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ACLU asks Justice Department to investigate Florida clemency changes

Monday, April 25th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The ACLU has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to find out whether Florida’s new clemency process negatively impacts minority voting rights.

The new rules, pushed by Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi and adopted by the all-GOP Florida Cabinet on March 9, require felons to wait at least five years before they can ask to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored.

The change will affect more than a million Floridians, many of whom are minorities, who make up half of the state’s prison population, according to The Sentencing Project.

The ACLU wants DOJ to review the new rules the Voting Rights Act.

“The changes were nothing more than a highly targeted effort to prevent a group of people – mostly minorities – from gaining access to the ballot box,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “The changes, including the secretive and rushed process by which the rules were created, smack of raw politics and intentional, racially focused election manipulation – and it requires review by the Justice Department.”

Scott, clemency board do away with automatic restoration of rights for felons

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Convicted felons who have served their sentences and paid restitution must now wait a minimum of five years before applying to have their rights restored, under changes approved by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet acting as the board of executive clemency today.

The new rules impose a five-year wait period for those convicted of non-violent crimes. Those convicted of violent crimes, including murder or DUI manslaughter, must wait seven years and require a hearing to request to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored.

Florida will now join two other states with such severe restrictions limiting former felons from voting.

The board did not release the proposed rule changes to the public until moments before the meeting began and limited public testimony to two-minutes per person for a total of 30 minutes before unanimously approving the changes.

“Felons seeking restoration of civil rights demonstrate they desire and deserve clemency only after they show they’re willing to abide by the law,” Scott said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, a former prosecutor, first suggested the rule change two weeks ago. But it was Scott’s staff who explained the rules when questioned by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam Wednesday morning.

“I think they’re fair. I believe that there should be a waiting period and I believe that someone should have to ask to have their rights restored. I believe, as a 20-year prosecutor, any felony is a serious crime,” Bondi said.

Civil rights advocates, including five black lawmakers, objected to the rule changes, saying there is no evidence the current process – approved by Gov. Charlie Crist and the former Cabinet in 2007 – is not working.

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No delay in clemency vote

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi wants a vote on changes to the state’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons although her proposed rules won’t be available until the day of the vote.

Bondi and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the board of executive clemency, are slated to vote on her proposed rule changes Wednesday at a special meeting of the board.

Bondi, elected in November, wants to do away with the current automatic restoration of rights, including the right to vote, for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, impose a three-to-five year waiting period before they can apply to have their rights restored and add more crimes to the list barring felons from regaining their civil rights.

Bondi met with ACLU executive director Howard Simon and NAACP Florida VP Dale Landry last week. The civil rights advocates asked Bondi to hold off on the vote until the public could scrutinize her proposed rules and give their input.

Bondi’s staff said last week she plans to ask for a vote Wednesday and that the rules won’t be available until then.

ACLU asks clemency board to slow down on changes to restoration of rights

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Civil rights advocates are asking the clemency board to hold off on changes to the state’s restoration of rights for felons scheduled for a vote Wednesday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced last week she was drafting a proposed rule change eliminating Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons convicted of non-violent crimes, approved by the executive clemency board under former Gov. Charlie Crist’s urging nearly four years ago.

But the sweeping changes proposed by Bondi, including a wait period of three to five years before felons can apply to have their rights – including the right to vote – restored have not yet been released just two work days before the scheduled vote.

In a letter to board members Bondi, Gov. Rick Scott, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon asked the clemency board to delay the vote until the public has time to scrutinize them.

“The combination of suddenness, speed and lack of details have created an environment in which needed input is locked out or sitting on the side waiting to review, analyze and offer suggestions and counsel,” Simon wrote to each of the board members. “There is no emergency that requires action at your meeting next week. Rule changes can be made at any time.”

Simon, who met with Bondi earlier this week, wants the board to get public input before doing away with the current system.

“Any changes will impact Florida families and public safety for years to come. It’s more important to get the process and policy right than to get it done quickly,” he wrote.

No compromise on felons’ rights after Bondi meets with ACLU, NAACP

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi is not backing away from her proposal to do away with Florida’s limited automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent felons after meeting with civil rights advocates today.

But she did say she supported uncoupling current employment restrictions that prevent convicted felons from getting certain occupational licenses unless their civil rights are restored, a lengthy process that could get even more cumbersome if Bondi gets her way.

ACLU of Florida executive director Howard Simon and Dale Landry, vice president of NAACP Florida conference, met with Bondi for about an hour to discuss proposed clemency rule changes among other things.

The meeting was friendly, Simon said, but Bondi refused to budge on her desire to force felons to wait three to five years to apply to have their rights restored.

“This is a huge problem for the state of Florida,” Simon told reporters afterward. “We’re only going to increase the problem by delaying the period of time for the restoration of civil rights.”

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Bondi wants to do away with automatic restoration of rights for felons

Thursday, February 24th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Attorney General Pam Bondi wants to do away completely with the state’s limited automatic restoration of rights for felons even as civil rights groups are seeking an expansion of it.

In Florida, certain felons automatically get their rights restored upon completion of their sentences and restitution.

But Bondi, a Republican and former prosecutor, says the current system goes too easy on criminals.

“I don’t believe any felony should have an automatic restoration of rights. I believe you should have to ask and there should be an appropriate waiting period,” Bondi told reporters after a clemency meeting this morning.

Bondi said she wants a three-to-five year waiting period before convicted felons can appeal to have their rights restored.

The years-long waiting period will help clear up a backlog of more than 100,000 convicted felons trying to get their rights back.

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet, acting as the board of clemency, approved new rules nearly four years ago making it easier for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes to have their civil rights restored.

Bondi’s predecessor Bill McCollum cast the lone dissenting vote on the rule change.

Now, felons convicted of nonviolent crimes who have fulfilled their sentences will be allowed to vote, hold public office, apply for occupational licenses and sit on juries without applying for clemency, a cumbersome process that can take years. The 2007 change also expedited the process for felons convicted of some violent crimes.

Florida first banned voting by felons in 1845, and the ban was put into the state constitution in 1868.

Voting rights for felons was one of the issues in the disputed 2000 presidential election, when many people, mostly black, were wrongly purged from voter rolls because of an error-riddled state voter database that misidentified them as felons.

Jim Morrison bandmates demand apology, not pardon

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010 by Dara Kam

Gov. Charlie Crist and the Florida Cabinet’s pardon of the late iconic rocker Jim Morrison nearly 40 years after his death wasn’t enough, his Doors bandmates are saying.

In fact, it was unnecessary, The Doors’ remaining members Ray Manzarek, John Densmore and Robby Krieger contend, because Morrison never did what he was accused of.

“Four decades after the fact, with Jim an icon for multiple generations – and those who railed against him now a laughingstock – Florida has seen fit to issue a pardon,” the band members and the Morrison family wrote in a press release. “We don’t feel Jim needs to be pardoned for anything.”

What they want instead is an apology.

“If the State of Florida and the City of Miami want to make amends for the travesty of Jim Morrison’s arrest and prosecution forty years after the fact, an apology would be more appropriate – and expunging the whole sorry matter from the record,” they wrote.

Morrison was convicted after police reported he taunted a crowd March 1969, at the now-defunct Dinner Key auditorium in Miami with verbal sexual come-ons and simulated oral sex, then pulled down his pants and exposing himself to thousands of fans. He was convicted in 1970 of public profanity and indecent exposure and sentenced to six months in jail and a $500 fine.

He died in a Paris bathtub in 1971 while his appeal was pending.

Read the entire press release after the jump.
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Crist, clemency board give ‘Lizard King’ redemption

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Whether or not the “Lizard King” unzipped his pants and exposed himself to a crowd of thousands more than 40 years ago remains a mystery.

Jim Morrison’s alleged antics will remain forever a part of the late rocker’s legacy.

But the charges against him for indecent exposure and public intoxication won’t.

Gov. Charlie Crist, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Attorney General Bill McCollum, acting as the state Clemency Board, granted Morrison, the lead singer of “The Doors,” a pardon Thursday afternoon as one of their final acts as a panel before leaving office.

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Former Miami cop shows up to protest Morrison pardon

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

An angry former Miami cop showed up at the Capitol today to protest Gov. Charlie Crist and the state Clemency Board’s expected pardon of the late “Lizard King” rocker Jim Morrison.

Angel Lago said he served on the police force with the Theodore Seaman, the officer who charged Morrison with indecent exposure and public profanity, and that the pardon is an insult to Seaman’s reputation because it implies that Seaman lied in his arrest report.

Lago, who said he retired from the police force because he is disabled, said that Morrison, who was found dead in a Paris bathtub from an apparent overdose, does not deserve to be exonerated.

“What example are we giving our children? Party hearty and die young?” an angry Lago said. “All Mr. Morrison ever did was do drugs and sing songs.”

Crist, clemency board express “profound regret” to Freedom Fighters

Thursday, December 9th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Nearly 50 years after civil rights struggles rocked St. Augustine, Gov. Charlie Crist and the rest of the state Clemency Board issued an apology to hundreds of black activists – some of them schoolchildren -as their first action at their final meeting this morning.

Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson approved the resolution expressing “profound regret” and clearing the way for hundreds of civil rights activists arrested in 1963 and 1964 to have their records expunged.

“I think it makes a great statement about where Florida is today versus where part of Florida was back then,” Crist said this morning.

Sen. Tony Hill, a black Democrat from Jacksonville, asked Crist to sponsor the resolution after he failed to convince lawmakers to pass a bill clearing the civil rights activists’ records.

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Full pardon for sex offender who has been married to victim for a decade

Friday, July 31st, 2009 by Dara Kam

Correction: Because of reporting errors, a previous version of this story indicated that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink had approved a pardon for Gerald McCranie, who had been listed as a sex offender. Gov. Charlie Crist, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson approved the pardon. According to a spokesman, Sink did not sign the pardon.

virgil-mcVirgil McCranie is ecstatic. After more than a decade of marriage to his “Romeo and Juliet” sweetheart, the stigma of being branded a sex molester has finally been lifted.

The Board of Executive Clemency, comprised of Florida Cabinet members Gov. Charlie Crist, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, Attorney General Bill McCollum and Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, granted McCranie a full pardon this week after leaving the Panama City Beach resident in limbo after the last clemency meeting in June.

“It sat there for two hours before I opened it,” McCranie said in a telephone interview today.

McCranie, now 34, and his wife Misty, now 28, fell in love when was he was 19 and she was 14. Since then, they’ve raised four children while struggling to make ends meet.
But their story is no fairy tale.

Misty and her father pressed charges against Virgil, accusing him of raping the minor. The rape charge was dropped but he was charged with lewd and lascivious acts against a minor and was sentenced to two years of probation.

That’s when the father of four’s nightmare began, McCranie told the clemency board in June.

He was placed on the state’s sex offender web site and has been unable to hold down a job or attend his daughter’s dance recitals, he said as he and his wife pleaded with the board to grant him a pardon.

The board took his case “under consideration,” leaving the couple in limbo.

The fact that three of the four clemency board members are running for statewide office – Crist for U.S. Senate and Sink and McCollum for governor – added to the pair’s worries.

That changed when they finally opened the letter containing the governor’s executive order and a copy of the certificate of clemency.

“I hadn’t felt that good since I was 19. I felt clean,” McCranie said.

McCranie said he hasn’t been able to hold down a job because of his sex offender status. Now he won’t have to wonder “if it was me not being good enough to do something or just me getting a bad shake from what I did,” he said. “I’m happy.”

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