Across Florida
What's happening on other political blogs?

Florida Supreme Court’

Confusing amendments could still get on the ballot

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

GOP House leaders hatched a new plan to keep the Florida Supreme Court from scrapping the legislature’s proposed constitutional amendments from the ballot.

The new plan (HB 1261) is the latest salvo in House Speaker Dean Cannon’s battle with the high court, which last year removed three proposed constitutional amendments the legislature attempted to put on the ballot. Cannon released his latest plan to overhaul the Supreme Court earlier today.

The latest proposal would require that the full text of a proposed amendment goes on the ballot even if the court rules the ballot summaries are misleading, confusing or defective. Court challenges about the summaries would have to be filed within 30 days after the amendments are filed with the secretary of state.

A House committee is expected to vote on the measure tomorrow.

House Speaker revamps Supreme Court overhaul

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

House Speaker Dean Cannon’s latest overhaul of the Florida Supreme Court would retain a single court but divide it into two divisions – criminal and civil – and increase the number of judges from seven to 10.

Cannon made the concessions after taking into consideration objections from the Florida Bar and judges, he said at a press conference this morning.

The GOP leader has wrangled with the high court since it killed three constitutional amendments pushed last year by the Republican Legislature.

Cannon, a Winter Park lawyer, said he’s trying to foster an environment in which “the branches can have an appropriate discourse” but which reaffirms the legislature as “the policy-making branch.”

Cannon also backed off his earlier plan to revamp the way judges are selected for the bench. Cannon’s originally wanted to scrap the Judicial Nominating Commissions, the governor-appointed panel that give the names for prospective Supreme Court judges to the governor, who makes the appointments. Cannon’s latest plan would allow Gov. Rick Scott to select new members to the panel.

And Cannon’s reversed his position on opening up complaints about judges. Instead of opening up the records to everyone, Cannon wants to make it easier for the House, which has the authority to impeach judges, to get the records. The records would then be open to the public after impeachment proceedings begin.


UPDATE: Scott OKs last-minute bailout for courts

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011 by Dara Kam

UPDATE: Gov. Scott approved a $19,487,027 loan to tide the courts over until the end of May. The loan must repaid by the end of June.

Gov. Rick Scott signed off on a loan to state courts to fill a budget shortfall that would have resulted in two-week furloughs.

Scott waited until the last minute to approve the bailout. Palm Beach County’s chief judge Peter Blanc said Scott needed to approve the loan by Friday to prevent the furloughs. The budget deficit was caused by a drop in the number of foreclosure filings, fees from which make up the bulk of the court’s spending.

Scott and Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady reached an agreement this morning, according to a press release issued by the court’s spokesman Craig Waters, to keep the courts running through the end of May.

The courts needed $72.3 million in emergency funds to keep operating through the June 30 end of the budget year. Scott had previously agreed to shift $14 million from court-related funds to pay for day-to-day operating expenses, but that is only enough to keep the courts functioning only through April 30.

Details of the amount and conditions of the loan were not immediately available, but the courts will cover the remaining shortfall through a “supplemental appropriation” not included in Canady’s original request of Scott, according to the release.

House cuts Supremes staff attorneys in half

Thursday, March 31st, 2011 by Dara Kam

It’s no secret House Speaker Dean Cannon is no fan of the Florida Supreme Court. He’s pushing a proposal that would split the court into two and require Senate confirmation of justices, appointed by the governor.

Now, Cannon, R-Winter Park, is going after the seven judges’ staff attorneys.

The House budget cuts the number of attorneys by nearly half – from 30 to 14, a savings of about $1.1 million.

Supreme Court staff say the proposed cuts will slow down the court’s ability to hear cases.

The House also doesn’t include any money for the Innocence Commission, a priority of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. The commission is investigating wrongful convictions in Florida. The Senate’s allocated just under $250,000 for the project.

And the House’s spending plan is also missing the $3.6 million the Senate spends to reduce court caseloads statewide.

Court woes could get worse under House plan

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011 by John Kennedy

Times are tough for the state courts — which are running a $72 million deficit this year.

But life in Florida’s courthouses could soon get a lot rougher, under a spending plan unveiled Wednesday by the House Justice Appropriations subcommittee.

Wholesale spending cuts would eliminate one-quarter of the state’s more than 2,800 judicial assistants, leaving judges to do much of their own research, scheduling and brief-writing, to save $13.6 million. Judicial salaries also would be scaled-back, letting the state pocket another $11.4 million.

Chairman Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City, said the committee’s action stemmed from the low allocation handed out by leaders. House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, has been at odds with the Florida court system, already outlining plans to dramatically overhaul the state Supreme Court.

“The difficulty with doing this budget is that 61 percent of our money is people,” Glorioso said. “In our budget, if you’re going to cut something, you’re going to cut people.”

But Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, said what the House is proposing will damage the judiciary — and poses a risk to the constitutional rights of Floridians.

“We are going to wind up with an umpire who can’t see the strike zone,” Grant said of the burden put on judges.


Should court be able to strip lawmakers’ amendments off ballot?

Monday, March 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

A measure that would bar the Florida Supreme Court from stripping proposed constitutional amendments off the ballot because of deficiencies in the ballot title or summary narrowly made it through its first stop in the Senate this morning.

The proposal (SB 1504) also would impose more restrictions on petition gatherers.

House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos have gone after the court for tossing a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Florida to opt out of the federal health care law. The proposal would require the court to send an amendment back to the state department with instructions on how to fix it and allow the secretary of state to alter it and then place it directly on the ballot without further court review.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. David Simmons, R-Maitland, would also:
-Require the paid signature gatherers to be eligible vote in Florida;
- Prohibit them from being paid by the petition;
- Require that their names be on all the petitions;
- Reduce from four years to 20 months the amount of time the petitions are valid.

The bill passed on a 7-5 vote, with Republican Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, joining Democrats in opposition.

Senate passes ‘crashworthiness’ measure undoing Supreme Court ruling

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Siding with the Ford Motor Co. and automobile manufacturers, the Senate approved a measure overturning a Florida Supreme Court decision in a “crashworthiness” case dealing with enhanced injuries in accidents.

The bill (SB 142) overturns the 2001 ruling in the D’Amario vs. Ford Motor Co. case in which the court decided that jurors cannot consider the cause of the accident when determining fault in injuries resulting not from the initial accident but from a defect in the car such as a faulty gas tank.

Sen. Maria Sachs, R-Delray Beach, said that the bill, which would apply retroactively, would let vehicle manufacturers off the hook.

“We Floridians buy these vehicles and we are led to believe that they will be safe, and safe from inherent defects that will cause secondary issues that can cause even more damage, injuries to people,” she said. “Those manufacturers should be held accountable whether it’s a tractor, a motor vehicle.”

But Sen. John Thrasher said the change would allow juries to hear all the evidence in the cases by adding the drivers in the accidents to the jury verdict form.

“When the Supreme Court is wrong, as they were in this case, it’s I think incumbent upon this legislature to either reverse the case or tell them they’re wrong in some other way,” Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, argued.

“What they decided was the jury would not be able to hear all the evidence in these types of cases.
And that’s wrong. That’s absolutely wrong,” he said.

The Senate approved the measure by a 28-12 vote, with one Democrat voting in favor and one Republican voting against.

RJ Reynolds appeals $30 million verdict to Supremes

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

R.J. Reynolds is asking the Florida Supreme Court to overturn a $30 million award to the widow of a long-time smoker of Lucky Strikes.

The cigarette maker is appealing a December appeals court decision upholding the verdict awarding $30 million – the highest award since the historic Engle decision -to Matilde Martin.

The appeal was filed in the Florida Supreme Court today.

Martin, whose husband Benny died of lung cancer after smoking for more than 50 years, sued R.J. Reynolds and five other cigarette manufacturers arguing the tobacco companies conspired to make their products addictive and hid from the public information about the dangers of smoking.

Last summer, a Palm Beach County jury ordered Reynolds and Philip Morris to pay only $270,000 in punitive damages to the widow of a Royal Palm Beach smoker who died of lung cancer at age 55.

The case under appeal, as well as the Palm Beach County case, are among roughly 8,000 spawned in 2006 when the Florida Supreme Court threw out the $145 billion verdict a Miami-Dade County jury awarded smokers in a class action suit filed by longtime smoker Dr. Howard Engle.

While upholding the jury’s findings the cigarette-makers had lied about the dangers of smoking, the high court ruled that each of the smokers had to prove how they were uniquely harmed by cigarettes.

Senate prez on protests: ‘Welcome to America’

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Protests planned on tomorrow’s opening day of the 2011 legislative session by unions and tea party activists are “exciting,” Senate President Mike Haridopolos told reporters this morning.

“This is America. People have every right to protest, positively or negatively. I think it’s exciting that people are taking such an interest in their government and they want to be vocal about where they stand,” the Merritt Island Republican, running for U.S. Senate, said. “If there are protests on either side, welcome to America.”

Asked if the protests might reach the heated level as Wisconsin, where union activists have camped out for weeks in the Capitol, Haridopolos shrugged.

“It might happen. If I was a protester and I had the choice of going to Wisconsin or Florida, I’d probably come here too,” he quipped.


Cannon shows his cards — sorta

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon says he has no immediate political ambition beyond leading the state House the next two years.

But he could have a future as a Texas hold ‘em poker player.

Cannon on Monday unveiled some dramatic House positions on the courts, pill mills, immigration and Medicaid — on the eve of the Legislature’s opening. He also delivered them using what has become a typical Cannon approach: deeply layered policy changes formed with seemingly little attention paid to those most affected.

As a rising House member, Cannon used a similar tactic in advancing measures affecting property taxes, Medicaid and offshore oil-drilling.  But unlike past years, Cannon floated his ideas out early Monday — instead of the waning hours of a legislative session. (more…)

Cannon ready to revamp Supreme Court

Monday, March 7th, 2011 by John Kennedy

House Speaker Dean Cannon, wrangling with the Florida Supreme Court since it killed three constitutional amendments pushed last year by the Republican Legislature, unveiled his latest idea Monday — overhaul the Supreme Court.

Cannon said the House will propose creating two, five-member Supreme Courts, one charged with overseeing civil matters, the other criminal cases. Justices from the current, seven-member court could form the core of the new, 10-justice lineup, but there would be no guarantees, he conceded.

The Winter Park lawmaker, during a briefing with reporters, also said he wants to change existing merit retention election standards. He’d require appellate justices to win the support of more than 60 percent of voters to stay on the bench. Currently, justices only need to secure a majority. (more…)

Scott had authority to axe high-speed rail, Supremes rule; train likely dead

Friday, March 4th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Two senators who challenged Gov. Rick Scott’s authority to kill a high-speed rail project failed to make their case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled today.

And Scott reiterated his rejection of $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project this morning in a telephone call with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, likely meaning the money will go to other states.

“The Governor is gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision, he is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Florida’s economy around. He also spoke with US DOT Secretary LaHood this morning and informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high speed rail plan,” Scott’s spokesman Brian Burgess said in a statement.


Senators respond to Scott’s response on high-speed rail suit: WE’RE in charge

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The latest salvo in a constitutional battle over who’s got the power to get a high-speed train on track in Florida came from two senators suing Gov. Rick Scott over his refusal to accept $2.4 billion in federal funds for the project.

Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, allege in their suit filed yesterday that Scott overstepped his authority by rejecting the funds, part of which lawmakers had already appropriated, and scrapping the project that they had created in state law.

Scott fired back today that the senators were simply miffed their “policy preferences” hadn’t prevailed in the political realm, and that the high court couldn’t micromanage the Legislature or governor to spend federal money that hadn’t been appropriated yet.

Now, the bipartisan pair issued their response to his response.

“Respondent has set up a fake argument just in order to tear it down. Petitioners are not asking this Court to direct the Respondent how to manage the construction of the high speed rail in Florida. Instead, the Petitioners are simply asking this Court to direct the Respondent that he does not have the jurisdiction or authority as granted by the laws of this State (which he is obligated to faithfully execute) to take the action he has taken in rejecting a specific appropriation of $130.8 million; federal grants amounting to $2.4 billion subject to statutory authority; dedicated funding pursuant to the Florida Rail Act of $60 million per year; and thus the entire high speed rail project,” their lawyers wrote.

Their filing this afternoon is probably the last stop for the fast-tracked lawsuit for today.

The court ordered oral arguments at 3 p.m. tomorrow to get a decision in time for the Friday deadline set by the White House for Scott to change his mind.

Supremes fast-track oral arguments on high-speed rail lawsuit

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court ordered oral arguments tomorrow at 3 p.m. on a lawsuit filed by two senators against Gov. Rick Scott over his nixing of a high-speed rail project.

The suit, filed by Sens. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accuses Scott of overstepping his authority when he rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for a Tampa-to-Orlando rail project already approved by the legislature and his predecessor Charlie Crist.

Scott argued in his response that it was his privilege to turn down the money and that, at best, the court could order him to spend the $130.8 million already appropriated by the legislature for the project “to build a few miles of railroad for no apparent purpose”

If they did that, the “Court will have created the high-speed railroad to nowhere,” Scott’s response reads.

Scott responds to rail lawsuit, calls senators sore losers

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 by Dara Kam

A lawsuit filed by two senators challenging Gov. Rick Scott‘s authority to reject $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project “is based on mischaracterizations and omissions of fact,” the governor’s lawyers wrote in a response filed shortly before noon today.

Scott scolds Sens. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, and Thad Altman, a Rockledge Republican, for overstepping their bounds by asking the court to force Scott to accept the funds even though Senate President Mike Haridopolos has vowed not to spend any money on the project this year. In the response, Scott insists he will veto any appropriations for the project should they make it into the budget.

In the opening line of Scott’s 29-page response, the governor’s legal team call Joyner and Altman “State Senators whose policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process” and frequently disparage the Tampa-to-Orlando rail project that would eventually link to Miami.

“Fortunately for the taxpayers of Florida, nothing in Florida law compels the Governor or the (Florida Rail Enterprise) to pour millions of dollars into a black hole during the historic fiscal crisis with which the State is presently grappling,” Scott’s general counsel Charles Trippe wrote.

Two senators sue Scott over high-speed rail

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011 by Dara Kam

Sens. Thad Altman, a Melbourne Republican, and Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat, have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Rick Scott over his rejection of $2.4 billion from the federal government for a high-speed rail project.

The bipartisan duo asked the Florida Supreme Court to force Scott to accept the money, challenging Scott’s authority to turn down money his predecessor Charlie Crist had already accepted.

Altman and Joyner also asked the court to agree with them that Scott exceeded his authority because the legislature had already appropriated part of the funds he’s now refused.

They also want the court to issue a temporary injunction while they’re considering the case, if they decide to take it up.

Scott, with the support of tea party activists, calls the $2.7 billion project a boondoggle. He says he doesn’t believe the train will support itself and fears that taxpayers will be on the hook for cost overruns and future operations.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood met with Scott last week in Washington and gave Florida another week to come up with an alternate plan, something a bipartisan coalition of local, state and federal lawmakers have been scrambling to accomplish.

But Scott remains unconvinced and has given no indication he will change his mind.

Supreme Court asks legislature for 80 more judges

Thursday, February 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Florida Supreme Court is asking state lawmakers to approve 80 more judges to handle skyrocketing court filings since the state’s economic downturn.

The state’s court system needs an additional 26 circuit court judges and 54 county court judges, according to the high court.

While they certified the number of new judges, the Supreme Court also acknowledged that the likelihood of getting the funding for them is slim given lawmakers’ struggle to craft a budget with $3.62 billion less to spend than last year.

“With over one million Floridians unemployed and significant deficits in the state budget, we recognize that funding new judgeships will compete with other critical state priorities,” the judges wrote in an order today. “Nonetheless, the reality is that Florida’s circuit and county judges are overloaded with new filings, have substantial caseloads, and have fewer support staff to assist with the disposition of cases. Taken together, these factors continue to hamper the effective administration of justice in Florida.”

Divided FL Supreme Court orders review of post-prison lock-up of child molesters

Friday, January 21st, 2011 by Dara Kam

In a split ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has ordered a review of the Jimmy Ryce Act that allows the state to keep pedophiles and other hard-core sex molesters locked up until a judge rules they are fit to return to society.

But some criminals remain in limbo for years waiting for a judge to first rule that they need the treatment that could eventually get them out, a problem the high court said needs review.

The court’s Chief Judge Charles Canady dissented from the 4-3 order in the case of Stephen Morel, who has been behind bars for eight years without receiving treatment while waiting for a judge to order his confinement.

The Department of Children and Families is responsible for providing treatment to the inmates held under the Jimmy Ryce Act, named for a nine-year-old boy who was raped, murdered and dismembered in 1995.

The Court ordered that DCF, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state prosecutors, Morel and his lawyers to hold an emergency hearing in Broward County and report back to them.

Supreme Court chief judge orders scrutiny of future district courthouses

Monday, January 17th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady ordered that all future district court building construction must be scrutinized by the state courts administrator in response to a lavish Tallahassee appeals court dubbed the “Taj Mahal.”

Canady issued the order this morning after state Sen. Mike Fasano pilloried First District Court of Appeals judges Paul Hawkes and Brad Thomas for pushing a new courthouse, accusing them of “the epitome of arrogance.

Thomas and Hawkes apologized to Fasano, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Appropriations Committee, for their roles in the construction of the $48.8 million courthouse in Tallahassee that is estimated to ultimately cost taxpayers $70 million because of bond payments. Florida has been in a budget crisis for the past three years and lawmakers are now grappling with an anticipated $3.62 billion spending gap.

In November, Hawkes was forced to resign as chief judge but he remains on the court.

The courthouse features such opulent amenities as private soundproof bathrooms and kitchens for each of the 15 judges, miles of African mahogany trim, granite counter and desk tops, etched glass windows, a glass dome and massive columns inside and out.

“To the extent that any expenditures were made on this building and any construction done that exceeds the legislative intent and has offended you and this committee then I sincerely apologize,” Thomas told Fasano at a committee hearing last week.

“Don’t apologize just to us, judge,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, snapped. “Apologize to every taxpayer in the state.”

Canady today ordered that the state courts administrator must approve any appellate court projects in the future.

“Courthouses should be dignified, durable and functional,” Canady wrote in a statement. “They should not be grandiose, monumental and luxurious.”

Chief Justice orders judges to open foreclosure proceedings

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010 by Dara Kam

Chief Justice Charles Canady ordered judges throughout the state to open up foreclosure proceedings, responding to requests from civil rights lawyers, the media and First Amendment advocates.

Florida law already requires that the foreclosure cases be open, but judges and court officials have barred the public from attending them in part because the onslaught of foreclosures has forced some judges to hear the cases in their chambers.

“I recognize that the challenge you face in assuring that these cases are resolved properly is unprecedented,” Canady wrote in his letter to chief judges throughout the state.

Florida lawmakers gave the courts extra money this year to help manage the foreclosure filings, which have skyrocketed in the past two years. Florida has the fourth highest number of foreclosures in the nation.

Florida political tweeters
Video: Politics stories