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Judge orders Scott admin to ‘cease and desist’ prison privatization bidding

Saturday, November 5th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A Tallahassee judge has ordered Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to “cease and desist” the bidding process for a prison privatization plan she earlier ruled was unconstitional.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford late Friday night put the brakes on Department of Corrections officials’ attempt to bypass her earlier decision that the way lawmakers ordered the privatization of the 18-county region in the southern portion of the start violated the state constitution.

In her order, Fulford pointed out that corrections officials reneged on a pledge made Thursday not to move forward with the bidding before a Nov. 16 hearing. Later the same day, the department announced it was reopening the procurement and bids would be accepted after Nov. 10, Fulford wrote.

Fulford ruled on Sept. 30 that lawmakers should not have included the privatization plan in the must-pass state budget but instead should have ordered it in a stand-alone bill.

Scott opted not to appeal, but Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a last-minute appeal late Monday on behalf of state lawmakers, setting the stage for Friday’s court showdown.

In granting the emergency stay to the Florida Police Benevolent Association, Fulford wrote that “defendants are not likely to succeed on the merits on appeal.”


Teamsters accuse Florida corrections department of wage theft

Thursday, October 13th, 2011 by Dara Kam

The Teamsters Union is accusing the Florida Department of Corrections of cheating prison workers out of nearly an hour of pay each day, according to a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Labor yesterday.

But the Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that now represents the state’s 20,000 correctional and probational officers, counters that the Teamsters, in an elections battle with the PBA over the prison workers, are “showboating.”

The one-page complaint, filed in Orlando, alleges the state is in violation with federal labor laws because correctional officers are not being paid for the time it takes for them to go through security and receive equipment such as pepper spray before they can clock in to work. They also have to clock out before dropping off the equipment at the end of the day, according to the complaint. The Teamsters are asking the Labor Department to investigate the practice.

“Correctional officers suffer because of wage theft by the FDOC and also because they have had no pay increases for the past seven years,” said Michael Filler, director of the Teamsters Public Services Division. “All officers who put in a fair’s day work are legally entitled to a fair day’s pay.”

Federal courts in other cases have ruled that the time spent before clocking in is compensable, the complaint says.

But the PBA executive director Matt Puckett said the Teamsters’ latest complaint is just grand-standing because the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled on the issue.

Over Gov. Scott’s objections, ousted prisons chief gives deposition in prison privatization lawsuit

Monday, September 26th, 2011 by Dara Kam

Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s attempts to quash his testimony, former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss this afternoon spent two-and-a-half hours answering questions under oath for a lawsuit about a prison privatization effort ordered by lawmakers this spring.

Lawyers for the Florida Police Benevolent Association, who filed the lawsuit against Scott’s administration, had sought Buss’s testimony before a hearing slated for Thursday morning. The hearing will focus on the PBA’s allegation that the privatization of 29 prisons from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Florida Keys was unconstitutional because it was included at the last minute in the must-pass state budget, which the PBA contends is intended to deal strictly with spending rather than policy.

Reached by telephone, Buss refused to comment.

Last week, the First District Court of Appeals ordered that Buss give his deposition, upholding a lower court decision that the ousted secretary – fired by Scott last month – had unique information related to the privatization effort. Both courts rejected arguments by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s lawyers, representing Scott, that high-ranking officials – almost always named as defendants in court cases – should be immune from having to testify when information is available elsewhere.

The PBA contends its lawyers have been unable to get the information they need from e-mails requested from the corrections department.

PBA executive director Matt Puckett said that lawmakers’ gave Buss explicit directions on how the privatization would be handled but at the same time gave him carte blanche over a separate privatization of all of the agency’s health care services for inmates.

“He just wasn’t consulted,” Puckett said.

Appeals court denies Scott request for second review on deposition of ousted prisons chief

Friday, September 23rd, 2011 by Dara Kam

The First District Court of Appeals rejected Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for a second review of a three-judge panel’s order yesterday that former corrections chief Ed Buss give a deposition in lawsuit over prison privatization.

The appellate court ordered Buss’s testimony yesterday after temporarily halting it last week. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, the union that represents corrections workers, filed the lawsuit over the privatization of prisons in the southern portion of the state.

Lawmakers included the privatization of the 18-county region from Manatee County to Indian River County south to the Florida Keys in proviso language inserted into the budget in the waning days of the session that ended in May. The union argued in the lawsuit that the privatization effort is unconstitutional because the must-pass budget is intended to deal solely with spending – not policy – matters.

A Tallahassee circuit judge ordered that Buss give his deposition, rejecting an appeal from Attorney General Pam Bondi, who represents Scott’s administration.

A three-judge appellate panel temporarily halted the deposition last week but yesterday ordered that Buss, who was dismissed by Scott last month, comply. Within hours, Scott appealed to the full court. This morning, that appeal was rejected.

Scott’s lawyers are arguing that high-ranking officials, named in most lawsuits against the state, are exempt from having to testify in every case.

Scott spokesman Lane Wright said yesterday the governor is fighting the deposition because of the precedent it could set.

“It’s not about this specific case. It’s about all cases. The doctrine protecting high-ranking officials from being deposed is a bedrock principle of Florida law. It’s about the principle of the thing,” Wright said.

No word yet from Scott’s office on whether they intend to take the case over the deposition to the Florida Supreme Court.

Judge orders ousted DOC secretary Buss to testify in prisons lawsuit

Thursday, September 15th, 2011 by Dara Kam

A judge ordered former Department of Corrections Secretary Ed Buss to testify in a lawsuit about the state’s privatization of prisons in the southern part of Florida.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford denied the state’s request to keep Buss, fired by Gov. Rick Scott late last month, from having to give a deposition in the lawsuit filed by the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

Buss left the agency amid the privatization of more than one-third of the state’s prisons, the largest privatization effort in the country.

His abrupt resignation came after Scott’s office twice rebuked the former Indiana prisons chief over state contracts and after the termination of a contract with Elizabeth “Betty” Gondles, one of Buss’s hand-picked aides, for a possible conflict of interest with the privatization of the department’s health services.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, representing Scott’s administration in the lawsuit, argued that, because he is no longer secretary, Buss should not have to give a deposition.

But Fulford sided with the PBA, saying that Buss is “reasonably likely to have unique discoverable knowledge of potentially relevant subject matter” and that the PBA had tried unsuccessfully to get the information elsewhere.

The PBA is challenging the privatization, alleging that it is unconstitutional because it was included in proviso language in the state budget instead of a stand-alone bill creating state policy.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 29.

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