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News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Bill Nelson, Rick Scott continue sparring over election security

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is sticking to his comment that “Russians are in Florida’s election records,” as Gov. Rick Scott pushes for more information and questions the veracity of the claim.

With the two set to square off in the November general election for the Senate seat, Nelson’s office said Tuesday the focus needs to be on election security not personal political gain and that “it would just be wrong, shortsighted and foolish to think that Russia is not doing in Florida what it did in 2016.”

Nelson made similar comments to reporters Monday night while at a campaign stop in the Gadsden County community of Quincy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

The statement from Nelson’s office came as Scott continued to lash out at the Democratic senator’s assertions last week about ongoing Russian meddling.

“The only conclusion I have is, one, if he does have classified information, how did he get it? Because I don’t think he’s entitled to it. And why would he release it to a reporter?” Scott said after a state Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “Two, if it’s not true, why didn’t he just come and say it’s not true?”

Scott added there is a concern that Nelson’s statement could impact the Aug. 28 primary elections.

“We’re in the middle of a primary election, people are voting, absentee ballots are out, early voting has started in some places, and people need to know the facts, and I don’t think he’s being transparent,” Scott said.

Nelson, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, told reporters Aug. 7 in Tallahassee that local election officials could get help to secure their databases and records from Russian cyber-hacking, noting, “The Russians are in Florida’s election records” and that they had “penetrated” some voter-registration systems.

When pressed at the time on the issue of election-system breaches, Nelson, said details of the information remained “classified.”

Nelson had been asked in June to work with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to get elections supervisors in Florida to push for federal cyber-security assistance as a follow up to attacks on the state system in 2016. The request by leaders of the Intelligence Committee was intended to provide a more bipartisan front to the push.

In response to Nelson’s statement in Tallahassee, Secretary of State Ken Detzner first asked Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, to provide some clarification to Nelson’s comments.

Burr’s response on Friday didn’t shed light.

“While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson’s recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions — specifically, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Burr wrote. “Any briefings or notifications about ongoing threats would, rightfully, come from those agencies.”

Detzner, a Scott appointee, then sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking for “an official response that confirms your previous statement that you ‘have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure’ and reaffirms your commitment to sharing any future knowledge of potential threats to Florida’s voting systems.”

Detzner in the letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI noted that voting has already started in Florida for the primary elections.

“To the best of our knowledge and the knowledge of our federal partners, Florida’s voting systems and elections databases remain secure and there has been no intrusion of the Florida voter registration system and no reported breaches from locally elected supervisors of election,” Detzner wrote.

State legislators have accepted $19.2 million from the federal government to further secure voting systems that were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016.

Detzner has described hackers’ failure to breach election systems in 2016 as a “success story” for Florida.

Scott on Tuesday backed Detzner’s outlook on the 2016 election.

“We don’t believe that anybody was able to get into the system. We had a free and fair election. They have been clear about that, all along,” Scott said. “My understanding is that the secretary of state’s office has reached out to Homeland Security and the FBI, and they’ve said they don’t know of anything.”

Jeff Greene puts more money into Governor’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Greene loaned another $4.35 million to his gubernatorial campaign in late July and early August, bringing the total to more than $22 million, according to a new finance report.

Greene, a billionaire investor, had loaned $22.45 million to the campaign as of Aug. 3 and had received $2,315 in contributions. The campaign had spent $22.43 million, the report shows.

Greene, who entered the gubernatorial race in June, is running in the Aug. 28 primary against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, Winter Park businessman Chris King and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Marsy’s Law effort gets $6M boost

A national group seeking to pass a Florida constitutional amendment that would expand crime victims’ rights has provided another $6 million infusion to the campaign.

The California-based Marsy’s Law for All Foundation contributed the money July 30 to the Marsy’s Law for Florida political committee, according to a newly filed finance report. That brought to $24.35 million the amount the foundation has sent to the committee.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission this year approved putting the proposal, designated as Amendment 6, on the November ballot.

Supporters of the proposal, which has become commonly known as “Marsy’s Law,” argue it would establish a series of rights for crime victims, including the right to be notified of major developments in criminal cases and the right to be heard in the legal proceedings. The amendment also would increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75. And it would provide that judges should not necessarily defer to the interpretation of laws and rules by governmental agencies in legal proceedings.

The proposed constitutional amendment is part of a broader national movement that stems from the 1983 death of a California woman, Marsy Nicholas, who was stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend.

Marsy Nicholas’ brother, Henry, is the co-founder of Broadcom Corp. and has spearheaded the Marsy’s Law movement.

The proposed Florida constitutional amendment, however, faces a legal challenge aimed at keeping it off the ballot.

Southwest Florida defense attorney Lee Hollander has filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court arguing that the wording of the proposal would mislead voters. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers is slated to hear the case Aug. 24.

Justices agree to decide ballot fight on county offices

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously agreed to take up a challenge to a proposed ballot measure that has drawn opposition from some counties.

Justices issued an order accepting the case, though they put off a decision about whether they will hold oral arguments. The order came a day after the 1st District Court of Appeal quickly sent the case to the Supreme Court. The appeals court pointed to a “question of great public importance” that it said needs “immediate resolution by the Supreme Court of Florida.”

The case stems from a proposed constitutional amendment that the state Constitution Revision Commission placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. The measure, known as Amendment 10, would make the five local constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory and require elections for the offices in all 67 counties. It would also prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

Charter counties have opposed the amendment, arguing that local voters through the charter process should have the power to decide how constitutional offices are structured and whether they should be elected positions.

Challenges filed in Leon County circuit court argued that the ballot language and summary were misleading and that, as a result, the proposal should not go to voters.

But Circuit Judge James Shelfer last week rejected those arguments, prompting Volusia, Miami-Dade and Broward counties to file notices of appeal Friday at the 1st District Court of Appeal, according to online dockets.

The appeals court, instead of following the usual process of considering the issue, essentially forwarded it to the Supreme Court.

Ballots for the November election will begin to be sent out to voters next month.

State debt reduction called ‘sea change’

Florida has reduced debt that helps finance initiatives like roads, schools and environmental projects by more than $7 billion over the past eight years, according to a new report from the state Division of Bond Finance.

The debt amount dropped from $28.2 billion in July 2010 to $21 billion through June 30, Ben Watkins, director of the bond finance agency, told Gov. Rick Scott and Cabinet members Tuesday. That represented a 25 percent reduction.

The debt reduction, which came as Scott pursued a policy of limiting state borrowing, was “unprecedented,” Watkins said, because it reversed a long-term trend of annual borrowing by the state.

“We had 30 years of annual, perpetual increases in debt that was reversed, which was a sea change in terms of the direction in which we were headed,” Watkins said.

A key element in reducing the debt has been the Division of Bond Finance’s effort to refinance older debt with new bonds carrying lower interest rates. Since the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the state has carried out 104 bond refinancings, totaling $14.7 billion, resulting in a gross savings of nearly $3 billion.

Watkins said the state used the process to refinance some 70 percent of the state debt since 2010. However, the report also noted the state’s ability to refinance debt will be more limited in the future, with the federal government’s decision to eliminate the use of a financial tool known as “advance refunding.”

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of historically low interest rates,” Watkins said. “These are big numbers. And this is real money that saves citizens and the taxpayers of the state.”

Watkins’ report also highlighted other financial improvements, including paying back $3.4 billion borrowed from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits after the last recession. The fund now has a $3.7 billion surplus, which Scott said has resulted in a reduction in the amount of payroll taxes that employers have to pay to support the fund.

“In Florida, we’ve shown that you can have a balanced budget, reduce debt and create jobs all while cutting taxes,” Scott said in a statement.

The report also noted improvements in the state’s financial ability to respond to major hurricanes.

The state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has reduced its exposure to what is known as a “1-in-100-years storm” from $21.4 billion to $5.8 billion, largely the result of reducing its customer base from 1.3 million to 440,000 since 2010, the report said. The reduction in exposure is important, since a large hurricane could result in the state having to borrow money that would be paid off by assessments on insurance policyholders across the state.

The financial improvements, including a relatively healthy $160 billion state pension fund, has resulted in Florida earning “triple A” credit ratings from major financial rating agencies.

“This is the first time we’ve had three triple A’s. So I call it a royal flush,” Watkins said. “The good news is it recognizes the strength of the state, the management of the state, the financial position and policies of the state, which translates into lower borrowing costs for the state. It is, in effect, a validation from the rating agencies that we are doing the right thing.”

Ballot measure on county offices goes to Supreme Court

After a circuit judge last week upheld a ballot measure about county constitutional offices, the legal battle has quickly gone to the Florida Supreme Court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal on Monday forwarded the dispute to the Supreme Court, pointing to a “question of great public importance” that it said needs “immediate resolution by the Supreme Court of Florida.”

The dispute stems from a proposed constitutional amendment that the state Constitution Revision Commission placed on the Nov. 6 ballot. The measure, known as Amendment 10, would make the five local constitutional offices — sheriff, tax collector, supervisor of elections, clerk of the court and property appraiser — mandatory and require elections for the offices in all 67 counties. It would also prohibit charter counties from abolishing or modifying those offices.

Charter counties have opposed the amendment, arguing that local voters through the charter process should have the power to decide how constitutional offices are structured and whether they should be elected positions.

Challenges filed in Leon County circuit court argued that the ballot language and summary were misleading and that, as a result, the proposal should not go to voters.

But Circuit Judge James Shelfer on Thursday rejected those arguments, prompting Volusia, Miami-Dade and Broward counties to file notices of appeal Friday at the 1st District Court of Appeal, according to online dockets.

While it is somewhat unusual for the appeals court to quickly pass cases to the Supreme Court, it took a similar step last week in a dispute about a proposed constitutional amendment aimed at banning greyhound racing at Florida dog tracks.

Matt Caldwell’s gun rights ad draws NRA rebuke

An NRA-endorsed candidate for agriculture commissioner is “retooling” an ad after the gun-rights group said he made a “mistake” in assigning a failing grade to a primary opponent.

Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s longtime Florida lobbyist, requested that the endorsed candidate, Matt Caldwell, apologize for the ad against Republican primary opponent Denise Grimsley.

Despite Hammer’s request, Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers, issued a statement that adopted a less-conciliatory tone and continued to pound Grimsley’s gun-rights voting record.

Caldwell’s campaign recently sent out a print ad that assigned to Grimsley a “D” grade for 2016 that appeared to be from the NRA. But the gun-rights group, which grades candidates on how they vote on Second Amendment issues, actually gave Grimsley, a state senator from Sebring, a grade of “B” that year, according to Hammer.

The ad and Monday’s statement from Caldwell drew rebukes from Grimsley’s campaign. Hammer repeatedly described the ad copy as a “mistake.”

“It’s clearly a mistake,” Hammer said. “And I would certainly hope that Matt Caldwell, the candidate we have endorsed, would admit that it was a mistake and apologize to her and move on. That’s the professional thing to do.”

Hammer declined to comment further after Caldwell issued a statement that continued to question Grimsley’s record on gun issues.

“In order to avoid confusion, I asked my team to retool the ad this weekend, but we will not back down from the clear contrast between ourselves and our opponents when it comes to defending the 2nd Amendment,” Caldwell said in the statement.

The disputed ad asks voters: “Who can you trust to protect your Second Amendment rights?” It then lists grades that Caldwell and Grimsley purportedly received from the NRA in 2016 and a failing mark that former lawmaker Baxter Troutman, another candidate for agriculture commissioner, received from the organization in 2008.

In responding to Hammer’s statement, Caldwell said: “It is common knowledge that Sen. Grimsley has received less than an A-rating from the NRA multiple times throughout her legislative career.”

“A simple Google search reveals that she partnered with disgraced Sen. Jack Latvala to vote against a pro-gun bill in 2014,” Caldwell said, referring to a former Clearwater lawmaker who resigned after a sexual-harassment investigation. “Additionally, ProjectVoteSmart.org lists Grimsley as having a 64 percent grade from the NRA in 2016.”

Grimsley campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said that while Hammer repeatedly called the recent ad copy a “mistake,” Caldwell’s campaign has “been pushing this false attack for months and finally got busted.”

“Is Matt Caldwell admitting that his campaign knowingly lied in an ad he approved?” Bascom said. “Mudslinging is not a good look, but it usually means someone knows they are losing.”

High grades from the NRA are often coveted by Republican candidates. Under the NRA grading, a “B” signifies a lawmaker who “may have opposed some piece of pro-gun reform or supported some restrictive legislative in the past,” but is otherwise generally pro-gun.

A “D” advises NRA members that the candidate is “anti-gun” and “usually supports restrictive gun control legislation and opposes pro-gun reforms” and “can usually be counted on to vote wrong on key issues.”

Caldwell received an “A” grade in 2016 and an “A plus” for the current year.

An “A plus” grade goes to candidates who have “an excellent voting record on all critical NRA issues” and who have offered a “vigorous” defense of the Second Amendment. Grimsley received a “B plus” for the current year.

Grimsley’s marks have been attributed to her vote in 2014 on an amendment to a bill allowing people without concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns during declared emergencies.

Troutman received an “F” in 2008 after voting against a measure known as the “Bring Your Gun to Work” law, which involved mandating that employers allow workers to keep firearms in their locked vehicles at work if the employees are licensed to carry concealed weapons.

The NRA slaps an “F” on candidates it deems a “true enemy of gun owners’ rights.”

Troutman’s grade for the current year is a “C minus.” A “C” grade indicates a mixed record on NRA issues.

The fourth candidate in the race, Mike McCalister, got an “Aq” ranking from the NRA this year. The grade is based on McCalister’s response to the advocacy group’s candidate questionnaire and notes he doesn’t have a voting record on Second Amendment issues.

By the numbers: Voter registration tops 13 million

Some will vote by mail. Some will vote early. Some will go old-school and vote on the actual election day. Some won’t vote at all.

But slightly more than 13 million Floridians are registered to vote in advance of the Aug. 28 primary elections, according to new figures posted online by the state Division of Elections. Democrats outnumber Republicans, but just barely, as both parties gear up for a fierce battle in November for a U.S. Senate seat and the governor’s office.

Here are five takeaways from the new voter-registration numbers, which reflect the primary-election “book closing” on July 30:

The big picture

As Florida’s population has continued to grow, so has the number of voters, with 13,013,657 registered to cast ballots in the primaries. By comparison, 12.37 million were registered to vote in the 2016 primaries, and 11.8 million were registered to vote in the 2014 primaries.

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, but not by a lot — 4,839,434 to 4,594,133. While both parties have seen registration increases since the 2016 primaries, the Democratic margin is about the same as it was two years ago.

No labels, please

Voters who aren’t registered with the Democratic or Republican parties won’t be able to cast ballots in many primary races, including the marquee race for governor. But that hasn’t stopped the trend of Floridians ditching the donkeys and the elephants and registering “no party affiliation.”

The total of so-called NPA voters has climbed to 3,493,494 — or about 27 percent of the electorate. That is up from slightly more than 2.91 million voters, or about 23.6 percent, during the 2016 primaries.

Democratic dominance

Conventional wisdom has long held that Democrats look to South Florida when they need votes. And there’s good reason for that: Miami-Dade County has 586,648 registered Democrats, Broward County has 577,248, and Palm Beach County has 387,445 — nearly a third of all of the registered Democrats in the state.

It’s also no wonder that Democrats focus on the Orlando area. In Orange and Osceola counties, registered Democrats now outnumber Republicans by 161,000 voters. With both parties focusing heavily this year on attracting Hispanic voters, Democrats also hold about a 100,000-voter edge in Orange and Osceola among Latinos.

GOP heaven

Registered Republicans are outnumbered by Democrats in each of the seven most-populated counties — Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Orange, Palm Beach and Pinellas (though the GOP trails by fewer than, 1,000 voters in Pinellas.) But the GOP has been successful for the past two decades, at least in part, because it has dominated regions such as North Florida, Southwest Florida and many suburban areas.

The new numbers bear that out. For example, in Northwest Florida, registered Republicans make up more than half of the voters in Bay, Holmes, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Washington counties. The same holds true in Northeast Florida in Baker, Clay, Nassau and St. Johns counties. It also goes for Sumter County, which is home to much of the massive Villages retirement community, and Collier County in Southwest Florida.

Don’t forget the little guys

Much of the attention during this year’s campaign focuses on candidates going to large media markets and party strongholds as they try to amass votes. But the new registration numbers also give a glimpse of smaller, rural counties that can get lost in the debate.

Nine counties — Calhoun, Dixie, Franklin, Glades, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty and Union counties — each have fewer than 10,000 registered voters. The smallest are Lafayette, with 4,312 voters, and Liberty, with 4,365, followed by Glades, with 6,751. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in each of the nine counties, though GOP President Donald Trump carried all of the counties in 2016.

Democratic candidates push for expanded health care coverage

Reflecting the same fault lines that have emerged nationally, Florida’s Democratic and Republican candidates for governor are deeply split over whether the state should take a more direct role in providing health care.

And that split is resonating in a campaign where health care has become one of the touchstone issues for the five Democrats running in the Aug. 28 primary.

Democrats Andrew Gillum, Gwen Graham, Jeff Greene, Chris King and Philip Levine are united in their support for expanding Medicaid to the 700,000 Floridians who would qualify for the program if Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature had agreed to expand coverage to uninsured working adults.

But the five Democrats have not taken identical stances on health-care issues, including whether the state should allow the recreational use of marijuana instead of just limiting it to patients with chronic medical conditions.

And none of the Democratic candidates appears to have cornered support from Florida’s vast health-care industry. An analysis of contribution data to campaigns and political committees shows Levine, a former Miami Beach mayor, has collected more than $210,444 from the industry, while King, a Winter Park businessman, has gotten nearly $181,000. Graham a former congresswoman, has received nearly $171,000, and Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor, reported taking in contributions of nearly $160,000. Greene, a Palm Beach billionaire, has virtually self-funded his campaign.

Democrats are making sure voters are aware of health-care issues during the campaign. Florida’s uninsured rate in 2013, the year before federal Affordable Care Act plans became available, was 20 percent and one of the highest in the nation. In 2016, the rate was 12.5 percent.

The Florida Democratic Party has pointed to polls, such as one done this year by AARP and Politico, that showed health care is a top issue among voters 50 and older.

But Kevin McCarty, the state’s former long-time insurance commissioner, said he doesn’t think it will be a marquee issue this election.

A Republican, McCarty said that as Floridians prepare to go to the polls in coming weeks a mandate that insurance companies sell policies to people regardless of pre-existing conditions remains in effect. Also remaining in effect are subsidies that flow to people who are purchasing policies on the federal health-care exchange. The subsidies, McCarty said, keep people protected from having to pay the full costs of the policies.

“I don’t think it’s front and center of the mind,” McCarty said.

“But I don’t think there’s any question those issues will be front and center of the political arena for the next four years,” McCarty said, referring to, among other things, a multi-state legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act filed in federal court in Texas.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he won’t defend the law against the challenge, which Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi joined. The challenge could ensure that the pre-existing condition protections will be eliminated. Seventeen other states have intervened to defend the Affordable Care Act.

More than 1.7 million Florida residents enrolled in the federal exchange to buy health policies this year. Ninety percent of them are receiving some sort of discounts to help offset the costs of the coverage, according to federal data.

King and Graham said they aren’t afraid to use the power of the governor’s office to bolster the insurance exchange.

Both candidates’ platforms would require managed-care plans participating in Medicaid to offer health plans on the federal exchange. King said he also would use incentives — carrots and sticks — to require Medicare health plans to participate in the marketplace. He called the policy “universal participation.”

Gillum supports the Affordable Care Act and has said that he would change Florida’s insurance laws to make sure they have the same pre-existing condition protections that are in the federal law.

But Gillum also said he also supports U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” plan. Sanders, a Vermont independent who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, has endorsed Gillum’s campaign.

While McCarty maintains that health care isn’t foremost on people’s minds this year, residents have enough concerns to keep the advocacy group Florida Voices for Health busy, said Louisa McQueeney, the group’s communications director.

She said the organization has been hosting town-hall meetings and talking with people who could be impacted if protections in the federal law are eliminated.

People who come to Florida Voices for Health for assistance, though, generally aren’t pressing for information about the gubernatorial candidates and the candidates’ health-care and insurance agendas.

“They want information on health care,” she said. “What we’re being asked for is to help us to understand the potential changes to the Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid expansion and now, the short-term plans.”

The Democratic candidates part ways when it comes to other health-care issues that may resonate with voters, including their positions on whether to expand marijuana legalization in Florida beyond current medical-only uses.

Gillum was the first to support allowing recreational use of the drug. King and Levine also support it.

Graham and Greene support legal marijuana only for medical uses. Graham said, though, that she would decriminalize the use of marijuana, a step short of full legalization.

Justices block execution in Miami-Dade murder

The Florida Supreme Court has indefinitely put on hold Tuesday’s scheduled execution of Death Row inmate Jose Antonio Jimenez, convicted of killing a 63-year-old woman nearly 26 years ago in Miami-Dade County.

A unanimous order by the court, issued Friday evening, did not give a reason for granting the stay of execution requested by Jimenez’s lawyer, Marty McClain.

Gov. Rick Scott in July ordered Jimenez, now 54, to be put to death by lethal injection and scheduled the execution for Tuesday. The convicted murderer’s execution would have been the first since the February lethal injection of Eric Branch, who reportedly screamed after being injected with the anesthetic etomidate, the first of the state’s triple-drug lethal injection protocol.

In a motion for a stay of execution filed this week, McClain raised several issues, including the fact that he discovered 80 pages of records related to the investigation into the Oct. 2, 1992, death of Phyllis Minas that the North Miami Police Department had not previously provided to Jimenez’s lawyers.

McClain was first given access to all of the records — more than 1,000 pages — on July 30, just two weeks before his client, who maintains his innocence, was scheduled to be executed.

The newly discovered records include pages of handwritten notes made by investigators identified as detectives Ojeda and Diecidue, who interviewed Jimenez following his arrest three days after Minas was murdered, according to court documents filed this week. The records contradict the detectives’ testimony in Jimenez’s case, according to McClain.

“Mr. Jimenez has found, to his mind, surprising and downright shocking information contained in the previously unseen notes,” McClain wrote in a five-page motion filed in Miami-Dade County circuit court Friday. “It appears that the notes of Detective Ojeda, the lead investigator, and Detective Diecidue if not lied, endeavored to deceive when they were deposed by Mr. Jimenez’s trial counsel.”

McClain wrote that he made the discovery within the past 10 days.

“And counsel is frnatical (sic) trying to piece these notes together and understand what occurred while the clock ticks down on Mr. Jimenez’s life,” McClain wrote.

The notes “show that Ojeda and Diecidue were willing (to) give false and/or misleading deposition testimony in order to facilitate Mr. Jimenez’s conviction,” McClain wrote in an eight-page amendment to a motion seeking to vacate his client’s judgment and sentence filed with the Supreme Court this week.

“The new documents show dishonest cops, and the conviction is premised on Ojeda telling the truth,” McClain told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview Friday evening.

In the motion seeking a stay, McClain also raised the issue of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case, known as Bucklew v. Precythe, which could have an impact on arguments about whether Florida’s lethal-injection protocol is unconstitutional.

The Missouri case deals with a previous U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case known as Glossip v. Gross, that focused on lethal injection protocols.

That ruling requires prisoners challenging lethal injection procedures to establish that “any risk of harm was substantial when compared to a known and viable alternative method of execution.”

“… (I)t is clear that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to revisit and clarify the analysis to be used in a challenge to a method of execution. For that reason, a stay of execution would be more than appropriate in this case just as it was in Correll,” McClain wrote, referring to Jerry Correll, who was put to death by lethal injection in 2015 in the first execution after the Supreme Court signed off on the use of the drug midazolam, which has now been replaced by etomidate in Florida.

The Florida Supreme Court’s order Friday halting Jimenez’s execution set a schedule for briefs to be filed by McClain and the state, ending with an Aug. 28 deadline for reply brief to be filed. “Oral argument, if necessary, will be scheduled at a later date,” the order said.

McClain said he did not know the basis of court’s indefinite stay.

“But the fact that it’s until further order of the court, and it was unanimous, there’s something up, but I don’t know what it is,” he said.

McClain said that an expert in a separate lethal-injection case had testified that the use of the drug etomidate could result in screams about 25 percent of the time. The state has used the drug four times as part of a new lethal injection protocol, and Branch was the only inmate who screamed, lending credence to the expert’s testimony, according to McClain.

“Is it OK to have your condemned people scream 25 percent of the time? Are we comfortable with that? And what about the torture to those who are next, who know that 25 percent of the time people are in pain and screaming? Are they going to be the one? And even if they’re not, is it going to be torture for them to be aware of that?” he said.

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