Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics

Jim Rosica

Jim Rosica covers state government from Tallahassee for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

Former Supreme Court justice challenges constitutional amendments

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead is challenging six proposed constitutional amendments on grounds they violate voters’ First Amendment rights.

Anstead, who served on the Supreme Court 1994-2009, on Tuesday filed a petition with the court for a writ of ‘quo warranto,’ a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action — in this case, against Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s “chief election officer.”

The court did not immediately accept jurisdiction but later Tuesday “requested” Detzner to respond to the petition “no later than 5 p.m. (next) Monday.”

Anstead is challenging six of the eight amendments placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), because each one “bundles independent and unrelated proposals in a single ballot question.”

That “requires a voter to vote ‘yes’ for a proposal that the voter opposes in order to vote ‘yes’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter supports, and to vote ‘no’ for a proposal the voter supports in order to vote ‘no’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter opposes,” the petition says.

“This is logrolling and a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” it says.

“This court has long acknowledged that a ballot question that requires a voter to vote ‘no’ to support a measure the voter approves cannot remain on the ballot.”

Anstead, an appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and chief justice in 2002-04, filed the petition with former High Springs City Commissioner Robert J. Barnas.

They’re represented by Joseph Little, a retired professor of the University of Florida’s law school and a constitutional scholar.

The amendments at issue, by ballot title and summary, are:

Amendment 6 — Rights of Crime Victims (also known as “Marsy’s Law”); Judges.

“Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.”

Amendment 7 — First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities.

“Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.”

Amendment 8 — School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools.

“Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

Amendment 9 — Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces.

“Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.”

Amendment 10 — State and Local Government Structure and Operation.

“Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even-numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.”

Amendment 11 — Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes.

“Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.”

Another CRC amendment banning betting on dog races already has been invalidated by a circuit judge and is under appeal at the Supreme Court.

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Rick Scott: State debt reduced by more than $10B

State debt has been paid down by more than $10 billion since December 2010, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

His office said that’s the largest reduction of state debt during one administration in Florida’s history.

“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 term-limited Republican from Naples now is running to replace Democrat Bill Nelson as Florida’s other U.S. senator besides Republican Marco Rubio.

“Since 2011, our unemployment has dropped by more than 7 percent, and we’ve created more than 1.5 million jobs,” Scott said. “This incredible turnaround is proof that when you cut taxes and invest in what’s important to families and businesses, everyone succeeds.

“I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made over the past seven and a half years and all the work we’ve done to make sure that every Florida family has the opportunity to live the ‘American Dream’ in the Sunshine State.”

In June, Scott announced that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Florida’s General Obligation (GO) bond rating to Aaa, and for the first time in the history of Florida, all three rating agencies now have Florida’s GO bond rating at AAA.

State has spent $2M on legal bills for medical marijuana

As it defends a slew of cases over medical marijuana, the state of Florida has spent close to $2 million on outside lawyers. Nearly all of that went to one firm.

Records reviewed last week show at least $1.9 million approved by the Department of Health (DOH) going to two law firms — mostly Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, but also Shutts & Bowen.

The contracts, which were usually amended for increasing amounts of money, were posted on Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS. It’s an “online tool developed to make the government contracting process in Florida more transparent.”

Meantime, medicinal cannabis advocates – including Orlando lawyer John Morgan – have called on term-limited Gov. Rick Scott to drop appeals of cannabis-related rulings that went against the state. That includes a case that Morgan backed, challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

“Enough is enough, drop YOUR #MedicalMarijuana appeal,” Morgan said in a May 29 tweet that he has pinned to his Twitter page. “Do it for the PEOPLE!”

Paying big bucks for hired legal guns isn’t surprising: Under Scott “and other top Florida Republicans,” the state has “quietly spent more than $237 million on private lawyers to advance and defend their agendas,” the Associated Press reported last year.

That figure doesn’t include the nearly $16 million “Florida taxpayers have been forced to reimburse (for) opponents’ private attorney fees” when the state has lost, the AP said.

A request for comment with a Health Department spokesman was pending as of late Friday. It regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Its director, Christian Bax, worked his last day Friday after tendering his resignation last month. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim head. And the department’s general counsel, Nichole Geary, who signed the legal-work contracts, also has resigned. She leaves later this month.

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Contracts for outside legal work on medical marijuana begin in March 2015, with a $230,000 deal to the Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli law firm of Tallahassee, for “legal representation to DOH in a rule challenge.” Total paid: $219,568.09. 

Dahlia Barnhart, a then 4-year-old with a brain tumor, and her mother, Moriah Barnhart, challenged the department in order to “expedite … (patients’) access to low THC cannabis.”

This was before passage of the state’s constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana, but after lawmakers OK’d use of low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help severely ill children. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through the “Right to Try Act,” which includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

The state won the case, with an administrative law judge finding among other things that the Barnharts alleged “insufficient facts … to show (Dahlia) would be substantially affected.”

Moriah Barnhart recently told the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau “she is still getting her daughter’s medical marijuana from out of state,” adding that she’s “never gotten a legal product from the state of Florida.”

The same law firm, in August 2015, also inked a contract eventually worth $1.275 million for “legal proceedings.” Total paid: $1,053,836.46.

Services include reviewing and analyzing files, attending meetings and preparing any court filings needed, the contract shows. For example, the firm has represented the state in administrative hearings on other medical marijuana rule challenges.  

Moreover, partner W. Robert Vezina III is listed as attorney of record for the department in an Okaloosa County lawsuit. That’s over whether a medical marijuana license preference for black farmers should include “Native American farmers and ranchers.”

The firm scored a third contract, similar to the second, worth a total of $700,000 in February 2017. Total paid: $540,721.34. 

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A fourth contract found on the FACTS system shows an August 2017 deal potentially worth $300,000 for the Shutts law firm, which has an office in Tallahassee. Total paid: $177,990.24. 

For instance, the firm helped represent the state in the lawsuit brought by Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. He won at trial, but the state is appealing.

The firm has connections to Scott: Ben Gibson, a former lawyer to the governor, joined the firm this summer as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

Gibson served as Deputy General Counsel and Assistant General Counsel to Scott for nearly five years, “helping advise the governor on the appointment of more than 120 judges to Florida’s courts.”

Mike Carroll quits as head of Florida’s child-welfare agency

Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), will quit his post effective Sept. 6, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Friday.

“Mike embodies the ideals and mission of the Department … and has devoted nearly three decades to improve and change the lives of Florida’s vulnerable children and families,” the governor said in a statement.

“Mike’s tenure as secretary is the longest in DCF’s 21-year history,” he added. Carroll was appointed in December 2014.

He inherited a system documented earlier that year, by the Miami Herald’s “Innocents Lost” investigation, as “clearly broken, leaving children unprotected and at risk.”

Carroll worked at DCF and its predecessor, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), since January 1990. Scott, who is term-limited and leaving office in January, did not immediately name his replacement.

The press release from Scott’s office said Carroll oversaw “expanded substance abuse treatment services statewide, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders; achieved record numbers of adoptions; (and) championed anti-human trafficking efforts,” among other achievements.

“Throughout his career, Mike has focused on innovative solutions to complicated problems, finding ways to enable better outcomes for children and families,” Scott said.

But lowlights during Carroll’s tenure include a foster child hanging herself while broadcasting it on social media. Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami-Dade County girl who was in and out of foster care starting in 2009, killed herself last year during a Facebook Live video.

“This case is kind of symptomatic of what we deal with,” he later told a state Senate committee. “Many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces …

“We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”

Two years before that, lawmakers heard results of a study into a series of missteps by DCF leading up to the father of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck throwing her off a bridge into Tampa Bay.

“The DCF report concluded Phoebe was subjected to a storm of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence in her short life,” the Tampa Tribune reported.

Carroll told legislators he responded by “requiring abuse hot-line counselors to have a four-year college degree and undergo 13 weeks of training, including nine weeks in a classroom,” the paper reported.

“Getting (employees) who are qualified to do this work and then getting them to stay on the job is a challenge,” Carroll said. “It is very stressful work. The work hours are incredible and not predictable … and you always work with a level of uncertainty.

“Every family you address, every home you walk into, you’re asked to make decisions … and you think you make the right decisions but when you walk out of that home, you never know.”

And a 133-page internal review commissioned by Carroll in 2016 depicted a dysfunctional agency, with workers feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

Medical marijuana advocates start their own PAC

Gary Stein, a medical marijuana historian and advocate, has opened his own Florida fundraising panel — the first of its kind — to support pro-marijuana candidates and influence legislation.

Clarity PAC was officially registered Wednesday as a non-profit corporation and political committee, state records show.

Its mission: “To advocate for full legal access to medicinal cannabis and the responsible adult use of cannabis, and to help create and pass legislation supporting that topic.” It hasn’t yet posted any contributions or expenses.

Its official launch will be this Sunday, with a noon rally in St. Petersburg at Cage Brewing, 2001 1st Ave. South.

“Clarity PAC will be presenting all candidates’ and elected officials’ views to Florida voters to help them make an informed choice at the polls in the form of spreadsheets … that include answers to specific questions, publicly issued statements and letter grades on reliability on cannabis issues,” Stein said in a statement.

That “information will be coming from more than just the traditional surveys sent to candidate’s offices or calls from phone banking,” he added.

“Advocates across the states, dubbed ‘canna-warriors,’ will be tasked with connecting with candidates … Canna-warriors will be paid for audio and video recordings that can be posted on the internet, and quotes from the candidates will be documented for the media.”

Among the committee’s backers: Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. Redner won at trial, but the state is appealing.

Also on Stein’s board is Bill Monroe, a Navy veteran who’s director of facilities for 3 Boys Farm, a medical marijuana treatment center based in Ruskin.

Cannabis Cures Investments, or CannCure, recently agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys, with the closing expected in mid-August. Terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Sean Shaw promises task force on gun violence ‘on day one’

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Sean Shaw said, if elected, he will convene a “statewide gun violence working group” on his first day in office. He made the announcement at a Thursday press conference.

“Your voices will be heard,” said Shaw, standing outside Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s Plaza-level office in the Capitol. He was flanked by members of Moms Demand Action, a gun-control group.

“Your concerns will be addressed,” he added. “And I’ll take action.”

Most recently, Markeis McGlockton was shot and killed last month during a confrontation over a handicapped parking spot at a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri declined to charge alleged shooter Michael Drejka, referring to the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Shaw plans to take “task force’s recommendations and champion new laws and regulations during the 2019 Legislative Session,” a press release said.

It will include “invited representation from the Governor’s Office and Cabinet Members, legislators, law enforcement, county sheriffs, county executives, public defenders, mayors, chiefs of police, schools, teachers, students, victims’ rights advocates, mental health organizations, community groups, and gun rights advocates.”

Shaw, now a state representative from Tampa, faces only Tampa lawyer Ryan Torrens in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary for Attorney General.

Shaw also is challenging Torrens’ qualifications to be on the ballot. Torrens called the lawsuit a “sham,” and admitted to making a honest fundraising mistake.

When asked why he sued Torrens, Shaw mentioned that he’s “running on a platform of being one of the most active attorney generals” in the country.

“If I don’t hold my primary opponent accountable, what does it mean when I tell people I am going to hold the Legislature accountable?” he said. “Or when I’m going to go after anyone doing wrong in this state? … This is what being a proactive attorney general looks like.”

Periscope videos of Shaw’s press conference and his taking further question from reporters are below.

Group backing gambling amendment plans $30M ad buy

The political committee behind a proposed constitutional amendment limiting gambling plans a $30 million ad buy to promote the measure’s passage.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) public files document some of the purchase. John Sowinski, chairman of Voters In Charge which is behind the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, on Wednesday confirmed the total buy.

The initiative will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 3.

The ‘Yes on 3’ campaign “has begun placement of an initial media buy of approximately $30 million, approximately $20 million of which has already been reserved, with the remaining $10 million being reserved in the coming days,” Sowinski said in an email, in response to an inquiry from Florida Politics.

“The lobbyists and politicians who oppose Amendment 3 have fought us at every turn, because they don’t want voters to have a voice,” he said. “We will run a robust campaign to give back to Florida voters the final say when it comes to casino gambling.”

The committee is sitting on nearly $10 million in cash-on-hand, according to campaign finance records listed on the Division of Elections website Wednesday.

Sowinski said those numbers do not reflect contributions that came in the last 10 days, which he did not disclose.

The amendment is backed by Disney and the Seminole Tribe of Florida, who both have a stake in limiting the expansion of gambling in the state. Each chipped in $5 million in April; the committee has not posted any fundraising since then.

Amendment 3 would tie the hands of the Legislature by “ensur(ing) that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” according to the ballot summary.

Amendments need at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution. Amendment 3 has previously polled from the mid-70s to mid-80s.

Sowinski also heads the anti-casino expansion organization, No Casinos, but that group and the political committee are separate entities.

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott is ‘silly’ about debate refusal claims

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Rick Scott‘s claims that Nelson refuses to debate him are “silly.”

Nelson spoke with reporters in Tallahassee on Tuesday, before a ceremony at the Tallahassee Veterans Affairs Health Care Center to name the facility after Marine Corps Sgt. Ernest “Boots” Thomas.

“Obviously, it’s to my advantage to debate him,” the incumbent senator said of Scott, his GOP challenger and the state’s term-limited governor.

“I’m going to wait until after the primary. What he’ll do is, he’ll (suggest) a bunch of debates and then he’ll start backing out on them.” Nelson is unopposed in the Aug. 28 primary.

“We will accept debates in a format that are a real, substantive discussion,” he added, suggesting a CNN debate with the news network’s Jake Tapper or Wolf Blitzer as moderator.  “That would be good … As you know all too well, (Scott) tries to sidestep questions.”

A spokeswoman for the Scott campaign stood by its claim that Nelson is refusing to debate.

“What’s ‘silly’ is that Bill Nelson let 50 days pass before he finally addressed the debates Gov. Scott accepted,” said campaign spokeswoman Lauren Schenone.

Nelson also was asked whether the Scott campaign rhetoric about his being ‘out of touch’ and ‘confused’ was a way to telegraph he’s become too old for the job.

Nelson is 75; Scott is 65.

“Any time he wants to have a contest about push ups or pull ups, we’ll see who’s not up to it,” Nelson said.

And Nelson was questioned about a letter supposedly sent from his office to federal regulators that echoed one sent by Scott shortly after his 2010 election, protesting “onerous (environmental) regulation.”

“Not only do I not recall that, that just simply could not be true,” he said.

(Scott’s campaign later contradicted that as well, providing the text of a letter [posted at bottom] allegedly sent by Nelson in 2010.)

Nelson sponsored the legislation to have the Tallahassee clinic named after Thomas, a Florida native who “took part in the original – and now-famous – flag raising atop of Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi in 1945,” a press release said.

“Thomas was killed in action March 3, 1945, just days after the flag raising, and was posthumously presented a Purple Heart and the Navy Cross for his extraordinary heroism during World War II.”

A Periscope video of his conversation with reporters is below:

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Rob Bradley says medical marijuana law will be upheld

Despite a Tallahassee judge declaring significant parts of the state’s medical marijuana law unconstitutional, the law’s chief architect on Tuesday said he was confident the law would be affirmed.

“The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican. “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”

In 2017, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure (SB 8-A) into law to implement the state’s medicinal cannabis constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters the year before. Bradley was the main sponsor.

In recent months, however, judges have been chipping away at the law, beginning with Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ ruling that Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner can grow and make juice of his own marijuana.

In another case, Gievers struck down the law’s ban on smoking medical marijuana, saying that conflicted with the amendment. Both of those rulings are being appealed by the state.

Last week, Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson in a preliminary order struck down the requirement that Florida have a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

Dodson also ruled against the limit on the number of providers that can be licensed, and said creating special licenses – including giving a preference to former citrus processors – was out of bounds. 

Also on Monday, the company that challenged the state’s licensing scheme sent a letter (posted below) to state regulators asking that it be immediately “registered” as a medical marijuana treatment center, or provider. It’s partly owned by Redner.

“I am reaching out on behalf of Florigrown to see if we can reach a quick resolution,” wrote company president Adam Elend. “We sympathize with the difficult position the Legislature has placed the department in, but, as Judge Dodson stated, ‘… the legislative guidance was … inconsistent with the amendment.’ ”

Bradley disagreed: “Medical marijuana is being grown, processed and sold in a safe, orderly fashion today in Florida,” he told Florida Politics.

“As more companies come on line, and the Department (of Health) fully implements an integrated seed-to-sale system and a delay-free ID card system, the system will develop into a model for other states,” he added.

The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

“Floridians rightfully expect to have access to safe, quality medical marijuana, and also expect that the product be regulated properly like any other medicine,” Bradley said. “SB 8-A accomplishes both goals.”

Lara Trump, Pam Bondi endorse dog racing ban for ballot

The Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign on Tuesday announced endorsements from Lara Trump, President Donald Trump‘s daughter in law, as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Trump and Bondi also are listed as “special guests” at a fundraiser for the campaign set for Thursday in Connecticut. It’s trying to garner votes for a proposed constitutional amendment ending commercial dog racing in Florida.

Other endorsements announced Tuesday include Republican state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa, as well as House candidates, businesses and lawyers. 

“Greyhound racing is nothing more than outdated, legalized animal cruelty,” attorney Mary Stewart of Longwood said. “Floridians will be on the right side of history and vote ‘yes’ on Amendment 13 in November to end live dog racing in Florida.”

Though a Tallahassee judge recently ordered the amendment off the ballot, the state appealed, which automatically delays the effect of that ruling.

The measure had been slated for the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), of which Bondi was a member. Amendments need no less than 60 percent approval by voters to be added to the state constitution.

The other endorsements announced are: 

— Candidates Debra Bellanti for Florida House (District 60), Jessica Harrington for Florida House (District 64), Robert Joseph for Florida House (District 84), Rebecca Koelzer for Florida House (District 4), Sally Laufer for Florida House (District 65). Also, the Sarasota-Charlotte Democratic Progressive Caucus. 

— All Dogs Hair Haven; Concrete Analysis And Testing Laboratories; Cynthia Davis, MD, P.A.; Flow Carpets; Heartwired Technical Solutions; Hip Dog Canine Hydrotherapy; I Nails and Spa; Insurance Time; Jupiter Dive Center; Madeira Public Relations; Pasco Signs; Salon Roxy; Six Ten Brewing. 

— Almost Home Rescue; Canine Castaways; DARE Dachshund Rescue; Diamonds in the Rough Farm; Gulf Shore Animal League; Moonracer Animal Rescue; Leader of the Equine Community; Ingrid Taskin of Red Fences Farm; Michael Dodane

— Maria Kazouris, Esq.; Pamela Polani, Esq.; Mary M. Stewart, Esq.; Andrew Smith, P.A.; Welt & Rheaume, P.A.; Rick Ruhl, Esq.

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