Jim Rosica – Page 2 – 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.

Personnel note: Jonathan Kilman opens own lobbying firm

Jonathan Kilman, formerly with Foley & Lardner, has started his own influence firm, Converge Government Affairs.

Kilman, chairman and partner of the new company, announced the move on LinkedIn this week.

“I am pleased (OK, excited) to announce the launch of Converge Government Affairs, a Miami-based government and public affairs firm,” he wrote.

The new concern will represent clients “before state and local governments throughout Florida and assist clients with management of their U.S. multi-state and global government affairs portfolios.

“Distinct from many U.S. government affairs firms, we are launching with an international component to our firm that will continue to grow,” he wrote. “We are incredibly grateful to the many clients who transitioned with us to our new firm and look forward to the many new clients with whom we will work.

“After nearly 20 years as an associate, partner and ultimately co-chair of a practice in large law firms, I knew it was time to pursue my dream of building something unique. Now, I can never look back and wonder, ‘what if?’

“My law practice will continue in a boutique firm setting to support our clients’ regulatory law needs, but Converge Government Affairs will be completely dedicated to government and public affairs matters.”

A full interview with Kilman and others on the new business will be on Florida Politics later this week.

Rick Scott, Cabinet set tight timetable to fill OFR spot

In a brief conference call Friday, the Governor and Cabinet agreed to accept applications to become the next commissioner of the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) from next Monday through June 22.

Depending on who applies, Scott and Cabinet members — CFO Jimmy Patronis, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi — will conduct public interviews and select a new commissioner as early as June 27.

Patronis, Gov. Scott’s friend and political ally, recently told outgoing OFR Commissioner Drew Breakspear he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

Breakspear eventually said he was resigning effective June 30, the last day of the state’s fiscal year, to “ensure a smooth transition.”

Beginning in 2015, Breakspear was one of three agency heads in Scott’s crosshairs to replace, including now-former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and former Department of Revenue executive director Marshall Stranburg. He quit in December 2015, followed by McCarty in January 2016.

Drug case overturned because of ‘good Samaritan’ law

A Jacksonville man’s sentence on drug possession charges was struck down by an appellate court Friday because of the state’s “911 Good Samaritan Act.”

A unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal reversed Thomas John Pope‘s 15-month sentence on possession of heroin and marijuana charges.

Pope, 26, already was released from minimum custody this February, having served about eight and a half months, Department of Corrections records show.

A state law, passed in 2012, provides that anyone “acting in good faith who seeks medical assistance for an individual experiencing a drug-related overdose” is immune from prosecution for drug possession if the evidence “was obtained as a result of the person’s seeking medical assistance.”

Pope had pleaded guilty but had reserved the right to appeal his sentence, the opinion explained.

He and friends “were doing heroin together at Pope’s home” in 2016, the opinion said, when one woman “overdosed and stopped breathing.”

“Pope immediately got on the phone with 911, providing his address and seeking help,” it said. “He … followed the operator’s instructions to monitor her breathing and tilt her head to open her airway. Emergency responders quickly arrived” and the woman survived.

His overall conduct, however, “was far from exemplary,” the court said.

Among other things, Pope moved the woman “to the front porch, leaving her briefly unattended. He tried to hide the heroin and rearranged things inside the home.” A trial judge “found the whole episode was a ‘fluid situation’ that involved some good faith and some bad faith.”

“The only issue on appeal is whether Pope acted in good faith in seeking the assistance” under the law, the opinion said, finding that he did and thus should have been immune from prosecution.

“The state argues — correctly — that Pope could have and should have done more,” the judges said. “But the Legislature did not condition immunity on doing more than seeking medical assistance in good faith.”

Legislators passed the law “hoping to curb frequent fears surrounding calling for help when someone overdoses,” The Palm Beach Post recently explained.

Last Legislative Session, “lawmakers proposed similar bills (SB 970HB 1261) … that would have expanded the parameters of that law to protect those seeking medical help not only from prosecution but also arrest,” the paper reported. Those bills died.

Friday’s opinion was by Judges Scott Makar, Thomas D. Winokur and Allen Winsor.

MedMen paying $53M to enter Florida medical marijuana market

The country’s biggest medical marijuana provider on Wednesday announced it was buying its way into the Florida market.

In a press release, MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles said it had agreed to pay $53 million for what’s known in Florida as a “medical marijuana treatment center” license from Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery.

MedMen management say they will host a conference call about the deal, to be live streamed on their website, at 9 a.m. Eastern time on Thursday.

State records show Treadwell, which has one of 13 active licenses in the state, has “cultivation authorization only.” Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana.

A Treadwell representative reached Wednesday declined comment.

“As part of the transaction, MedMen will acquire Treadwell Nursery’s cultivation facility on 5 acres in Eustis, and the right to open 25 medical marijuana dispensaries,” the release said.

“For nearly a decade, we have been positioning ourselves to capitalize on enormous market opportunities like this.” MedMen co-founder and CEO Adam Bierman said in a statement. “This acquisition is right in line with our strategy of establishing a presence early on in high potential markets with limited licenses and large populations.

“Florida is the third most populous state in the country with a medical marijuana market estimated to reach $1 billion in annual sales by 2020,” he added. “MedMen has built the best-in-class brand, and we continue to invest in premium assets that solidify our dominant position in the most important cannabis markets in the world.”

Taylor Patrick Biehl, co-founder and policy director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida, said Wednesday’s announcement “clearly demonstrates real interest in the emerging market.”

But, he added, “the devil is in the details as it relates to cannabis stock plays.”

On Wednesday afternoon, MedMen stock (MMEN), which trades on the Canadian Securities Exchange, was $3.89 a share, down a penny from the day’s open. Its 52-week high is $5.73. 

The deal, expected to close within 90 days, “is subject to customary closing conditions, including receipt of state regulatory approvals,” according to the release. “If certain regulatory approvals are not obtained, (MedMen) and Treadwell Nursery will have the right to terminate the agreement.”

Department of Health spokesman, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, said the agency “will review the request once it is received.”

MedMen has operations in California, Nevada and New York, which employ over 800 people and “combined account for nearly half of North America’s addressable legal market,” the company’s website says.

Judge says OK to quick effect of marijuana ruling

No surprise: A Tallahassee judge has decided her ruling to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana in Florida should be effective sooner rather than later. 

In a Tuesday orderCircuit Judge Karen Gievers said her decision will now take effect Monday, according to plaintiffs’ counsel Jon Mills

His clients include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

“The judge perceived the urgency here,” Mills said in a phone interview. “There will be people who need to obtain relief, and they either can’t do it or risk committing a crime.”

The state had appealed the decision, which places an automatic ‘stay,’ or hold, on the ruling pending review. Gievers’ latest order lifts that stay.

The state’s attorneys are expected to next ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to reinstate the stay, as they did in the case of Tampa strip club owner Joe Redner, whom Gievers allowed to grow his own marijuana for juicing.

A spokesman for the Florida Department of Health said the agency is reviewing the ruling and “working every day to implement the law.” The agency said medical marijuana is still available to patients.

“Our focus remains with ensuring that patients have access to medical marijuana, and the Florida Department of Health has made significant progress in making this treatment available,” interim communications director Devin Galetta said.

In fact, there are more than 117,00 patients who have access to medical marijuana and over 1,300 doctors are licensed to order this treatment. There are dispensaries located across the state and patients have access to home delivery.”

The latest move doesn’t mean Jordan and others will be able to buy marijuana for smoking anytime soon, however.

As Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen said at a Monday hearing, there is no way now to get medical marijuana for smoking, and even if legal it would have to subject to rulemaking, “which could take several months.”

In other words, smokable medical marijuana still won’t be available as of Monday.

The legal challenge over smoking was organized by Orlando attorney John Morganwho bankrolled the 2016 state constitutional amendment allowing medicinal cannabis.

On Tuesday, he again tweeted to Gov. Rick Scott to drop the appeal: “#SlickRick please follow the law & the will of 72% of the people. Everyday you waste taxpayers’ money w/ this frivolous appeal sick people, veterans, cops, firefighters & cancer patients suffer! Where is your compassion man?”

He ended the tweet with a quote from Tuesday’s order: “There is no likelihood of success by the (state on appeal).”

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Updated 10 p.m. — Morgan sent the following statement to Florida Politics:

“The judge said the choice between breathing and committing a crime was not fair. Rick Scott is wasting taxpayers’ money on this frivolous appeal while veterans, cops, firefighters (with PTSD) and really sick people suffer. This callous meanness has no room in Florida. This act of cruelty will cost him the Senate seat. Medical (marijuana) got 500,000 more votes than he did.”

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Florida Politics’ Danny McAuliffe contributed reporting. 

Florida Bar again asks for early win in traffic-ticket firm case

Saying there is “no doubt or conflict in the evidence,” The Florida Bar has asked the state’s Supreme Court for an early win in its effort to shut down a Miami firm that fights people’s traffic tickets for them.

The Bar asked for summary judgment in its case against TIKD, which it says is engaging in the unlicensed practice of law, or UPL.

In lower courts, summary judgment allows parties to win without a trial. Here, it would mean not giving the case to a lawyer “referee” to suss out the facts — though not doing so is a rare occurrence in UPL cases.

The Bar previously requested a “judgment on the pleadings,” bypassing oral arguments “when the outcome of the case rests on the court’s interpretation of the law.” It regulates the state’s more than 100,000 lawyers and prosecutes the unlicensed practice of law. 

“The undisputed facts support a finding, on all counts, that (TIKD is) engaged in the unlicensed practice of law,” said the Bar’s motion, filed late Monday.

“As a matter of law, (TIKD has) no defense and would not have anything substantive to testify to (that) would alter the outcome,” it says. “Consequently, (its) motion for summary judgment should be denied and The Florida Bar’s motion … should be granted.”

It says TIKD is in the wrong, in part because founder and CEO Chris Riley — a U.S. Navy commander-turned entrepreneur  isn’t a lawyer but his company advertises and acts like a law firm. The company hires lawyers to fight people’s traffic tickets; if TIKD loses, it pays customers’ fines or court costs.

The company’s previous filing said “administrative and financial services provided by TIKD are separate and distinct from the legal services provided by the lawyers who represent TIKD’s customers.

“… All legal advice and representation is provided by independent, licensed Florida lawyers pursuant to a separate attorney-client agreement,” it said. “TIKD is not involved in the attorney-client relationship or attorney-client communications and does not direct or influence the attorneys’ legal judgment or representation.”

But The Bar countered that “… a corporation owned and operated by non-lawyers (can’t) employ an attorney to give legal advice to its customers.”

‘Flower’ fight: Citrus preference sparks medical marijuana rule challenge

A Tampa orchid nursery seeking to break into the medical marijuana market is challenging the Department of Health‘s plan to give a preference in how it awards new licenses to grow the plant.

Louis Del Favero Orchids filed a challenge Friday to a proposed rule from the department’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, which regulates the drug.

At issue is a provision in state law that gives preference in granting medical marijuana provider licenses to companies with underused or shuttered citrus factories. It’s part of legislation that implemented the 2016 constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana in the state.

For up to two licenses, according to state law, “the department shall give preference to applicants that … own one or more facilities that are, or were, used for the canning, concentrating, or otherwise processing of citrus fruit or citrus molasses and will use or convert the facility or facilities for the processing of marijuana.”

Del Favero says in its filing it bought “facilities that were used in citrus processing specifically for the purpose of converting those facilities for use in processing medical marijuana.”

Now, the company suggests it could have a white elephant on its hands.

The state’s proposed rule, the challenge says, “would provide no additional points to most applicants that qualify for the citrus preference” and “provides no assurance that the preference will actually result in any licenses being issued to applicants” that qualify.

Del Favero also argues that the department goes too far in using the word “property,” rather than “facility” as in law, saying it’s “granting the citrus preference to a broader group of applicants than the statute permits.”

But it’s not clear lawmakers intended on applicants simply buying an old packing plant to take advantage of the preference.

Sen. Rob Bradley—the Fleming Island Republican who sponsored the legislation during a 2017 Special Session—has said the preference was born to benefit longtime citrus producers who took a hit in recent years from the citrus greening malady.

“If you travel parts of the state, it breaks your heart to see these old orange juice factories, jobs lost,” he said then. “Transitioning some of those facilities to something new is good.”

He also told the News Service of Florida last year that “some of those old-line facilities and businesses are deteriorating much like the city of Detroit. This would allow them to have an opportunity to redesign or repurpose their facilities.”

Bradley declined immediate comment when reached Monday, saying he wanted to review the filing.

Added Devin Galetta, interim communications director for the Florida Department of Health: “The department received the petition this afternoon and is in the process of reviewing.”

Del Favero is no stranger to marijuana litigation.

In one instance, it filed to intervene in a lawsuit last year by Sarasota’s Tropiflora, which argued the citrus preference was an “unconstitutional special advantage” that puts the company at a “disadvantage” in competing for licenses to be what the state calls a “medical marijuana treatment center.”

That suit had been set for trial later this month, but Tropiflora withdrew it without explanation in May.

Judge will decide on lifting ‘stay’ in smokable marijuana case

A Tallahassee judge on Monday did not immediately rule on whether to immediately make effective her ruling to allow patients to smoke medical marijuana in Florida. 

After a nearly hourlong hearing, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers said she’d take the plaintiffs’ request “under advisement” but added she would make a decision “as quickly as possible.”

Gievers also asked plaintiffs’ attorney Jon Mills if his clients would object to holding off for a short time before she lifted a ‘stay‘ on the decision. Mills said OK to a week’s delay.

His clients include Cathy Jordan, a woman with Lou Gehrig’s disease who had testified she wouldn’t be alive but for smoking marijuana.

The judge on May 25 overturned part of a law passed last year by the Legislature that prohibited patients with “qualifying medical conditions” from smoking medicinal cannabis.

She had agreed with the argument that the amendment “recognizes there is no right to smoke in public places, thereby implicitly recognizing the appropriateness of using smokable medical marijuana in private places.”

“It seems the constitutional argument is clear,” Mills told Gievers. “It’s simply not possible for a statute (and thus, legislators) to substitute its judgment for that of the constitution.”

Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen countered that there is no way now to get medical marijuana for smoking, and even if legal it would have to subject to rulemaking, “which could take several months.”

In other words, even if the stay was lifted, smokable medical marijuana wouldn’t be “immediately” available.

A state law, known as an “implementing statute,” aimed to carry out the 2016 constitutional amendment that legalized marijuana for a wide range of patients. Lawmakers, however, banned smoking. That quickly drew a legal challenge organized by Orlando attorney John Morgan.

He bankrolled the amendment and put together what he calls the ‘no smoke is a joke’ lawsuit. Morgan called on Gov. Rick Scott last week to drop the appeal. Morgan did not attend Monday’s hearing.

The Florida Department of Health, which regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use, appealed Gievers’ ruling on allowing smokable marijuana, which led to an automatic stay of her ruling. The plaintiffs then filed a motion seeking to vacate the stay.

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Background contributed by The News Service of Florida. 

Lawyer with lupus sues Health Department for discrimination

A black attorney who has lupus is suing the state’s Department of Health for race and disability discrimination, saying she was wrongly forced to quit.

Sharmin Hibbert, 36, filed her lawsuit in Leon County Circuit Civil court on Thursday, court records show, seeking her rehiring.

Among other things, Hibbert said her supervisor—current General Counsel Nichole Geary—“reprimanded (her) for not walking to (Geary’s) office” to let her know she was not going to a meeting because of pain from a broken ankle, the suit says.  

Hibbert’s complaint says she started with the department in January 2009 and was promoted twice, reaching the position of Deputy General Counsel in 2015.

That’s also when Gov. Rick Scott hired Geary, who is white, the suit says. She soon “began to create a hostile work environment” for Hibbert, including criticisms about “failure within (her) unit” and not turning in timesheets.  

Hibbert also said she continued to work—including from home while on sick leave—through several injuries, such as the broken ankle, a broken nose and other complications from lupus, an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues and organs. It often causes debilitating inflammation.

Hibbert said she was “constructively terminated” in April 2016, having “resigned under duress,” her suit says.

She claims having suffered “significant emotional duress” while she worked for Geary, and then “severe depression” since leaving the department. Hibbert also says she’s had “significant financial loss” because of difficulty finding further employment.

A spokesman on Friday said the Health Department “will review the lawsuit.

Hibbert is represented by Tallahassee employment-law attorney Marie Mattox, known for suing state agencies for discrimination and retaliation cases.  

Drew Breakspear out as state’s chief financial regulator

Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Drew Breakspear has resigned, another political casualty of the Rick Scott administration.

CFO Jimmy Patronis formally announced the departure, first reported by POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon last night, on Friday.

“I appreciate Commissioner Breakspear’s years of service to the state,” Patronis said in a statement. “During his time as commissioner, he had an understanding of the financial needs of Floridians, and it is my hope his years of service will help ensure a smooth transition for Florida consumers and stakeholders. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Patronis – Gov. Scott’s friend and political ally – had recently told Breakspear he “no longer ha(d) confidence” in Breakspear’s ability to lead the office, which acts as the state’s watchdog for the financial industry.

In a resignation letter published online by Dixon, Breakspear said he was resigning effective June 30, the last day of the state’s fiscal year, to “ensure a smooth transition.”

Beginning in 2015, Breakspear was one of three agency heads in Scott’s crosshairs to replace, including now-former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty and former Department of Revenue executive director Marshall Stranburg. He quit in December 2015, followed by McCarty in January 2016.

With Breakspear’s resignation, the term-limited Scott – a Naples Republican now running for U.S. Senate – finally scored his trifecta.

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to serve the state of Florida, and I look forward to retirement,” Breakspear wrote.

Dixon reported last night that Breakspear “clashed with a host of powerful interests he oversees in the months leading up to … Patronis calling for his ouster, an unusually public move that shocked Florida’s political world.

Earlier this week, Patronis spokeswoman Anna Alexopoulos Farrar outlined a number of issues to support Breakspear’s potential removal, from poor decision-making and a failure to follow emerging trends and technology to “a lack of responsiveness to our office and others.”

One of the issues dealt with a sexual-harassment allegation involving employees of the Office of Financial Regulation during an after-hours event. An agency deputy declined to take action on the allegation.

“Most of the motivating factors behind Patronis’ head-turning May 3 call for (Breakspear’s) resignation … have not been discussed publicly. Hundreds of pages of public records reviewed by POLITICO indicate Patronis’ push to fire Breakspear came amid fights with scorned companies and high-profile securities traders who lobbied Patronis after disagreements with Breakspear’s office.”

Breakspear answers to the state’s Financial Services Commission, made up of Patronis, Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Under state law, the Commission could have fired Breakspear “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”

Patronis, a Panama City Republican running for re-election this year, sent a letter to Breakspear last month, saying “over the last 10 months, I have developed concerns over the lack of cooperation, responsiveness, and communication from your office in its dealings with your customers and Florida’s financial services community.”

“My experiences with you and your office, and the feedback I have received from my staff, have validated these concerns. I believe this is due to a lack of leadership at the top.

“… I no longer have confidence in your ability to lead the Office of Financial Regulation.  I am extending you the courtesy of letting you know that I am prepared to discuss these issues during your assessment review at the Cabinet meeting on May 15, 2018. Should there be a change in leadership, I am prepared to recommend an interim commissioner to ensure continuity of operations.”

That meeting was later canceled, and the Breakspear matter was deferred to the next scheduled Cabinet meeting on June 13. Breakspear has served as Commissioner of the Florida Office of Financial Regulation since November 2012. A Naples resident with an MBA from Harvard, Breakspear has been in the $135,158-a-year position since 2012. A longtime executive in international banking and management consulting, he had been an executive vice president and general auditor at Boston-based State Street Corp. prior to taking the state job.

“I am proud of the work the Office of Financial Regulation has done to protect the people of Florida and regulate the financial services industry,” he said in a later statement. “To date, I have had no discussions with CFO Patronis concerning the issues raised in his letter. I have since reached out to him and look forward to discussing his letter with him soon.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

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