Four Florida Supreme Court justices left their black robes in Tallahassee to speak at a forum at the UF Levin College of Law on Thursday afternoon.

About 120 people attended “The Importance of an Independent Judiciary,” an event sponsored by the Gerald T. Bennett Inn of Court and the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Students Division.

The majority of the justices, four out of seven, responded to the invitation to participate in the forum. Justices Jorge Labarga, R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince discussed merit retention decided through voter election as a threat to a fair and balanced judicial system.

“The people of Florida deserve a judicial branch that is not beholden to the big guys or the little guys,” Lewis said during the discussion.

UF adjunct law professor Carl B. Schwait began the event, and Dean Jon L. Mills introduced the justices.

“We take for granted what the Constitution did for an independent judiciary,” Mills told the crowd.

Afterward, a panel of three law students asked questions to the justices about politicizing merit retention and diminished judicial funding.

After the event, president of the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Law Student Division Allie Menegakis said she felt educating the public on merit retention was important.

“If law students don’t know what it is, how do undergraduates know what it is?” Menegakis asked.

Second-year law student Sabrina Jadunandan, 22, explained that merit retention is a burden on the justices’ shoulders.

“It’s important to see the judges’ perspective,” Jadunandan said. “Bringing them together in the same room is an amazing experience.”

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