking process with his own.

Citing examples of similar action by President Barack Obama and former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, attorneys for the governor have responded that it “has become common practice for chief executives to review and assert control over agency regulatory activity.” Doing so, they argued, “ensures political accountability … promotes coordination and reduces duplicative or counterproductive regulation by numerous executive agencies.”

In recent filings, the debate has turned more fiesty.

On May 23, Whiley’s attorneys poked fun at Scott’s claim to “supreme executive power” by suggesting that “the Governor’s theory seems to have come from a Monty Python skit. See the discourse between ‘Arthur, King of Britons’ and ‘Dennis the Constitutional Peasant,’ from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

In that scene from the 1975 cult classic comedy, King Arthur explains to Dennis, a filth-covered peasant, that Arthur rules over all Britons because a mystical Lady of the Lake “held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king.”

Dennis responds: “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony … You can’t expect to wield supreme executive power because some watery tart threw a sword at you.”

There’s nothing wrong with courts and attorneys having a sense of humor, said D’Alemberte, who wrote the Monty Python brief.

“I’m not accusing the governor of going quite as far as the Arthur character in Monty Python went,” the attorney said. “But he does assert in [a subsequent order, issued April 8] this idea of supreme executive power as though it’s magic.”

The Python sketch, he added, “is still one of the funniest pieces I’ve ever seen.”

Scott’s attorneys did not seem to find the reference funny, arguing on June 3 that the petitioner “simply ignores the relevant facts” in the case “and caricatures the Governor’s position … arguing that the Governor has derived a ‘theory’ of separation of powers ‘from a Monty Python skit.'”

In the same filing, Scott’s attorneys object to Whiley’s request for an expedited hearing. The court sided with the Opa Locka woman, however, scheduling the hearing at June 29.

Despite his written objection, Scott is “happy with the schedule the Supreme Court has laid out for this case and our attorneys look forward to presenting the issues,” spokeswoman Amy Graham said. “On the merits of the case, our brief speaks for itself and fully answers all of the petitioner’s arguments.”

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