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Supreme Court asked to overturn blind trust law used by Scott

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 by John Kennedy

Gov. Rick Scott has used blind trust since 2011

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Wednesday to overturn a state law used by Gov. Rick Scott to place his multimillion dollars in assets in a blind trust rather than submit to full financial disclosure.

The lawsuit was filed by Jim Apthorp, a former chief of staff to late Gov. Reubin Askew, instrumental in developing the state’s “Sunshine Amendment,” which included financial disclosure requirements for elected officials. Attorney in the case is Talbot ‘Sandy’ D’Alemberte, a former Florida State University president.

Scott won approval from the state’s Commission on Ethics in 2011 to put his holdings in a blind trust, steered by money managers independent of the governor. The state Legislature two years later approved a measure allowing such blind trusts to be used as a form of state-required, annual financial disclosure for elected officials.

“The Sunshine Amendment requires that things be revealed; blind trusts require that things be concealed,” Apthorp’s petition to the court says. “It would be absurd to conclude that the latter is an adequate substitute for the former.”

Scott has $72 million in investments managed in the blind trust by Hollow Brook Wealth Management, a New York investment advisor. Democrat Alex Sink also kept her investments in a blind trust during her term as Chief Financial Officer and when she ran against Scott for governor in 2010.

Among the organizations supporting the lawsuit are the media-backed First Amendment Foundation and the Florida Press Association.

While the state’s Commission on Ethics has issued two opinions in recent years defending blind trusts and lawmakers who advanced the 2013 legislation termed it a good government move, critics say it can lead to less information being made available to the public.

For example, while state law requires annual “full and public disclosure of financial interests” assets, liabilities or income sources of more than $1,000, blind trusts used by Florida politicians occasionally report such holdings in lump-sum amounts.

“The meaning of the Sunshine Amendment is clear: Officials and candidates must disclose their finances in full,” Apthorp said.

 

Restore Justice leader looks to unseat Central Florida Democrat

Monday, March 31st, 2014 by John Kennedy

A Central Florida man who led an unsuccessful effort to unseat the last three Florida Supreme Court justices appointed by a Democratic governor announced Monday that he is running as a Republican for an Orlando-area House seat.

Jesse Phillips, a health care technology director, is challenging Rep. Joe Saunders, D-Orlando, who made history in 2012 when he and newly elected Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, became the first openly gay members of the Florida Legislature.

Phillips led Restore Justice 2012, which sought to defeat Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince in that year’s merit retention elections. Phillips’ campaign was supported by the Florida Republican Party, but the justices and their allies spent $5 million on a campaign that led to their easily winning new six-year terms.

Florida’s spending was third highest in the nation, according to the analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which studied election spending on courts.

The district Phillips is running in is one of Florida’s youngest, including eastern Orange County and containing the University of Central Florida, Valencia Community College East and Full Sail University.

“The time-tested principals of limited government and personal responsibility, while being in sharp contrast to the Democrats’ failed policies, will move Florida forward and improve the lives of its diverse citizens,” Phillips said.

The three justices targeted last fall were appointed by late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, with Quince named jointly with former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Unseating them would have given Gov. Rick Scott a chance to appoint their successors, assuring that all seven Florida Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican governors.

Florida justices approve medical marijuana amendment for ballot

Monday, January 27th, 2014 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court in a split decision ruled Monday that voters can decide this fall on whether to legalize medical marijuana, rejecting arguments from the state’s Republican leaders that the proposed ballot measure is unconstitutionally flawed.

The 4-3 ruling also has implications for the governor’s race this fall. Republican Gov. Rick Scott opposes allowing Floridians to obtain prescriptions for pot use while Democrats Charlie Crist and Nan Rich are supporting the proposed amendment.

Justices were asked to rule whether the proposed language of the citizens’ initiative meets constitutional standards. Opponents, who included most of the state’s Republican leadership, argued that the proposal involved more than one subject, confused voters, or made them think they are endorsing something they’re not.

Justices said the measure passed muster.

“We conclude that the proposed amendment has a logical and natural oneness of purpose—namely, whether Floridians want a provision in the state constitution authorizing the medical use of marijuana, as determined by a licensed Florida physician, under Florida law,” the court majority wrote.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James Perry ruled in favor of the amendment. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justices Charles Canady and Jorge Labarga wrote the measure should be struck from the ballot.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and epilepsy.

Eleven of the states have enacted such laws through ballot measures, similar to that promoted in Florida by the organization, United for Care.

Land and Water Legacy is now Amendment 1 for November

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 by John Kennedy

Florida voters will get a chance to steer as much as $10 billion toward environmental efforts over the next two decades through a ballot measure officially set Thursday for the November ballot.

The Water and Land Legacy campaign’s proposal was officially designated as Amendment 1 by Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

“We are pleased to be slated as Amendment 1 on the ballot because water and land conservation deserves to be a top priority for our state,” said Will Abberger, the campaign’s chair and director of conservation finance for The Trust for Public Land.

“Florida is home to one-of-a-kind natural waters and lands and voters now have an opportunity to make a commitment to conservation that will last for generations of Floridians to come.”

The campaign topped the 683,149 valid signatures from Florida registered voters to secure a place on the ballot. Another active ballot campaign aimed at asking voters to approve medical marijuana is near the valid number of signatures, with 654,330 on hand Thursday.

But organizers say that thousands more petition signatures still await certification by the Feb. 1 deadline.

The Water and Land effort faced no challenge before the Florida Supreme Court. But state Republican leaders are seeking to have the marijuana initiative barred from the ballot because they claim the proposed amendment misleads voters. Justices have not yet ruled.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham, who was Florida governor from 1979-87, helped launch the Water and Land campaign, which is backed by the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club and others.

The amendment would earmark one-third of the state’s documentary stamp tax dollars, drawn from real-estate transactions, for conservation, management and restoration of Florida’s water and land for 20 years, beginning in July 2015.

The measure so far hasn’t drawn overt opposition. But the Florida Chamber of Commerce is warning the proposal ties the “hands of our elected representatives.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican, also has criticized the proposed amendment. Putnam, who is attempting to take a leading role in developing a statewide water policy, takes issue with the constitutional approach.

Republican leaders acknowledge some redistricting records destroyed

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 by John Kennedy

House and Senate Republican leaders, battling with Democrats and their allies over last year’s Senate and congressional redistricting, acknowledged in new court filings that some records that may now be sought could have been destroyed.

The courtroom clash was taken to a higher level last week when the Florida Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers could be forced to testify about discussions and strategy that went into the recast political boundaries.

Democrats allege Republican leaders huddled with consultants and exchanged email in an illegal effort to keep the GOP in command of the state Legislature and congressional delegation.

But in documents filed Dec. 9 in the ongoing case in Leon County Circuit Court, attorneys for the Legislature argue that while they have already turned over 10,000 records, not everything Democrats may demand are still available.

The filing cited a House rule allowing that documents “no longer needed for any purpose . . .shall be disposed of systematically,” barring extraordinary circumstances. Legislative attorneys argued that Democrats and their allies failed to notify top lawmakers that they planned to challenge the congressional and Senate boundaries that went into effect last year.

What’s missing is unclear. But the filing suggests that emails, text messages and other communication between lawmakers are likely among the records that have been erased.

Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court already show that emails were exchanged among aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps. At the time, Gaetz and Weatherford were the redistricting chairmen of their respective chambers.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.

Weatherford, who like Gaetz is expected to be asked to give a videotaped deposition in the case, said the House did nothing wrong in its handling of redistricting documents.

“Any accusation that the Florida House of Representative thwarted the law and destroyed documents is completely false,” Weatherford said. “We not only complied with the letter and the spirit of the public record laws and longstanding House rules, but also went above and beyond those standards when it came to redistricting.

He added, “The opponents in this lawsuit have received thousands and thousands of documents.  They should know better.”

 

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After tough retention fight, justices look to make it easier to collect cash

Monday, December 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Three Florida Supreme Court justices raised an unprecedented mountain of cash last year in beating back a bid to unseat them by tea party supporters and the state Republican Party.

Justices and their allies steadily ridiculed their opponents throughout the campaign for politicizing the court.

But this week, the court is poised to advance a provision which the same critics warn will inject even more politics into the judiciary, making it easier for justices to raise money and harness support for future campaigns.

“You could write a book about the hypocrisy of all this,” said Jesse Phillips, a Winter Park computer consultant who led Restore Justice 2012, the unsuccessful campaign to throw out Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis.

“We’re not the ones who raised big money. They did,” he added. “Now they’re looking to take away restrictions limiting them.”

The Supreme Court has proposed changing a judicial canon, or regulation, so that candidates on the same court who face opposition in a merit retention election could campaign together.

It’s designed to avoid the kind of awkward dance the three justices had to engage in last year – when they would try to avoid appearing together when even at the same event or fund-raiser.

Alex Villalobos, a former Miami state senator, now serves as president of Democracy At Stake, an organization formed to combat what leaders call “ongoing threats to the fairness and impartiality of the courts.”

He said justices know they are in a troubling “arms race” when it comes to fund-raising.

“You have to be prepared for a challenge,” Villalobos said. “You don’t know if it’s going to come or how. But it’s like if you put up a burglar alarm. You want to do it before your house is broken into.”

Full story here:   http://bit.ly/1cMnnUt

 

 

Florida Supreme Court rejects Republican leaders’ bid for shield in redistricting cases

Friday, December 13th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that state lawmakers can be forced to testify in redistricting cases claiming that backroom huddling with consultants and a flurry of email exchanges were part of an illegal effort to keep Republicans in command of Florida.

The 5-2 ruling by justices sided with the League of Women Voters of Florida, which disputed the stand by lawmakers that “legislative privilege” shields them from testifying in lawsuits challenging the state’s new congressional and state Senate maps.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the majority, said constitutional standards approved by voters in 2010 specifically were designed to keep partisan politics out of the once-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political boundaries.

“We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to present the discovery of relevant evidence,” Pariente wrote.

Court documents in the lawsuits filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, designated last week as Gaetz’s successor as president, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, also angling for the job in the future, emailed district information to consultants for review.

 

Sponsors of medical marijuana ballot proposal grilled by justices

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida Supreme Court justices grilled sponsors of a proposed ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana, questioning whether it misleads voters about who could get prescriptions and makes clear that pot-use still violates federal law.

Justice Fred Lewis sought answers about why the measure should not be considered a “broad catch-all” for doctors to hand out marijuana. Chief Justice Ricky Polston asked whether students “stressed out” about exams could get relief with a pot prescription.

Attorney Jon Mills, a former Democratic state House speaker representing United for Care, the organization, behind the proposal, said the measure’s focus is to help those with “debilitating diseases as determined by a licensed Florida physician.”

Mills told justices that, “is the core of this.”

But Solicitor General Allen Winsor, representing Attorney General Pam Bondi along with business associations, law enforcement groups and Republican legislative leaders opposing the measure, said that it is critically flawed and should be barred from going before voters.

Winsor said, “there are forms of illogic throughout this amendment.”

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and epilepsy.

Eleven of the states have enacted such laws through ballot measures, similar to that promoted in Florida by the organization, United for Care.  The campaign has collected 131,655 valid signatures, but must get to a needed 683,149 by Feb. 1 to reach the November 2014 ballot.

 

Follow along as reporter John Kennedy tweets live as Florida justices hear medical marijuana arguments

Thursday, December 5th, 2013 by Palm Beach Post Staff

A legal battle with broad social and political shadings goes before the Florida Supreme Court this morning as justices consider a measure asking voters to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses.

Much of Florida’s Republican leadership is being joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association, and law enforcement organizations in fighting the proposed 2014 ballot measure.

On the opposite side, leading Democratic donor John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer close to former Gov. Charlie Crist, is bankrolling the campaign.

A former Democratic House Speaker, Jon Mills of Gainesville, will make the campaign’s case before justices on Thursday.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C., have legalized the use of marijuana for treatment of a variety of medical conditions, including cancer, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and epilepsy.

Eleven of the states have enacted such laws through ballot measures, similar to that promoted in Florida by the organization, United for Care. The campaign has collected 131,655 valid signatures, but must get to a needed 683,149 by Feb. 1 to reach the November 2014 ballot.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month showed 82 percent of Floridians support allowing adults to legally use marijuana for medical use if prescribed by a doctor. Support is strong among Republicans, with 70 percent backing the idea, compared with 87 percent among Democrats.

Politics also in the air when justices hear medical marijuana case

Monday, December 2nd, 2013 by John Kennedy

In a legal battle whose social and political shadings have drawn an all-star cast of combatants, the Florida Supreme Court this week will consider a measure asking voters to allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for a range of illnesses.

Much of Florida’s Republican leadership is being joined by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the state’s medical association and law enforcement organizations in fighting the proposed 2014 ballot measure.

On the opposite side, leading Democratic donor John Morgan, an Orlando trial lawyer close to former Gov. Charlie Crist, is bankrolling the campaign. Crist, previously a Republican while governor, is now running for the office as a Democrat.

A former Democratic House Speaker, Jon Mills of Gainesville, will make the campaign’s case before justices on Thursday.

While the politics of the fight are viewed as closely entwined in next year’s governor’s race, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his opposition stems only from concerns about how the ballot proposal is constructed.

“It’s misleading to voters, flawed and doesn’t really tell you just how pervasive marijuana would be in this state,” Weatherford told The Palm Beach Post. “If this were approved, it would be a nightmare for the Legislature to implement.”

Full story here:  http://bit.ly/1htBAsY

 

 

Justices to settle red light camera clash

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 by John Kennedy

More than two dozen cities violated state law by installing red light cameras to catch errant motorists in the years before the devices were approved by the Legislature, the Florida Supreme Court was told Thursday.

Millions of dollars in fines collected from drivers before 2010 are at stake in the case, which pivots around whether Aventura and Orlando could create what attorneys for the cities said was a “parallel system” that did not conflict with the state’s uniform traffic laws.

Attorneys for a pair of motorists charged with running red lights urged justices to reject the cities’ argument.

“You can’t call an apple an orange and say it’s the same thing,” said Andrew Harris, a West Palm Beach lawyer representing Richard Masone, who was ticketed in Aventura in 2009.

The Third District Court of Appeal upheld Aventura’s authority to ticket Massone, going along with the city’s argument that the action was within its power to issue code infractions.

Only a few months later, the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled the city of Orlando was wrong to ticket Michael Udowhychenko in 2009, because the red light cameras were installed before state law expressly allowed them.

The high court has been brought in to resolve the conflict.

Bondi casts a cloud over marijuana amendment

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Attorney General Pam Bondi

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi cast a cloud Thursday over a proposed ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana in the state.

Bondi, a Republican, told Florida Supreme Court justices that problems exist with the proposed ballot title and summary, arguing that that they mislead voters about the scope of the amendment. The Supreme Court reviews proposed citizens-sponsored ballot measures to assure they meet constitutional standards and can bar those that do not.

The attorney general’s opinion is merely advisory to justices on the validity of the proposal.

For her part, Bondi said the amendment, “obscured the most fundamental issue underlying its proposal: The nature and scope of marijuana use the amendment would allow.”

While the ballot title and summary say the amendment would allow marijuana to be prescribed only for patients with “debilitating diseases,” it actually “would allow marijuana in limitless situations,” the attorney general concluded.

The amendment would allow patients with cancer, Lou Gehrig’s disease, HIV/AIDs and Parkinson’s disease to be among those eligible for treatment with marijuana. But it also gives doctors authority to prescribe for “other conditions.”

“Particularly for a physician who considers the marijuana’s health risks low, there is no “condition” beyond the amendment’s reach,” Bondi wrote. “The ballot summary does not convey this breathtaking scope, instead telling voters that marijuana would be limited to ‘individuals with debilitating diseases.’”

The proposed Florida constitutional amendment has gained almost 110,000 valid signatures on its way to a required 683,149 verified voter signatures by Feb. 1 to get on the November 2014 ballot.

Those signatures collected so far have triggered the Florida Supreme Court review. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have approved marijuana being prescribed for medical conditions.

Justices to decide whether lawmakers must talk about redistricting

Monday, September 16th, 2013 by John Kennedy

Florida’s ruling Republican legislators should be required to testify about whether they violated state law by secretly getting advice from party consultants before drawing new political boundaries, the Supreme Court was told Monday.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, attorney for the League of Women Voters of Florida, said that there is no “legislative privilege” which shields lawmakers from giving depositions in lawsuits looking to overturn at least portions of the state’s congressional and state Senate maps approved during last year’s redistricting.

“We have great pride in being an open government state,” D’Alemberte told reporters after an almost hourlong argument before the high court. “If you now can’t get to what the Legislature did…what does that do to the core of our principles about open government. I see this as important on several different levels.”

But Raoul Cantero, a former state Supreme Court justice now representing the Legislature in the case, said that Florida, like all states across the country, protect lawmakers from being forced to testify about the subjective thought process that went into passing legislation.

While Republican leaders have surrendered more than 30,000 documents as public records in the lawsuits underway, the court should not now demand that legislators testify about their actions, Cantero said.

“No court in the country has ever ordered that a legislator testify about the legislative process,” Cantero said following arguments. “If the court were to order depositions in this case, they’d be the first court in this country to do so. We just want (justices) to do what every other state has done.”

 

Death Row lawyers and inmates challenge new fast-track death penalty law

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013 by Dara Kam

Attorneys representing Death Row inmates have filed a challenge to a law aimed at speeding up executions, saying the “Timely Justice Act” unconstitutionally usurps the Supreme Court’s powers and violates convicts’ constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.

The lawsuit is led by two lawyers – Capital Collateral Regional Counsel South Neal Dupree and Capital Collateral Regional Counsel Middle Bill Jennings – who head the state agencies that represent Death Row inmates in post-conviction proceedings. Dozens of other lawyers and more than 150 inmates awaiting execution joined the lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi and the state of Florida filed with the Supreme Court Wednesday afternoon.

The lawyers filed the lawsuit less than two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law.

The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, requires the Florida Supreme Court to certify to the governor when a Death Row inmate’s appeals have been exhausted. Under the new law, the governor will have 30 days to sign a death warrant once the capital clemency process is complete.

The lawyers have asked the Court to issue an emergency injunction blocking the law from going into effect.

“The Act creates a rushed process for issuance of a flood of death warrants that will inundate the courts and abruptly cut off this Court’s exercise of judicial review in capital cases. If not addressed prior to its operation in practice, the process will have the unconstitutional and irreversible result of individuals being executed under a legislatively-determined judicial procedure in which violations of their constitutional rights go unresolved. Further, Florida history shows that diminished process can have tragic and irreversible consequences,” the lawyers wrote in the 89-page filing.

The court filing includes a lengthy examination of both the Court’s and the legislature’s efforts over the past 30 years to come up with a more expedited but fair death penalty process “to balance the concerns of fairness and justice with the need for finality” in death penalty cases.

That process “cannot and should not be displaced by a lawmaking process based on political, rather than constitutional and equitable, concerns,” wrote Dupree and Jennings, joined by Martin McClain, who has represented numerous Death Row inmates, included some who have been exonerated.

Since signing the bill, Scott’s office has launched a public relations campaign disputing reports that the new law speeds up executions and insisting instead that the law “makes technical amendments to current law and provides clarity and transparency to legal proceedings.”

According to Scott’s office, 13 Death Row inmates would fit the criteria under the new law to have a death warrant signed.

But in the court filings, lawyers for the condemned argued that the Legislature’s new scheme to limit post-conviction appeals lacks an understanding of the complexities of the process and imposes restrictions on federal appeals.

The Legislature “has made profoundly critical decisions determining what judicial vehicles are available to capital defendants prior to the State taking the ultimate punitive act of terminating their lives, yet it seems the Legislature does not have an understanding of those vehicles and their names. Unless, that is, we must presume that the Legislature intended to cut off U.S. Supreme Court review of Florida death cases, which would present concerns of federalism, constitutionality, and fairness beyond those addressed herein,” the lawyers wrote.

The lawsuit also accuses the law of violating the separation of powers between the branches of government because it gives the governor the authority to oversee whether the Clerk of the Supreme Court complies with the 30-day requirement to notify the governor once appeals have been completed and because it takes away some of the court’s rulemaking authority by imposing time limits on the production of public records in post-conviction cases.

And the new law also fails to take into account that some appeals, including whether an inmate is insane cannot be made until after a warrant is issued, the Death Row lawyers argued.

The law would also give unequal treatment to convicts whose cases were processed before the new act went into effect, the lawyers wrote.

SCOTUS ruling overturning Florida justices carries echo of ballot fight

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Tuesday overturning Florida justices in favor of a Central Florida landowner was hailed by conservatives, some of whom helped push an unsuccesful drive last fall to recast the state’s high court.

Americans for Prosperity, which helped fuel the Restore Justice 2012 effort that attempted to unseat Florida Supreme Court justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis were among those endorsing Tuesday’s 5-4 decision in Washington.

The 2011 Florida Supreme Court ruling was unanimous, although opponents of the three justices facing merit retention last fall cast it as an example of the trio’s activism. In social media postings, Restore Justice 2012 warned that the seven-member court had “not respected your property rights.”

Federal justices, though, sided with the family of the late Coy Koontz, saying they could continue their two-decade dispute with the St. Johns Water Management District over a 15-acre tract of Orange County land. Water management officials declared much of the property wetlands and stopped development, also ordering Koontz to pay money to protect wetlands elsewhere.

Koontz refused and sued and a trial court said he should receive $327,500 for being unable to use his property. But the Florida Supreme Court in 2011 overturned that ruling, saying the regulatory action was within its authority.

But on Tuesday, the five more conservative justices on the court sided with Koontz. The four liberal and moderate justices sided with the role of goverment in land-use regulations.

The legal issue was whether the agency’s action constituted a “taking” subject to compensation, under the so-called takings clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said a government may not condition a land-use permit on an owner giving up the use of some property absent a “nexus” and “rough proportionality” between the demand and the effect of the proposed land use. He said this applied even if the permit were denied, and the demand was for money.

 

Florida’s redistricting fight continues on paper trail

Thursday, May 30th, 2013 by John Kennedy

A Republican-allied campaign research and consulting firm surrendered more than 1,800 pages of records this week but asked a judge Thursday to block a demand by Democratic-leaning groups for more emails and documents in a lawsuit over last year’s legislative redistricting battle.

Data Targeting, Inc., a Gainesville-based political affairs firm, said in a motion filed with Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis that organizations seeking the records are on an “old-fashioned fishing expedition.”

Lawyers for the company add that documents sought may include “proprietary” information that could threaten relationships with clients and reveal business secrets.

Lewis is expected to rule Friday in the matter, part of a post-redistricting clash that is already in the Florida Supreme Court. There, justices are being asked to dismiss the lawsuit before Lewis, which was filed by the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and the National Council of La Raza.

The voter groups contend that redrawn Senate districts should be thrown out because Republican leaders shared data and
maps with political consultants. The voter-approved Fair District amendments to the state constitution prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents.

But the organizations suing say such communication has become evident in the first rounds of data already provided by the Legislature and various consultants subpoenaed in the lawsuit.

Court documents filed earlier with Lewis show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz,
House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s
redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state  party headquarters in Tallahassee.

Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.

The  Supreme Court last year ruled the Senate’s initial proposal for redrawing the 40-member chamber unconstitutional. The 5-2 decision found  the Senate plan protected incumbents, packed minority voters into districts and numbered Senate districts in a way to give incumbents more time in office.

It marked the first time since the court was brought into that stage of redistricting in 1972 that justices overturned a legislative map. The House map was approved by justices.

Redistricting redux: Florida justices asked to let voters’ challenge continue

Thursday, May 9th, 2013 by John Kennedy

The Florida Supreme Court was asked Thursday to let a lawsuit proceed in circuit court on whether Republican legislative leaders violated new redistricting standards by sharing critical data and proposed maps with political consultants.

But a lawyer for the state House and Senate said the challenge by voters groups including the Florida League of Women Voters, Common Cause and National Council of  La Raza, should be dismissed.

Former Justice Raoul Cantero, representing the Legislature, said the state constitution allows only the Supreme Court to rule on the state’s redistricting plan — and validated the once-a-decade rewrite last year.

Cantero said that allowing the voters’ group challenge to proceed “opens up the possibility for serial redistricting litigation.”

Justice Charles Canady agreed.

“There can be a succession of claims and this can go on and on and on,” Canady warned. “We can be litigation the redistricting plan for the next decade.”

But Justice Barbara Pariente said that the voter-approved Fair District amendments to the constitution, which prohibit districts from being drawn to help or hurt incumbents, have complicated the existing constitutional standards for redistricting.

The “intent” of legislators is a factor courts must consider. That’s not likely possible to determine in the narrow time-frame given the Supreme Court for review of redistricting plans, she said.

“It may be a little messy until we get the law straightened out,” Pariente said.

The voters’ groups want a lower court to determine whether the Senate and congressional maps are invalid, because Republican leaders violated the Fair Districts standards. Court documents in that case filed in Leon County Circuit Court show that emails were exchanged between aides to Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford and consultants who analyzed proposed maps.

The emails also show that in 2010, Rich Heffley, a Florida Republican Party consultant advising Gaetz, then the Senate’s redistricting chairman, organized a “brainstorming” meeting at the state party headquarters in Tallahassee. Other documents in the case show that Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are both angling for Senate presidency in coming years, emailed district information to consultants for review.

 

 

New TV spot defends Florida justices

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012 by John Kennedy

An organization supporting three Florida Supreme Court justices facing merit retention this fall began running a TV spot Tuesday blasting the “politicians in Tallahassee” for looking to overhaul the court.

The ad, by Defend Justice from Politics, a political spending committee, is airing a spot in West Palm Beach, Miami and Tampa markets that condemn the push to defeat the last three justices appointed by a Democratic governor. The spot calls it a “political power grab.”

Justices Barbara Pariente, Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince are facing what is shaping up as the most vigorous merit retention fight in Florida history.

A small tea party group, Restore Justice 2012 began criticizing justices last year over decisions that blocked measures pushed by the Republican-led Legislature, but the billionaire Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity also recently weighed in with an ad attacking the court.

When the Florida Republican Party’s executive board voted last month to oppose the justices, that seemed to crank up the merit retention contest to a new level.

Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday he has no problem with the GOP’s decision, although he steered clear of expressing any opinion about the justices being targeted. Another prominent Republican, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, though, said he was uneasy with the party stepping into the non-partisan retention fight.

Atwater said, “it wouldn’t have been certainly a direction that I would have recommended.”

 “We as a party hold certain principles and we look for policies and candidates who are going to shape those with the expectation that justices are going to just constitutionally use good judgment and rule,” Atwater said.

Here’s Defend Justices’ TV spot: http://tinyurl.com/9tmz9eg

Supreme Court justices draw more heat, and some praise

Monday, October 1st, 2012 by John Kennedy

The group pushing to oust three Florida Supreme Court justices this fall has a new video ad on its site blasting them for taking part in a 2003 ruling ordering a new trial for a Death Row inmate.

The 5-2 decision, which included Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince and Fred Lewis in the majority, was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Florida justices had ruled the defendant’s lawyer had wrongfully conceded his client’s guilt without his approval.

But the federal justices said such explicit approval is not always needed.

Jesse Phillips, president of Restore Justice 2012, which has posted the web spot, said, “The court invented a way to give a confessed murderer the second chance at life…Pariente, Quince and Lewis should not defend this decision. They should apologize for it.”

The web ad, which runs more than two minutes, is not likely to appear on television in its current form. So far, only Americans For Prosperity, a tea party-allied organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers has run a single TV spot condemning the three justices, the last appointed by a Florida Democratic governor.

But the Florida Republican Party has said it will work to unseat the justices. On Monday, the Florida Fraternal Order of Police and Florida Professional Fire Fighters weighed-in supporting the three justices.

“The very foundation of Florida’s independent judiciary is threatened,” said Jim Preston, FOP president. “Partisan politics simply destroys the integrity of the court system.”

While decrying partisan politics, the unions sided with Democrat Alex Sink over Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the last governor’s race. The unions are also awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on a challenge to whether Scott and the GOP-led Legislature violated the state constitution by ordering 3 percent payroll contributions from government workers enrolled in the Florida Retirement System.

Jeff McAdams, legislative chairman for the police union, said Scott is behind the effort to unseat the justices.

Scott has denied any involvement, and McAdams said his view is “my opinion.” But McAdams said Scott would welcome a chance to appoint three new justices to the court.

In merit retention, in place in Florida since 1976, voters get to decide “yes” or “no” whether a justice should receive another six-year term. No justice has been voted off the court since it was introduced.

 

TV spots blasting Florida Supreme Court to air today

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012 by John Kennedy

Television spots blasting the Florida Supreme Court over the federal Affordable Care Act are scheduled to begin running today in West Palm Beach and other markets, paid for by Americans for Prosperity, the conservative grassroots group founded by the Koch brothers.

Slade O’Brien, Florida state director of the organization, said the ads don’t directly call for voters to oust Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince or Fred Lewis, who are up for merit retention on Nov. 6. Instead, O’Brien said the “intent is to call attention to judicial activism and legislating from the bench.”

The Florida Republican Party said last week that its leaders have agreed to oppose the three justices seeking new six-year terms. Another organization, Restore Justice 2012, has been active most of the year to unseat the three justices, the last appointments of late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, although Quince was named jointly with incoming Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

The AFP spots are the first TV ads aired in the campaign. The three justices have raised just over $1 million, combined, to defend themselves.

In its ad, AFP targets the Florida Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling that upheld a lower court which stripped from the ballot a measure intended to block the federal health care overhaul from taking effect in the state.

The court ruled the proposed constitutional amendment was flawed because it promised guaranteed access to health care services without waiting lists, would protect doctor-patient relationships, and prohibit mandates that don’t work.

Opponents said the ballot summary deceived the public since the amendment did not directly address those issues, but was written solely to draw voter support against the federal law advanced by President Obama.

An effort to place the full text of the amendment before voters that year also was rejected. The Leon County Circuit judge who made the initial ruling, James Shelfer, said that to do so would amount to “legislating from the bench.”

A rewritten version of the proposal is now set to go before voters in November as Amendment 1.

Americans for Prosperity is a grass-roots activist organization founded by Charles Koch and part-time Palm Beacher David Koch.

The brothers, who run Koch Industries, an oil services company, back a host of conservative causes. Each has a net worth of $31 billion, which last week placed them fourth on Forbes magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans.

AFP on the national stage has run TV ads against Obama and provided phone banks, rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts central to the Republican Party’s takeover of the U.S. House in the 2010 elections.

The organization has fought climate change legislation and the Affordable Care Act, and push for limite

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