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.

Pledging to be a ‘facilitator,’ Bill Galvano becomes Senate President

As expected — and scripted — the Florida Senate unanimously elected Bill Galvano as President of the GOP-controlled chamber for the 2019 and 2020 Legislative Sessions.

The move came at a constitutionally mandated “organization session” on Tuesday after the 2018 general elections. Outgoing President and Stuart Republican Joe Negron passed the gavel, and 10 new members also took seats at the ceremony.

Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, didn’t lay out a detailed policy agenda for the next two years but rather told his 39 colleagues: “We will write the agenda together.”

In brief remarks, Galvano said he intends to be a “facilitator,” to empower individual Senators.

After a rough and tumble campaign season, he asked fellow Senators to now act with “honor and civility.” While he has “little ability to change national discourse,” Galvano wants to stem “incivility,” and work toward “candor and transparency.”

“Now is the time to move forward, united together, for the purpose of serving — to the very best of our ability — the people of Florida,” he said.

The lawyer and lawmaker added that he couldn’t predict the “challenges that lie ahead” for the Legislature.

“… I’ve never been able to fully predict what was going to happen,” he said, mentioning there are always “issues (that) have yet to reveal themselves.”

Galvano did talk about the need for “ample reserves” and “smart investments,” especially in light of lingering damage from Hurricanes Irma and Michael. And he said lawmakers will need to “think innovatively” about infrastructure needs.

“We will need 20/20 vision as we approach (the year) 2020,” he said.

Galvano also paid homage to the late Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican who died from cancer in October, referring to “the love that she carried for each of us in this chamber.”

Senators confirmed David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican, as President pro tempore.

Galvano was first elected to the Senate in 2012, after serving in the House 2002-10. He was Senate Republican Leader in 2014-2016 under then-Senate President Andy Gardiner, an Orlando Republican.

Galvano is a partner with the law firm Grimes Goebel Grimes Hawkins Gladfelter & Galvano of Bradenton.

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Excerpts from his acceptance speech as prepared for delivery are below:

“It has been a long election cycle, vigorously fought, and the voters have spoken, as is the cornerstone of our democracy.  But, now it is time to move forward united in the purpose of serving, to the absolute best of our ability, the people of Florida.

“As we exchange ideas, debate the issues, and vet our would-be laws, I ask that we do so with civility and with the honor that is worthy of the Florida Senate, and let us extend that honor and decorum to our interactions with our friends in the House, our Governor, our Cabinet, and most certainly with our constituents.

“As Senate President, I have little ability to change the national discourse or to stem the tide of modern-day incivility that has become so pervasive in an era of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. But I can tell you that while I am serving as Senate President, the Florida Senate will have civility, transparency, candor, and opportunity. Including opportunity for the people of Florida to be heard. Together, we can strive to be an example other states and governments can follow as to how to focus on policy, not politics and on service, not severance.

“As we are gathered here today, I cannot fully predict what challenges lie ahead.  Yes, it is necessary for us to plan, but it is equally necessary for us to be agile and ready to respond.  In the sixteen years that I have served Florida in the legislature I can tell you that nothing ever has played out as predicted.  Many of the major issues we will deal with have yet to reveal themselves. Last session was certainly no exception.

“In addition, we must begin with the state as it is on this day. As my late father said: ‘Play the hole you are on.’ We must address the issues at hand, starting with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.  By all accounts, an aftermath costing billions of dollars that will impact our budgetary and policy decisions out of the gate. Senator Gainer, Senator Broxson and Senator Montford, your constituents were at ground zero. Thank you for your leadership.

“Despite this devastating storm and the long-lasting impacts facing our state, as well as other challenges, we have much to be proud of and many reasons to be optimistic. Private sector job growth in Florida continues to outpace the nation. Unemployment is at the lowest point in over a decade. And, after reducing debt by $10 billion since December 2010, for the first time in our state’s history, Florida has an AAA bond rating with all three rating agencies.

“All of these indicators give us reason to be optimistic and inspired to build on our past decisions to keep taxes low, regulations reasonable, and to set aside ample reserves, while making smart investments in essential government services, including services for servicemen and women, veterans, and first responders, persons with unique abilities, children and our elderly. By being disciplined we will keep our state strong and in a position where families find prosperity and where private sector innovators come to start, expand and grow their businesses.

“And as we prioritize, I still believe that the future of Florida’s economy and the ability to expand and diversify its economy is tied to the strength of our infrastructure and our investment therein.  At all levels, from transportation to water to communications.  Let us together think innovatively when it comes to infrastructure, so we are not just addressing the needs of today, but anticipating the needs of the tomorrow.

“As we move towards the year 2020, may we have 20/20 vision to enable us to see well into the future. Recent estimates indicate over the next six years, our state will gain over 850 people a day, effectively adding a population equal to a city slightly larger than Orlando every year. We must be ready. I respectfully challenge you all to lead with this reality in mind.  We have great opportunity.  Now it is time to move to the next level.

“With the proper planning we can attract technology, not just tourists. We can be the target for venture capital, job creators and startups.  Let us together develop ideas, supporting and working with our schools, colleges, and universities to ensure the necessary flexibility to students and their families to be a part of this vision.  Hand-in-hand with a growing and diversifying economy is a well-trained, skilled workforce, with a nexus to economic demands.

“Together we can find ways to maximize our technical colleges and our state colleges to meet these demands. Our goal should continue to be job growth, but with a focus on higher paying, skilled jobs.  I will also continue to seek the leadership in this chamber to provide economic opportunities to our rural communities that make up the spine of our state. I ask for your leadership to diversify, support research, strengthen, and welcome new technologies in agriculture. And, let us take renewed interest in the timber industry and other impacted crops in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

“In light of today’s world, we must also continue to find ways to improve our security at all levels, including cyberspace and unfortunately in our schools. Let us do what is necessary to be prepared and structurally sound. And we must not forget to address the root of our risks, including hate, mental illness, and addiction.  Together we can continue to do our part to provide security for the people of this state.

“The people of this state have added their own agenda through amendments to our constitution. We have both opportunity and work to do in implementing them. I expect that we will work diligently with our partners in the House to fulfill the will of the people.

“I know the drive and dedication coupled with the diversity of backgrounds that make up the Senate will get us there on these and myriad other issues. We have the tools and assets. We are all eager to begin our work in earnest together.”

The Florida Bar seeks non-lawyer board member

The body that licenses and regulates the state’s nearly 107,000 lawyers is looking for a non-lawyer to be a member of its governing board.

“A screening committee of The Florida Bar Board of Governors has been appointed to review the applications for the public member position, conduct final interviews and make recommendations to the Bar’s governing board during its March meeting in Washington, D.C.,” said a Monday press release.

“The board will then recommend three people to the Supreme Court of Florida, and the court will appoint one of the three nominees to the board,” it said. “The Board of Governors oversees the Bar’s lawyer discipline program, continuing legal education programs, legislative activities and the overall administration of The Florida Bar.”

The replacement is for Lawrence W. Tyree of Orlando, whose second two-year term expires next June.

“Since 1987, two public members have served on the Bar’s 52-member governing board, after the Supreme Court of Florida approved the organization’s request to have non-lawyer representation on the board,” according to the release. “Only 12 other state bar associations have public members on their governing boards.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Board members average 200-300 hours per year on Bar business, depending on committee assignments.

Although attorney members of the Bar’s governing board pay their own expenses related to their attendance at six board meetings and other events held each year, non-lawyer board members are reimbursed for “reasonable travel and related expenses for attending official bar functions.”

The new board member will serve a two-year term commencing June 28, 2019. Public members are not allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms.

Most of the Bar’s board is apportioned according to Florida’s 20 judicial circuits, with attorney members elected by lawyers in their locality. There are four additional out-of-state representatives. The other public member currently serving on The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors is Sharon B. Middleton of Ponte Vedra Beach.

Anyone interested in serving as a public member may click here to download and complete the application form from the Bar’s website, or call The Florida Bar headquarters at 850-561-3127 to obtain the application.

Completed applications must be received by Joshua E. Doyle, Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 E. Jefferson St., Tallahassee, FL 32399-2300, no later than Jan. 25, 2019.

‘The will of the people’: The coming brouhaha over sports betting in Florida

The next big debate over gambling in Florida could be on sports betting — with one top lawmaker already flexing his muscle regarding lawmakers’ say over it.

This month, voters approved Amendment 3, also known as the “Voter Control of Gambling” amendment, by 71 percent. Its aim: To “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

But incoming Senate President Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican, says he doesn’t think the state constitution would be implicated in regulating and taxing sports wagering if legislators want to do so. He met with reporters last week.

The amendment doesn’t list sports betting by name, but does define “casino gambling” as “any of the types of games typically found in casinos.” And it says casino gambling is “class III gaming” under federal Indian gambling law, which does include sports betting. 

At stake to states? Billions in tax revenue: Spectrum Gaming Group, a New Jersey-based gambling consulting firm, reports there are 18 states “with either proposed legislation or legalized sports betting not yet active … At a 15 percent tax rate and digital betting, these states could generate $1 billion-$1.4 billion in tax revenue.”

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door in May. It overturned a 1992 federal law that banned governments, including the states, from allowing sports wagering. (Sports betting no doubt is happening now in Florida; it just isn’t expressly legal under state law.)

FanDuel, the online fantasy sports concern, wants in on the action here. In an email to customers, it urged Florida voters to oppose Amendment 3, saying it “would stop any chance of bringing sports betting to Florida dead in its tracks.”

Galvano — a lawyer and former president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States — said, “We’re looking at what opportunity is there.” Amendment 3 exempts dog and horse racing, and jai alai, but another measure, Amendment 13, outlaws greyhound racing by the end of 2020. 

It may require, if we decide to regulate sports betting and collect revenues from it, that we go back out to a referendum,” Galvano added. “I’m not convinced it would require another constitutional amendment.”

Nope, says John Sowinski, president of Voters in Charge, the political committee behind the amendment.

Florida’s Constitution and the will of the people are now crystal clear on this matter,” he said. “Only Florida voters, by constitutional initiative, have the authority to authorize any form of casino gambling, including sports betting.

“That’s not just our opinion,” he added. “That is the stated opinion of sports gambling advocates who opposed Amendment 3 with their millions, and with their communications on the subject.

“Any legislation that ignores Amendment 3 and its overwhelming voter support is patently unconstitutional and an affront to the will of the people,” Sowinski said.

Nonetheless, there’s another impetus for the state to get its hands around gambling on sports, Galvano said: “I think it would behoove us to bring stability with the Seminole Tribe as part of a bigger package.”

As a House member, he helped draft what’s known as the Seminole Compact. The agreement grants the Tribe exclusive rights to offer certain kinds of games, such as blackjack, in return for payments to the state. It fully owns the Hard Rock brand of hotels and casinos around the world and in Florida, including locations in Hollywood and Tampa. 

Tribal representatives have said that any tacit approval of sports betting and fantasy sports violates their exclusivity, however.

And though the Tribe and the state settled a lawsuit over blackjack, allowing them to offer the game till 2030, the Tribe’s continued payments to the state are contingent on state gambling regulators promising “aggressive enforcement” against games that threaten their exclusivity.

Among those, for example, are “pre-reveal” games. The electronic games found in bars that play and pay out like slots.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in August upheld a circuit judge’s ruling that the games are illegal slot machines, but companies behind the games have asked the Florida Supreme Court to take up the issue. That court has not yet decided whether it will, according to dockets.

Gary Bitner, longtime spokesman for the Seminoles, said it’s “good to hear Sen. Galvano talk about stability in connection with the Seminole Tribe. Stability has always been the Tribe’s primary goal.”

Lawmakers first meet in an “Organization Session” on Tuesday, when Galvano and House Speaker-designate Jose Oliva will be officially named heads of their chambers. The first time committees will meet is Dec. 11-14, with the 2019 Legislative Session opening March 5.

Using coded language, Rick Scott calls for Terrie Rizzo to quit as head of Florida Democrats

The Rick Scott for Senate campaign is calling on incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson “to demand the immediate resignation” of Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo.

Jackie Schutz Zeckman, Scott’s campaign manager, sent an email to news media Thursday.

“News reports yesterday and today revealed that the Florida Democrat Party (sic) engaged in an illegal scheme to alter election forms and deceive voters regarding the deadlines for submitting votes,” she said, using the term of disparagement invented by Republicans.

“Democrats even admitted plans to fraudulently mislead voters in anticipation of including ballots submitted after the legal deadline if they could convince a judge to disregard Florida election law.

“Federal prosecutors are also investigating this clear example of attempt to fraudulently mislead voters by the Democrat Party (sic) in Florida.

Nelson “can either stay silent and be in favor of organized fraud by the Democrat Party (sic), or he can do the right thing and demand the immediate resignation of Florida’s Democrat Party (sic) Chair,” she added.

A response from the Florida Democratic Party is pending.

As for calling the opposition the “Democrat Party,” it’s a “slight that goes back decades,” as then-NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard has explained, quoting “New York Times language maven” William Safire in 1984.

“Why, Republicans asked for years, should we allow the Democrats to get away with the adjective ‘democratic’?” he wrote. “As a result, partisan Republicans, especially those who had been head of the Republican National Committee, called the opposition ‘the Democrat party.'”

“The habit was begun by Republican presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey in 1940,” NPR reported.

“According to Safire’s Political Dictionary, in 1955 Leonard Hall, a former Republican chairman, began referring to the ‘Democrat’ rather than the ‘Democratic’ party. Hall dropped the ‘ic ‘ because, he said, ‘I think their claims that they represent the great mass of the people, and we don’t, is just a lot of bunk.’ “

Judge allows late voter fixes for bad signature ballots

Updated Thursday — Judge Walker has ordered Florida elections officials to allow “voters who have been belatedly notified they have submitted a mismatched-signature ballot” to fix them by 5 p.m. Saturday. Click here to read more about the order. Wednesday’s story is below. The full 34-page order is at the bottom of this article.

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County election officials are largely winging it when they determine whether a signature on a mail or provisional ballot doesn’t match what’s on file for a given voter, an attorney for Bill Nelson‘s re-election campaign and Florida Democrats told a federal judge Wednesday.

“There are defects inherent in the process,” attorney Uzoma Nkwonta said to Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, mentioning an absence of handwriting standards to guide county canvassing board members, who ultimately make the call on whether a signature doesn’t match.

But Mohammad Jazil, who represents Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s chief elections officer, said Nelson’s solution was untenable: Lifting the state’s deadline to still allow voters to prove they are who they say they are.

“If we start changing the rules midstream, it undermines” people’s faith in the electoral process, Jazil said.

Walker, who was appointed to the U.S. Northern District of Florida in 2012 by President Barack Obama, did not rule from the bench at the end of the nearly five-hour hearing; he also did not give a timeline for his decision.

Nelson, the incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator, trails challenger Rick Scott, the term-limited Republican Governor, by over 12,500 votes as a machine recount of ballots in all 67 counties is underway. If still too close, results from that recount – due Thursday – could next lead to a recount by hand of overvotes and undervotes in the race.

Walker

The legal question is familiar territory for Walker: In 2016, he ordered the state to notify voters if signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot and their voter registration forms did not match. The idea was to give those people an opportunity to prove their identity before Election Day.

Nelson’s lawyers have argued, among other things, that people’s handwriting may change over time and elections supervisors don’t always have a voter’s most recent signature to use as a baseline.

A state law passed unanimously last year on vote-by-mail ballots with mismatched signatures allows a voter “to complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure the vote-by-mail ballot until the day before the election.” Nelson now wants voters to have even more time after this election to “cure” invalid ballots.

Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews testified that as of Wednesday, with 45 counties reporting, a statewide total of 93 provisional and 3,688 vote-by-mail (VBM) ballots had been rejected for mismatched signatures. Those statewide totals are eventually expected to be around the 2016 numbers: 99 provisional ballots and 5,545 VBM ballots.

This year, Palm Beach had the most VBM ballots knocked out so far, at 931, and Orange County was second with 466. Broward County, for instance, reported 165 rejections.

Matthews also told Walker, as did Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, that elections workers and officials don’t get “formal training” or precise guidance from the state on how to evaluate signatures.

But Earley also testified that, although subjective, it’s apparent when someone is trying to pull a fast one: “If anybody looked at any of our rejected (ballots), there’d be no question they’re not attributable to that voter” based on the signature on file.

Jazil, bolstering his point of a need for timeliness in election results, raised a nightmare example in which votes for Governor weren’t official by Jan. 8 and the Legislature would be forced to pick a new state chief executive.

Toward the end of the hearing, Walker asked tough questions of both sides, seemingly frustrated both that his 2016 order didn’t solve the signature problem and that a solution that wouldn’t earn him criticism as an “activist judge” won’t be easy.

“We’re talking about outright disenfranchisement of thousands of Florida voters,” he said, mentioning that “administrative deadlines shouldn’t (get) in the way of the Constitution.”

Referring to a slew of other election-related lawsuits on his desk, Walker added, “I guess I’m supposed to re-evaluate the entire Florida election code, one piece at a time.”

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Rick Scott won’t take part in election certification, lawyer says

Gov. Rick Scott will sit out next Tuesday’s meeting of the state’s Elections Canvassing Commission, his attorney told a federal judge on Wednesday.

The news came during a conference call with Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in a case brought by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. They wanted Scott to recuse himself because he ran for U.S. Senate this election cycle.

General counsel Daniel Nordby told Walker that Scott would name an alternate to sit in for him at the meeting where the Nov. 6 election results will be certified.

State law says the commission “shall consist of the Governor and two members of the Cabinet selected by the Governor, all of whom shall serve ex officio.

“If a member of the commission is unable to serve for any reason, the Governor shall appoint a remaining member of the Cabinet,” the law says. “If there is a further vacancy, the remaining members of the commission shall agree on another elected official to fill the vacancy.”

Currently, the other members are Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, both term-limited.

The other Cabinet member who could step in is CFO Jimmy Patronis, who just won his first full term in this year’s election.

He’s also a Scott political ally, appointed by the Governor to serve the remainder of former CFO Jeff Atwater‘s second term. Atwater left office early to work for Florida Atlantic University.

Scott previously recused himself in 2014 when he won re-election against Democrat Charlie Crist, now a Congressman.

The Governor’s challenge of incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson is in a machine recount; initial returns had him leading by a little more than 12,500 votes.

Pam Bondi 9-6-2017

Pam Bondi, FDLE now watching recounts for ’criminal activity‘

After a public scolding of the statewide police agency, Attorney General Pam Bondi now says her office is “actively engaged” with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to watch for recount shenanigans. 

Several recounts are underway, including in the U.S. Senate, Governor’s and Agriculture Commissioner’s races. A joint Attorney General’s Office/FDLE statement released Monday night said they are “monitoring (those) processes for potential criminal activity.”

The statement did not make clear whether that meant state lawyers, agents or other employees were stationed at any of the county supervisor of election offices where recounts are now taking place. A request for clarification is pending.

Outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott, the so far prevailing candidate in the Senate race, and President Donald Trump have complained of election fraud without offering any evidence. An FDLE spokesperson previously said the agency had received “no allegations of fraud.”

Nonetheless, the new statement said “procedures (are) in place to address allegations of fraud or other criminal misconduct associated with any election in Florida.”

Further, “FDLE has been in continuous contact with the Department of State and we continue to work jointly. As allegations are received, FDLE will continue to vet and review those that may be indicative of criminal activity.”

Florida Politics sent a public records request over the weekend to the Department of State, asking for “copies of all elections fraud complaints filed with the (department) stemming from the 2018 general election.” That request also is pending.  

Bondi, a term-limited Tampa Republican who leaves office in January, had sent and publicly released a letter to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Sunday. In it, she said she was “deeply troubled by your announcement that you will not pursue any investigation or inquiry into clearly documented irregularities of election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties.”

In a separate letter, she also demanded that Secretary of State Ken Detzner report all election irregularities in those Democratic-leaning counties to the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which reports to her.

That was then.

FDLE agents and analysts in the Office of Executive Investigations, Miami Regional Operations Center and members of the Commissioner’s Office continue to examine allegations, by interviewing individuals, assessing potential evidence, and researching relevant statutes,” the Monday night statement said. “A case will remain open while allegations are being analyzed.”

FDLE agreed to “work closely” with Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution “on any criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution,” it also said, adding:

We encourage citizens to remain peaceful as the recount process continues.” 

Judge lays down law in Bill Nelson ballot lawsuit

A federal judge says he will subpoena Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley to testify at this Wednesday’s hearing in Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s lawsuit to count votes on provisional and mail ballots invalidated because of mismatched signatures.

“This court will elicit testimony from Mr. Earley to provide an example of one process a county supervisor of elections and county canvassing board use to determine whether a provisional or vote-by-mail ballot should be rejected for a signature mismatch,” Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in a procedural order entered Sunday night.

As of the first unofficial returns on Saturday, Nelson was behind 12,562 votes to Republican challenger Rick Scott — the state’s term-limited Governor — out of nearly 8.2 million cast. That margin of victory is within the 0.5 percent needed to trigger a statewide mandatory machine recount, which many counties began over the weekend.

Walker

“This court has done the same in the past and anticipates covering similar ground with Mr. Earley as it did in 2016 with the prior Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Mr. Ion Sancho,” he added.

That refers to a case resulting in his ordering that Florida voters be notified before Election Day and given a chance to prove who they are if their signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot did not match their voter registration forms.

As counties are starting or already in the middle of a mandated machine recount, Nelson’s federal lawsuit wants such mismatched signatures ballots to be counted.

Following Walker’s ruling, lawmakers passed and Gov. Scott signed into law a measure that lets voters “complete and submit an affidavit in order to cure (a) vote-by-mail ballot until 5 p.m. on the day before the election.”

But Nelson’s complaint against the state argues that rejecting ballots for mismatched signatures in the first place is unconstitutional.

That’s because it disenfranchises voters through a “demonstrably standardless, inconsistent, and unreliable signature matching process that has been shown to result in the disproportionate rejection of (vote-by-mail) and provisional ballots cast by ethnic and racial minorities, as well as young, first-time voters.”

Walker also directed Maria Matthews, director of the state’s Division of Elections, to be “prepared to discuss” several issues at the hearing:

— “Figures regarding the number of provisional and vote-by-mail ballots that have been rejected in the 2018 General Election for having a mismatched signature, by county.

 — “Any guidance the Division of Elections provides to county supervisors of elections and county canvassing boards to use to determine whether a provisional or vote-by-mail ballot should be rejected for a signature mismatch.

— “Whether provisional or vote-by-mail ballots that have been rejected in the 2018 General Election for a signature mismatch have been segregated and thus are easily accessible.”

Walker also asked lawyers to argue whether a state law that “provides electors and candidates a mechanism to challenge ballots as allegedly illegal—but does not provide electors and candidates an opportunity to challenge rejected ballots as legal—violates the First and/or Fourteenth Amendments.”

This order expresses no view on the ultimate issues to be decided, instead simply provides notice so that each side may be heard and prepared,” Walker wrote. 

The hearing will be in Tallahassee’s federal courthouse at 1 p.m. Wednesday, the day before counties must turn in results of machine recounts to the state.

The previous judge assigned the suit, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, took himself off the case because his “brother is a party to a lawsuit involving (Gov. Scott).”

Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, earlier this year became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which includes the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Walker has a history of ruling against the state on voting rights: Besides his 2016 injunction on ballot signatures, earlier this year he told state officials to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring felons’ voting rights, a move later reversed by a federal appeals court.

And he granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit over the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

Barry Richard—Andrew Gillum’s recount lawyer—takes leave from firm

Barry Richard, the veteran Tallahassee lawyer now representing Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum during the gubernatorial vote recount, has taken a leave of absence from his law firm.

That firm, Greenberg Traurig, adopted a leave policy for its lawyers taking on any matter “that might be controversial or disruptive,” Richard told Florida Politics Sunday morning.

“The policy is, you take a short leave of absence and then return to normal,” he added. “It’s really not a big deal … This is probably going to be over next week.”

The firm alerted Richard’s other clients he could continue to represent them personally, or they can find another lawyer. So far, he said he’s not aware of any client that has opted to go elsewhere.

Richard has some history with recounts in Florida: He represented then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush during the 2000 presidential election challenge that played out in Tallahassee.

He said he has an “engagement agreement” to represent Gillum personally during the machine recount and hand recount, if any. “But it’s related to the campaign so I expect that’s who’ll pay me,” Richard said.

That representation likely won’t be inexpensive from an attorney once voted one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America.”

“In addition to his successful representation of major corporations in bet-the-company cases, he has advised and represented all three branches of government, including both Democratic and Republican governors and legislatures, members of Congress, and multiple executive branch agencies as well as individual public officers and candidates,” his bio says.

Richard, who lives in Tallahassee, is married to Allison Tant, a former lobbyist who also chaired the Florida Democratic Party 2013-16.

He also served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) of the Navy, was second in command at the Attorney General’s Office under Robert Shevin, and was the Democratic state representative for a Coral Gables-Central Miami district in the 1970s.

Disqualified: Judge removes himself from Bill Nelson ballots case

The federal judge presiding over U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s lawsuit to count provisional and mail ballots invalidated because of mismatched signatures has taken himself off the case.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, based in Tallahassee, entered an “order of disqualification” early Saturday.

And Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who has often taken the Rick Scott administration to task, took over the case.

It’s not clear from court dockets if the move affects an initial hearing in the case that Hinkle had set for Wednesday.

According to the Division of Elections, as of Saturday, outgoing GOP Gov. Scott leads Nelson, the incumbent Democrat, in the race for his seat by 14,848 votes. It wasn’t clear whether that included updated counts from Broward and Palm Beach counties, the subject of separate litigation.

“After conducting the scheduling conference and entering an order (Friday), I remembered that my brother is a party to a lawsuit involving (Gov. Scott),” he wrote. “This would not affect my handling of this case, but a reasonable person might think otherwise.

“Accordingly, I hereby disqualify myself from this case.”

Don Hinkle

Tallahassee attorney Don Hinkle has a case before a state appellate court over whether Scott is defying the state’s financial disclosure law by “underreporting his vast personal wealth,” according to the AP.

Scott’s attorney urged that court “to prohibit a lower court from even considering the lawsuit filed last year,” the AP reported. General Counsel Dan Nordby has “contended that any disputes over whether Scott is following the law must be considered by the state’s ethics commission and not the courts.”

Reached Saturday morning, Don Hinkle said of his brother’s decision: “As always, he has exercised good judgment.” He said it was the first he had heard of the decision, adding his brother had not discussed it with him.

The case now is with Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, who also sits in Tallahassee. This year, he became chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, which includes the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Walker has a history of ruling against the state: He entered an injunction in 2016 telling officials they had to notify voters if signatures on a vote-by-mail ballot and voter registration forms did not match so they could fix those ballots by 5 p.m. the day before the election.

Earlier this year, he ordered state officials to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring felons’ voting rights, a move later reversed by a federal appeals court.

And he granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit over the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

(Previous coverage of the Nelson case is here.)

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