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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.

South Florida cities challenge gun preemption

Elected officials from 10 South Florida cities are challenging an NRA-backed state law that imposes strict penalties on local lawmakers — including removal from office and hefty fines — for enacting gun ordinances.

The cities — Weston, Coral Gables, Cutler Bay, Lauderhill, Miami Beach, Miami Gardens, Miramar, Pinecrest, Pompano Beach and South Miami — are asking a judge to toss out a 2011 law that imposes a $5,000 fine on local government officials who create gun rules that exceed statewide restrictions. Under the law, the officials could also be ousted from office for the gun ordinances.

Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer invited “every municipal and county official” to join the challenge, filed in Leon County circuit court Monday.

“This lawsuit impacts each and every one of us that holds office,” Stermer said. “The onerous penalties that exist in this statute … exit nowhere else in Florida statutes.”

Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and other statewide officials, including Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, are among the defendants named in the lawsuit, headed by the city of Weston.

Scott’s office is reviewing the lawsuit, a spokesman for the governor said. Bondi’s office said she had “not yet been served” in the case.

The lawsuit contends the 2011 law in part violates constitutional limitations on gubernatorial authority with respect to municipal officers, conflicts with the right of elected officials to legislative immunity, and are “overbroad, in violation of local officials’ free speech rights.”

“These onerous penalties are vindictive and expressly intended to be punitive in nature,” lawyer Jamie Cole of the Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman law firm and other attorneys representing the cities wrote in the 45-page complaint.

The municipalities have suspended or refrained from enacting “reasonable firearms measures” to reflect the views of their constituents “which may be appropriate for the specific circumstances of that municipality (as opposed to the ‘one size fits all’ approach of the State),” the lawyers argued.

According to the lawsuit, gun-rights groups threatened to sue Coral Gables and also urged Scott to remove individuals from office “if the city so much as passed the proposed gun-related measures on first reading.”

Marion Hammer, the National Rifle Association’s Florida lobbyist and a former president of the national organization, said elected public officials must follow the law regardless of “how important they think they are.”

“When they willfully and knowingly violate state law they have to be held accountable,” Hammer told The News Service of Florida in an email Monday. “They remind me of disobedient children who whine about being punished for doing something they knew was wrong and were warned about the consequences.  I personally don’t think the penalties are severe enough.”

Like other elected officials throughout the country, the cities said they have been under pressure from students and adults to “take some action regarding firearms and ammunition to increase public safety” following the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 14 students and three faculty members dead.

“Those 17 lives that were lost in Parkland would agree with us that we should do everything possible to keep our communities safe,” Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam said Monday during a press conference at Weston City Hall. “We’re not standing here to say we will pass laws that are unconstitutional, but to have the ability to pass constitutional regulation on arms that could potentially damage, hurt or even take the life of anyone in the public, should be possible. And right now today, it is not possible.”

The lawsuit alleges the 2011 law was created to “deter and chill local officials from even considering reasonable, constitutional firearms regulations in their own communities.”

The plaintiffs “have considered a panoply of possible measures, including, but not limited to, the restricting of guns in municipal-owned facilities and parks, the placing of signs relating to guns in municipal-owned facilities and parks, the regulation of gun accessories (such as holsters or high capacity magazines), or the creation of ‘gun free zones’ or ‘gun safe zones,’ ” but are afraid of running afoul of the law, their lawyers argued.

Meanwhile, Skip Campbell, the mayor of Coral Springs and a former state senator, has spearheaded a campaign to put on the 2020 ballot a constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons.

The lawsuit filed Monday comes as critics continue to blame the Legislature for not going far enough with a school-safety law, signed by Scott on March 9, that raises the age from 18 to 21 and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of rifles and other long guns, similar to requirements in place for buying handguns.

The new law also bans the sale or possession of “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons. And it gives law enforcement officials the ability to seek court orders to seize weapons from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

The same day Scott signed the bill, the NRA filed a federal lawsuit alleging the new restrictions on rifles purchases are unconstitutional.

The school-safety law also includes a controversial provision giving school boards and sheriffs the power to allow certain teachers and other school personnel, who receive special training and are deputized by sheriffs, to bring guns to schools.

“Funny, the Legislature saw fit in passing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act to allow local school boards and sheriffs to decide what happens locally in schools,” Stermer said. “So for some reason it’s good for that, but not for the rest of us.”

The cities’ lawsuit doesn’t dispute the state has the ability to preempt certain subject matters, such as honeybee colonies and the use of electronic devices in cars.

However, penalties are only outlined in the case of firearms, the lawyers argued.

“In every other circumstance, the only consequence of a determination that local action violates express preemption would be a finding that such local action is null and void,” the lawsuit states.

This is not the first time the law has been challenged.

In 2014, a Leon County Circuit Judge ruled in favor of Palm Beach County that “the Legislature may not grant the governor the power to remove a county commissioner when that power is not provided by the Constitution.” The county had challenged the law in 2012.

The ruling, however, maintained that the state could filed legal challenges to any local government official who seeks to enact local gun restrictions tougher than state law.

The issue has “been bothering municipalities” since the law was enacted in 2011, Cole told The News Service of Florida Monday.

“But it’s certainly become of much greater importance because of the Parkland tragedy,” he said.

Cole said he expects other South Florida cities to sign onto the lawsuit.

“This is a clear infringement on the home rule powers and legislative immunity of elected officials,” he said of the 2011 law. “If the Legislature is going to do this thing for firearms, they theoretically could do it for any other preemption, which would be a very bad situation.”

Rick Scott faces deadline on final batch of bills

Gov. Rick Scott has a little more than a week to act on the remaining 19 bills from the 2018 Legislative Session, including a water-related measure drawing fire from environmentalists.

The proposal would allow chemically treated, recycled water to be pumped into the state’s underground aquifer, an effort supporters argue is a means to boost the state’s anount of potable water but which critics fear could contaminate Florida’s supply of drinking water

The contentious measure is part of a wide-ranging bill (HB 1149) that addresses a variety of water-related issues, including rules regarding rebuilding single-family docks and the operation of the C-51 reservoir project south of Lake Okeechobee.

The sweeping proposal also directs the state Department of Environmental Protection and regional water management districts to develop rules for reclaimed-water facility projects that require a permit.

Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who sponsored the measure, said any water being pumped into the aquifer must meet clean water drinking standards.

“Reclaimed water can start out as many different kinds of water,” Payne told members of the House Government Accountability Committee in February. “We often have reclaimed water that we use in irrigation. But this water will be sanitized and reused as (to) the drinking water standard.”

The reclaimed water will help combat saltwater intrusion into the aquifer, Payne said.

But David Cullen, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said his group opposed the measure because of the potential long-term negative impact caused by the use of chemicals.

Cullen objected to “stuff we don’t know about” at wastewater treatment plants being used to treat water that would go into the aquifer.

“It’s the Pottery Barn rule,” Cullen said. “You break it, you bought it — for decades, perhaps generations.”

Rep. Wengay Newton, a Democrat from St. Petersburg who voted against the measure, also worried the proposal could impact the state’s drinking water supply.

“You have people that are at odds because of fracking, because we don’t know the issue with the chemicals that are injected into the ground in that process,” Newton said. “But we’re okay with taking wastewater, mixed in with chemicals, and then deep-well inject it back into the aquifers.”

But Payne said no environmental agency would allow untreated wastewater to be put into the aquifer.

The Florida Water Environment Association Utility Council and the National Waste & Recycling Association are among the groups backing the measure.

Meanwhile, thousands of opponents have signed onto an online petition seeking a veto from Scott, who is expected to announce a bid for the U.S. Senate next week. During appearances in Marathon and Sarasota last week, Scott sought to boost his environmental credentials by touting his administration’s efforts to protect beaches, the Florida Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.

Other legislation still awaiting action from Scott include a measure (HB 55) that would allow people buying guns to use credit cards to pay for background checks, something they now can do with a personal check, money order or cashier’s check. Another bill (HB 523) would make it a third-degree felony to trespass on airport property where properly placed signs warn people to stay off the grounds.

The governor has until April 10 to act on the last batch of the 195 bills approved during the 60-day session that ended March 11.

So far, Scott has only vetoed a single bill, a “local” bill that would have expanded the governing board of the Palm Beach County Housing Authority.

State colleges take stock after ‘challenging’ Session

While state universities and public schools have seen significant funding increases in the last two years, Florida’s state college system has had less success in securing money in the annual budget process.

Last year, lawmakers cut $30 million from the system’s overall budget of more than $2 billion. In the newly approved budget for the 2018-2019 academic year, the Legislature restored $6.7 million of the cut.

But most of the other major budget requests from the system, which includes 28 state and community colleges, did not win support from the Legislature.

That included a $75 million initiative to produce more “workforce” degrees and certificates to meet regional economic needs, a $50 million plan to recruit and retain faculty and a $67 million initiative for counseling and other services to help students complete their degrees in a timely manner.

The Legislature rejected the state colleges’ request for $40 million in state performance funding, which would have been a $10 million increase.

In contrast, the new state budget increases performance funding in the university system by $20 million and provides $91 million, a $20 million increase, to help the schools recruit “world-class” faculty and researchers. The overall $5 billion university budget will increase by $139 million in 2018-2019.

Ava Parker, president of Palm Beach State College and head of the policy and advocacy group for the 28 college presidents, said she supports increased funding for the universities but questions the funding strategy for colleges.

Parker, who served more than a decade on the Board of Governors, which oversees the 12 state universities, noted the role that state colleges play in providing students for the universities.

Some two-thirds of Florida high school graduates who went into the higher-education system in the 2014-2015 academic year enrolled in state colleges, which serve about 800,000 full- and part-time students each year, according to the state Department of Education. The data also show a majority of the juniors and seniors in the university system are former state college students.

Parker, who is scheduled to become chairwoman of the state colleges’ Council of Presidents in June, said not adequately funding the college system could have repercussions for universities.

“It would appear that you are actually crippling the universities in some way in that you’re not supporting the foundation for those students who will very soon be your students,” Parker said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.

“While I applaud the Legislature for their emphasis on higher education, and particularly the universities, I think they’re short-sighted when they do not provide the resources to prepare such a large percentage of our (future university students),” she said.

A factor in the Legislature’s reluctance to back many of the state-college budget initiatives was a two-year struggle between the college system and Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who pushed several major policy changes, including a cap on baccalaureate degrees, that the colleges opposed.

Lawmakers passed those policy changes in legislation that Gov. Rick Scott vetoed in 2017. Scott argued the changes would undermine the college system.

A Senate bill (SB 540) with the policy changes, which also included a statewide oversight board for the college system, stalled in the 2018 Session. The consequences were that Senate leaders were not likely to look favorably on many of the college initiatives.

A minor but telling example of that was that the House passed a bill (HB 619) that would have let Florida Keys Community College and North Florida Community College drop the “community” label, which has been done by the majority of state colleges over time. But the bill never received a hearing in the Senate.

Parker said it was important for the colleges to oppose proposed policy changes that the presidents believed could hurt the system but that it has made the last two years in the legislative process “challenging.”

“I think it has been challenging for us because there have really been two sides to the coin. There is the budget and there is policy,” she said.

On a positive note, Parker said college presidents are supporting a measure (Proposal 83) now before the Florida Constitution Revision Commission that would provide constitutional authority to the state college system.

Parker and other presidents have said embedding the state college system in the Constitution would put the colleges on equal footing with universities and public schools, which are already authorized in the document.

Pastors, ex-felons call for quick action on rights restoration

After a federal judge this week ordered the state to revamp its system of restoring ex-felons’ voting rights, a group of pastors and former felons from across Florida gathered Friday to call for Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet to quickly address the issue.

The “Clergy Coalition for Civil Rights” held a news conference in Tallahassee, three days after the ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker.

Under the state’s current system, felons must wait at least five years before applying to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored. Once an application is made, the process can take years to complete. Florida is one of just a handful of states that do not have some sort of automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-felons.

Walker ruled that the system was unconstitutional and gave Scott and the Cabinet a month to revamp what Walker called a “fatally flawed” rights-restoration process.

“When a person has served his or her time in prison, paid their debt to society, paid restitution and are off probation, it is the humane and right thing to do,” said the Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee.

Scott’s office has not said whether the state will appeal Walker’s ruling.

Daylight-saving time no sure bet

Florida’s push for year-round daylight-saving time may have a difficult time in Congress, as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says federal lawmakers haven’t lined up in any typical partisan fashion.

Rubio, who is sponsoring the proposal in the Senate, said he’s gotten positive and negative reaction, but the split does not fall along “ideological lines.”

“I don’t think there’s any wrong or right answer, this is not a moral question,” the Miami-Dade Republican said Tuesday while meeting with reporters in Tallahassee. “Basically, it’s if you want it to get darker later or earlier. And it depends who you are. If your (children) are young, you don’t want them in the dark at the bus stop.  If you like to play outdoors or go fishing in the morning, while it’s still dark, you’re in favor.”

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation (HB 1013) last week aimed at putting Florida on year-round daylight-saving time, but such a change requires congressional approval.

Rubio submitted a pair of bills (S. 2537 and S. 2536) this month — one would keep Florida on daylight-saving time, while the other would make such a change for the nation. He said he was reflecting the will of state legislators.

Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan filed the House companion bills (H.R. 5279 and H.R. 5278).

“No matter what we do, I wish we were on one time the whole year,” Rubio added. “That would make it a lot easier.”

The idea of year-round daylight-saving time has been promoted as a way to help Florida’s tourism industry, as people would be able to stay out later with the additional sunlight. Hawaii and most of Arizona don’t participate in switching from standard time to daylight-saving time and back. They stay on standard time throughout the year.

Daylight-saving time this year started March 11 and ends Nov. 4.

A news release from Rubio’s office when he filed his bills pointed to several potential benefits from the change, including that additional daylight in evenings could reduce car crashes, help lead to more physical activity that would reduce childhood obesity and reduce the number of robberies.

But the Florida PTA Legislative Committee has opposed the change due to the potential impact on students, who could be waiting more at dark bus stops in the morning.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday noted it has received numerous inquiries regarding the legislation and sent out an explainer to members.

As part of a summary, the chamber said, “Here’s the key takeaway: despite all the rhetoric, changes are not imminent and are, in fact, very unlikely to occur anytime soon.”

Supreme Court rejects Death Row appeals

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected appeals by two Death Row inmates who were convicted of murdering women in the 1990s in Santa Rosa and Hillsborough counties.

One of the appeals was filed by Norman Grim, who was sentenced to death in the 1998 murder of Cynthia Campbell, whose body was found by a fisherman floating off the Pensacola Bay Bridge, according to a brief by Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office. The victim, who was wrapped in a sheet, a shower curtain and masking tape, had been beaten in the face and suffered multiple stab wounds to the chest.

The other appeal was filed by Samuel Smithers, who was convicted in the 1996 murders of Cristy Cowan and Denise Roach. The bodies of the women were found in a Hillsborough County pond, with a 2002 Supreme Court summary of the case saying both women had been strangled and suffered other injuries, including “chop” wounds to Cowan’s head.

The appeals dealt with issues related to a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision. The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.

The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. Juries unanimously recommended death sentences for Grim and Smithers.

But the appeals decided Thursday involved questions about the other findings needed to sentence defendants to death.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Alan Lawson, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston agreed to reject both appeals. Justice Barbara Pariente supported rejecting the appeal in the Smithers case but dissented in the Grim case. Justice Peggy Quince dissented in both cases.

Florida an outlier on restoring felons’ rights

Florida voters this fall will get to decide whether convicted felons who’ve served their time and paid restitution should automatically have voting rights restored.

But in the meantime, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet have a month to revamp what U.S. District Judge Mark Walker called the state’s “fatally flawed” current rights-restoration process.

Walker issued an order late Tuesday that was the latest salvo in the battle over voting rights in Florida, one of just a handful of states that don’t have some sort of automatic restoration of the right to vote for ex-felons.

Thirty-eight states automatically restore voting rights for most felons, and two states — Maine and Vermont — even allow prisoners to vote from behind bars.

Automatically restoring the right to vote for convicted felons in Florida could add between 600,000 and 1.6 million voters to the state’s voting rolls, according to national voting-rights experts.

Nationwide, about 3 million people living in communities have had their voting rights stripped, and more than one-third of those former felons live in the Sunshine State, according to Sean Morales-Doyle, a lawyer who works for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program.

Florida is an outlier because of its restrictive voting-restoration process and because of the “sheer volume” of people who are affected, Morales-Doyle told The News Service of Florida.

Florida’s system — pushed by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi and adopted shortly after the two Republicans took office in 2011 — is “broken,” Morales-Doyle said.

“It’s definitely kind of out on its own, compared to the rest of the country,” he said.

Under the current system, felons must wait five years before applying to have their civil rights, including the right to vote, restored. Felons who have been convicted of certain violent crimes or sexual offenses must wait at least seven years before seeking a hearing to have their rights restored.

Once an application is made, the process can take years — and big bucks — to complete, and involves extensive documentation, such as certified copies of charges, judgments and other court documents.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents.

The restoration of felons’ rights has long been controversial in Florida, with critics of the state’s process comparing it to post-Civil War Jim Crow policies designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.

A political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy has collected enough petition signatures to place a measure on the November general-election ballot that, if approved by voters, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole or probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded under the measure, which will appear on the ballot as Amendment 4.

But it remains unclear whether voters will agree to the changes.

Florida’s current system is not only burdensome, it’s unconstitutional, according to Walker, who last month found that the process gave too much discretion to the Board of Executive Clemency, comprised of Scott and the Cabinet.

Siding with the voting-rights group Fair Elections Legal Network, Walker ruled that Florida’s system is arbitrary and violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

Walker, who scalded state officials for threatening to do away with the rights-restoration process altogether, on Tuesday gave the clemency board until April 26 to “promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria” to replace the current “nebulous criteria, such as the governor’s comfort level.”

Scott hasn’t said whether the state plans to appeal Walker’s order but has given no indication he will back down.

“The governor continues to stand with victims of crime. He believes that people who have been convicted of felony offenses including crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence, should demonstrate that they can live a life free of crime while being accountable to our communities,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said in a statement following Walker’s order Tuesday.

While Walker did not find that the lengthy waiting period required before felons can apply — among the longest in the country — is unconstitutional, he did find fault with what can be a years-long delay for applications to be processed and with what appeared to be a willy-nilly decision-making process.

Walker’s decision, centered in part on the violation of First Amendment rights, was the first of its kind in the voting-rights arena, according to Michelle Kanter Cohen, counsel to the Fair Elections Legal Network, which filed the federal challenge.

“This is really an area where, in terms of the First Amendment equal protection claims and the arbitrary nature of this, this is a new way of looking at this problem,” Kanter Cohen said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Writing “this court is not the Vote-Restoration Czar,” Walker did not provide the state a blueprint for an overhauled system.

But a look at how other states handle the issue, based on information provided by the Brennan Center, provides a glimpse of options for what Florida might consider, should Scott and the Cabinet choose to move forward with new rules.

Dozens of states automatically restore voting rights for people who have served their sentences.

In Texas, voting rights are automatically restored when residents complete their sentences and terms of probation or parole and pay restitution.

In California, convicted felons may vote if they are on probation but have to wait until periods of parole are complete.

Wyoming automatically restores the right to vote after five years to people who complete sentences for first-time, non-violent felony convictions in 2016 or after. People with violent convictions or multiple felony convictions must receive a pardon from the governor.

Whatever Florida does, the new standards and criteria “cannot be merely advisory, a Potemkin village for anyone closely reviewing the scheme,” Walker wrote, instructing the board not to rely “on whims, passing emotions or perceptions.”

Because Scott and the clemency board had “unfettered discretion” — according to their own rules — in making decisions about who should have their rights restored, it was impossible to know whether those decisions were based on “viewpoint discrimination,” Morales-Doyle said.

“The thing government can never do in any circumstance is discriminate on the basis of viewpoint,” he said.

The arbitrariness of the system “means none of us knows if Gov. Scott’s denying the right to vote to one person as opposed to another person is because of the views they’ve expressed,” Morales-Doyle said.

“So we have to assume that’s what’s happening. Unless there’s transparency and objective, neutral, specific criteria, none of us have any way of determining what’s driving these decisions and we have no way of holding the government accountable,” he said.

Justices weigh police ‘stand your ground’ defense

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week urged the Florida Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that allowed a police officer to use the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law after being charged with manslaughter in an on-duty shooting.

Bondi’s office, in a 22-page brief filed Monday, argued that Broward County sheriff’s deputy Peter Peraza was not legally entitled to claim immunity under “stand your ground” in the 2013 shooting death of Jermaine McBean. Instead, the brief argued, officers can seek a more-limited type of immunity under another part of state law.

The Supreme Court agreed in February to take up the case, after Bondi’s office appealed a ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal. That ruling upheld a circuit judge’s decision that Peraza was entitled to immunity from prosecution under “stand your ground” and that his use of force was justifiable.

The legal battle stems from an incident in which Peraza received a report of a man walking down a street openly carrying a gun. Peraza and another officer pursued the man and ordered him to stop and drop the weapon, the appeals-court ruling said. The man did not drop the weapon, leading Peraza to fatally shoot him. The weapon turned out to be an air rifle.

Peraza was indicted on a charge of manslaughter with a firearm but successfully used a “stand your ground” defense. Under the law, a circuit judge held a pre-trial evidentiary hearing before siding with the deputy’s arguments.

“The circuit court found that the officer’s account of the incident was consistent with the other credible witnesses’ testimony and the physical evidence,” the appeals court ruling said, summarizing the decision. “The (circuit) court then found, by the greater weight of the evidence, that the man (McBean) ignored repeated warnings to stop and drop the weapon, turned towards the officers, and pointed his weapon at the officers, causing the officer (Peraza) to be in fear for his life and the lives of others, prompting the officer to shoot at the man, resulting in the man’s death.”

The controversial “stand your ground” law says people are justified in using deadly force and do not have a “duty to retreat” if they believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. When the defense is successfully raised in pre-trial hearings, defendants are granted immunity from prosecution.

But in the brief filed Monday, Bondi’s office argued that police incidents are subject to another part of state law that can provide what is known as “qualified” immunity. Under such a scenario, the officer would not receive a pre-trial hearing that could lead to dismissal but would be able to raise self-defense arguments at trial, according to the appeals court ruling.

Bondi’s office said police officers have never had a duty to retreat and that the “stand your ground” law granted the “average citizen the right to stand his or her ground.”

“It makes no sense to apply this statute to officers who have always had the right to stand their ground,” the brief said. “Thus, permitting an officer, to elect an absolute immunity over qualified immunity bypasses the statute specifically designed for this scenario and renders (the law dealing with qualified immunity) meaningless.”

But Peraza’s attorneys, in a document filed at the Supreme Court in January, said the laws “coexist.” They wrote that a police officer could raise a “stand your ground” defense in a pre-trial hearing and, if unsuccessful, make arguments under the qualified-immunity law at trial.

“This case needs to be examined through the practical realities of policing,” Peraza’s attorneys wrote. “To follow the petitioner’s (attorney general’s) argument would allow an average citizen to assert immunity whereas a law enforcement officer who took an oath to uphold the law, to serve and protect, and whose duty entails running toward danger rather than from it, would not be able to avail him or herself of such a defense.”

Uber goes to Supreme Court in records dispute

A subsidiary of Uber Technologies has gone to the Florida Supreme Court in a dispute about whether Broward County needs to release records about the number of passengers picked up by Uber drivers at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

The subsidiary, Rasier-DC, LLC, filed a notice last week that it was appealing a January ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal, according to information posted Wednesday on the Supreme Court website. As is common, the Uber subsidiary did not detail its arguments in the notice.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruling came after a company that operates Yellow Cab in the area filed a public-records lawsuit requesting records submitted by the Uber subsidiary to the county as part of a licensing agreement.

A panel of the appeals court upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that part of the information is not covered by trade-secret protections and should be public. That information includes numbers of pickups and money paid to the county as a usage fee.

“In short, the total number of pickups and the fees paid to Broward County do not meet the definition of trade secrets under (parts of state law),” the appeals-court ruling said. “Nothing indicates the fees or total pickups provide an advantage to Yellow Cab or that Uber derives independent economic value from keeping that information secret.” The appeals court on March 1 turned down a request for a rehearing.

Corrine Brown appeal focuses on dismissed juror

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown’s attempt to get out of federal prison hinges on an ex-juror who said the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty of charges related to a charity scam.

Brown’s attorney filed a 64-page brief Monday in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals arguing the Jacksonville Democrat’s conviction should be tossed out because the juror was improperly dismissed from the case due to his religious statements.

“The record in this case supports only one conclusion: that this juror was basing his verdict on his view of the sufficiency of the evidence, after prayerful consideration and as he saw it, in his mind, guidance from the Holy Spirit,” Brown’s attorney, William Mallory Kent, wrote in the brief. “Whether he should or should not have depended on any guidance from the Holy Spirit does not resolve the matter in favor of his dismissal, because the well established law in this and other circuits is that so long as there is any reasonable possibility that the juror is basing his view on the sufficiency of the evidence, he may not be dismissed. Dismissal requires substantial evidence that the juror is engaged in willful misconduct.”

But in a December court document, U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan, who sentenced Brown to five years in prison, rejected arguments that he improperly dismissed the juror.

“In essence, the court (judge) dismissed a juror who it found was unable to follow the law,” Corrigan wrote Dec. 20. “The court applied the governing legal standard to the facts, finding beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility that the juror was able to base his decision only on the evidence and the law as the court had instructed.”

Brown, a former 12-term congresswoman, was convicted in May on 18 felony counts related to her role in using contributions to the One Door for Education charity for personal expenses and events.

In sentencing Brown on Dec. 4, Corrigan issued a 25-page order that said the One Door for Education charity, which was originally established to help children, was “operated as a criminal enterprise” by Brown, her longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and the charity’s founder, Carla Wiley.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January rejected Brown’s request to stay out of prison while she appeals the conviction. She is serving the sentence at the Coleman federal correctional institution in Sumter County, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons website.

The brief filed Monday said the issue about the dismissed juror’s religious statements started after the jury had started deliberating. Another juror informed the court that she had concerns about the man, identified in the brief as “juror number 13.”

Corrigan questioned the juror before deciding to replace him with an alternate juror. The jury subsequently found Brown guilty of the charges.

Brown, 71, long an influential figure in Jacksonville, represented a congressional district that stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando. She lost a re-election bid in 2016 after the district’s boundaries had been substantially redrawn and as she faced the criminal charges.

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