State tries to remove judge in medical marijuana dispute – Florida Politics (blog)
Accusing him of bias, Florida health officials are asking that Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham be removed from a case involving a medical marijuana license.
The highly unusual request came two days before a hearing was supposed to begin in a challenge filed last month against the state Department of Health by Homestead-based Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms.
In an affidavit filed Tuesday, state Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax accused Van Laningham of having “prejudged the issues in this matter” and attempting to help St. Germain.
“Based on all of the facts set forth above, I have firmly concluded that the department cannot receive fair consideration of the issues and will not receive a fair final hearing in this matter if ALJ Van Laningham remains assigned as the administrative judge,” Bax said.
The tug-of-war between the judge and health officials escalated, with the judge chiding the state, lawyers for Bax refusing to back down and the nursery accusing the department of judge-shopping.
Part of Bax’s complaints about Van Laningham centered on a separate marijuana-related challenge in which the judge ruled against the health department. In that case, Van Laningham scalded agency officials for failing to follow their own rules when scoring applications for the highly coveted marijuana licenses.
The department’s “arbitrary scoring method fatally undermines its preliminary rankings, which would not survive even the most deferential standards of review,” Van Laningham wrote in a 2016 recommended order in the case involving the nurseries Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm.
Van Laningham ultimately decided that the agency should grant licenses to the two nurseries, but Bax’s office rejected his findings. Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm ultimately got licenses because of a change passed