Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 221

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: Christy Daly Brodeur joins Ballard Partners

Christy Daly Brodeur, formerly Secretary of Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice under Gov. Rick Scott, has joined the Ballard Partners influence firm in Tallahassee.

The move was first reported in Tuesday’s SUNBURN.

“Christy’s successful track record of partnering with key stakeholder groups to achieve favorable outcomes for all parties is a tremendous asset for our firm, our clients and our team,” said Brian Ballard, president of Ballard Partners, in a news release.

“Above all, Christy is a passionate and dedicated advocate for the causes in which she believes, making her the perfect person to partner with our clients and help them accomplish important policy goals at the Capitol.”

Brodeur has two decades of experience working with the Florida Legislature and the Executive Branch on public policy for children and families, the release said.

She joins Ballard Partners after spending more than 11 years at Juvenile Justice, most recently as Secretary.

“I am proud and humbled to be joining Florida’s most prestigious lobbying firm,” she said in a statement.

“The team at Ballard Partners has created a dynamic and powerful firm that is extremely successful in achieving the goals expressed by clients both at the state and national level,” Brodeur added. “My life’s work has focused on improving the lives of Florida’s families and I look forward to bringing my passion and expertise to Ballard Partners.”

In addition to leading the Department of Juvenile Justice, Brodeur also held key advocacy and governmental affairs positions with the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services as well as Capital City Youth Services.

She’s a member of Leadership Tallahassee Class 24, holds a degree from Florida State University, and sits on the board of directors for Inspire of Central Florida, a nonprofit organization serving adults with developmental disabilities.

Ballard Partners, a Florida-based lobbying firm, has offices in Washington, D.C., Tallahassee, Jacksonville, West Palm Beach, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa.

Down it goes: Florida bar exam pass rate plummets again

The number of first-time Florida bar exam takers who pass has slipped 4 percent from last year, to 67.2 percent from 71.3 percent, according to the state’s Board of Bar Examiners.

Results for the July 24-25 examination were released Monday. Overall, 3,249 people sat for the bar exam, of which 2,228 were taking it for the first time.

The latest pass rate has actually lost ground from two years ago, going a whole percent lower than the 68.2 percent from July 2016, records show.

Florida International University College of Law again retained the No. 1 spot in terms of highest pass rate, with 88.1 percent, bumping up from 87.8 percent last July.

Nova Southeastern University College of Law saw the biggest decrease year-over-year, dropping a little more than 27 percentage points, to 42.9 percent from 70.2 percent.

“We are deeply disappointed with the results of the July bar exam, particularly since the admissions predictors, grade predictors, and information from the bar preparation companies suggested that we would see modest improvement in the July test scores,” said Jon M. Garon, dean of the Shepard Broad College of Law at Nova Southeastern University.

“Our faculty and staff will work with our students and alumni to make all adjustments needed to return to appropriate bar passage numbers.”

Like many state bar exams, Florida’s is given twice a year, in late February and late July.

More law students traditionally take the exam in the summer, immediately after graduation and bar review. A smaller number, including those who fail the summer exam, take the bar in the winter.

Passage rates have been trending down nationwide in recent years. Law schools have lowered admission standards to fill seats as the number of overall applicants has declined.

Here are the July 2018 passage rates broken down by individual Florida law schools, with last July’s results in parentheses:

Florida International University College of Law — 88.1 percent (87.8 percent)

Florida State University College of Law — 84.8 percent (83.9 percent)

University of Miami School of Law — 83.2 percent (84.2 percent)

University of Florida College of Law — 70.9 percent (77 percent)

St. Thomas University College of Law — 70.2 percent (63.6 percent)

Stetson University College of Law — 67.2 percent (76.8 percent)

Florida Coastal School of Law — 62.5 percent (47.7 percent)

Ave Maria School of Law — 58.5 percent (51.3 percent)

Florida A&M University College of Law — 50.6 percent (51.3 percent)

Barry University School of Law — 45.5 percent (58.9 percent)

Nova Southeastern University College of Law — 42.9 percent (70.2 percent) 

Of test takers who went to law school outside Florida, 63.8 percent passed this July and lawyers from other states who also want to be licensed in Florida passed by 68.1 percent.

Statistics for previous exams are here.

Judge dismisses horse group’s challenge of Calder gambling permit

A Tallahassee administrative law judge has booted a Florida horsemen’s group challenge of a South Florida track’s gambling permit.

The reason: “Jurisdiction over the issuance of the summer jai alai permit being” contested is in appellate court, not the Division of Administrative Hearings, Judge E. Gary Early wrote

“Thus, there is nothing for (the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association) to attack.”

The case was against the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, which regulates gambling, and regarded Calder Casino‘s summer jai alai permit. The pari-mutuel previously went by the name Calder Race Course.

Early previously noted that the association’s “injury is based entirely on the issuance of the permit, and its effect on (the association) and the racing industry as a whole.”

The greyhound and horse industries have been at odds with racetrack operators, who continue trying to get rid of live racing but hold on to lucrative games like slots and poker.

Calder, which offers a limited race schedule, wants to ditch horse racing entirely to switch to jai alai games.

Another administrative law judge already has allowed Calder to keep its lucrative slot-machine license. The Miami Gardens track also offers electronic table games.

Tracks in Florida are generally required to continue running live dog or horse races to have slots and card games that usually make facilities more money.

Pari-mutuels, particularly in Broward and Miami-Dade counties, covet summer jai alai permits because at a minimum they allow a facility to open a card room and offer simulcast betting.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Main photo: Calder Casino — CC BY-SA 4.0.

Marijuana smoking ban case smolders in appellate court

The state constitution “creates a procedural right to seek treatment with smokable marijuana,” according to a new filing in an appeal by patients seeking to light up medicinal cannabis.

Attorney Jon Mills filed a 48-page answer brief late Thursday, in response to the state’s 57-page brief last month arguing that the smoking of medical marijuana should remain outlawed.

The 1st District Court of Appeal case followed a May ruling by Tallahassee Circuit Judge Karen Gievers, who said the smoking ban violates the 2016 constitutional amendment, passed by 71 percent of voters, that broadly legalized medical marijuana.

The next year, lawmakers passed and Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a measure to carry out the constitutional mandate and included a smoking ban.

Prominent Orlando entrepreneur and lawyer John Morgan, who bankrolled the amendment, organized a lawsuit last year challenging the ban. Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, behind the appeal, filed an initial brief in an attempt to overturn Gievers’ ruling.

In part, Gievers had agreed with Mills 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.”

In his brief, Mills said the constitution’s marijuana provision “permits physicians to certify treatment using medical marijuana— including in a form for smoking—to qualifying patients. That is all (it) does. Nothing less. Nothing more.

“However, (the state law) explicitly prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana as a treatment. It is clearly an enactment contrary to (the amendment).”

The state contends the amendment “does not create a ‘right to smoke’ medical marijuana,” and Mills agreed it “does not in itself create an individual right for anyone to smoke.”

But, he added, the “constitutional framework authorizes treatment with medical marijuana when a physician determines such treatment to be medically appropriate for a specific patient with a debilitating medical condition.”

As of Friday, the court had not ordered oral argument in the case.

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Background provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Rays tickets could lead to disbarment of former Bradenton judge

The Florida Bar now is seeking to disbar a former judge who accepted baseball tickets from a law firm representing a woman whose personal injury case he was presiding over.

Circuit Judge John F. Lakin, elected in 2012, quit the bench in March 2016. He served on the 12th Judicial Circuit, which serves DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties. He’s also a former legal analyst for Court TV and MSNBC and a past “Florida Super Lawyer.”

Lakin’s resignation ended a judicial conduct inquiry, but The Bar – which regulates the state’s roughly 105,000 licensed attorneys – filed its own discipline case against him last year.

Lakin

A referee has since recommended a 90-day suspension, followed by one year of probation, but The Bar called that “too lenient.” In a Friday filing, it said he should be stripped of his license to practice law.

Lakin “committed serious misconduct, which undermined the integrity of the judicial system,” its initial brief said. The “recommended sanction … does not reflect the seriousness of the misconduct. The appropriate sanction … is disbarment.”

In a filing in the judicial conduct case, Lakin admitted what he did, but apologized and said he “had no wrongful intent.”

After a trial in the personal injury case, “the jury returned a defense verdict,” finding Walmart not responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries, the Bar’s brief explains.

“The next day, (Lakin’s) judicial assistant received a call from plaintiff’s counsel (Kallins, Little, Delgado), offering the use of the firm’s season tickets for that evening’s Tampa Bay Rays game,” it adds.

Lakin “instructed his judicial assistant to call and accept the offer. (He) received five tickets to the game; he used two and discarded the remainder.”

A previous filing by the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission (JQC) told Lakin that “despite the fact that the case was not yet final, and you expected that there would be post-trial motions requiring your (action), you failed to advise Walmart’s counsel of your contact with the plaintiff’s law firm.”

He later asked for and got more baseball tickets from the firm, that report added. Afterward, Lakin set aside the jury’s verdict and granted a new trial. “Your extraordinary action allowed the plaintiff a second opportunity to seek damages from Walmart,” the JQC said.

In all, he asked for and got five tickets to four separate Major League Baseball games, “all while the case was pending, and without ever disclosing this fact to the counsel for Walmart,” the JQC said. “The tickets you received were excellent seats, located seven to eight rows back, between home plate and first base.”

Records show Lakin is represented by Tallahassee attorney Jack Weiss, of counsel with Rumberger Kirk & Caldwell. A written request for comment is pending.

Jokes about porn, sex toys spur lawsuit on FSU medical school

Jokes by a medical school professor about porn, sex toys and the Zika virus has led to a lawsuit against Florida State University, according to a complaint filed in Leon County this week.

Christina R. Goswick-Childers, formerly an academic program specialist at the school’s College of Medicine in Tallahassee, filed sexual harassment and retaliation claims after she reported incidents and was let go last February, her suit says. 

But the university denied any discrimination or retaliation against her, countering with a 60-page dossier.

It says the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission investigated her case and was “unable” to find any “violations” of federal discrimination law. It also says she was terminated for “multiple egregious performance issues” and notes that the professor she complained about — Dr. Gregg Stanwood — was never her direct supervisor.

Goswick-Childers said her troubles began in February 2016, when Stanwood — a developmental neuropharmacologist and behavioral neuroscientist — joked in front of two other co-workers he couldn’t give Goswick-Childers his credit card information because “she may use the card to purchase porn or online sex toys and his wife may find out,” according to the complaint. 

After she reported the remark about two months later, “the (work) environment became hostile and extremely stressful” as Goswick-Childers “believed she would face retaliation.”

She said she did the following January, after a guest speaker “made reference to sex toys in (a) presentation (on the) Zika virus,” the suit said. Stanwood told her in front of four others that “he had made a bucket list item of being able to introduce a speaker that incorporated sex toys and science.”

Goswick-Childers reported the second incident later that month, throwing in a separate complaint that the College of Medicine “refused to consider black students,” including those from Florida A&M University

A day later, she found a Post-It note on her office door saying “Hey Hoe,” the suit says. Goswick-Childers was later demoted, stripped of various responsibilities and ultimately fired, she says. She now seeks a judgment for “general and compensatory damages and economic loss.”

In a statement, FSU General Counsel Carolyn Egan told Florida Politics “an independent external investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing. We have every reason to believe the court will reach the same conclusion.”

A report Egan provided says Goswick-Childers was faulted for “inaccurate and inappropriate record keeping” and issues with her “general professionalism,” mentioning strife with co-workers. 

It also says, however, that College of Medicine officials had confronted Stanwood “to address (his) behavior” and “set expectations going forward.” He “acknowledged his wrongdoing and offered an apology.”

The report further says Goswick-Childers had first reported Stanwood anonymously, outing herself to a department chair after he found her “crying and hiding under her desk.” She later declined the university’s attempt to engage in “any complaint resolution process,” the report says.  

Goswick-Childers is represented by Tallahassee employment-law attorney Marie Mattox, who specializes in representing plaintiffs in discrimination and retaliation cases against the state. The case was assigned to Circuit Judge James Shelfer.

Here’s the lawsuit as filed:

And the university’s response:

More marijuana dealmaking: Trulieve merging with Canadian company

A Canadian mining concern this week said it had finalized a deal to merge with Trulieve, a Florida medical marijuana provider.

Toronto-based Schyan Exploration Inc. will combine with Trulieve Inc. to become Trulieve Cannabis Corp. It will trade stock publicly in Canada. The agreement was announced Tuesday.

The closing date for the transaction is expected to be “on or around” next Friday, a press release said. The full financial terms were not disclosed.

It’s the latest big deal in the state’s now go-go medicinal cannabis market, seen as a potential multibillion-dollar industry by investors.

Most recently, MedMen Enterprises Inc. of Los Angeles, the country’s biggest medical marijuana provider, last Friday said it closed a $53 million deal to buy a medical marijuana treatment center license and “related assets” from Central Florida’s Treadwell Nursery.

Also, Cannabis Cures Investments (CannCure) agreed to buy a 60 percent interest in 3 Boys Farm of Ruskin, with the closing expected in mid-August. CannCure is owned by Namaste Gorgie, one of South Florida yoga entrepreneur Cathy DeFrancesco‘s companies.

Soon, Toronto-based Scythian Biosciences Corp. announced it was buying CannCure and renaming itself Sol Global Investments Corp., with that deal expected to close Oct. 15, pending regulatory approval.

And last month, medical marijuana company Surterra Wellness closed another round of equity fundraising to allow it to build out “substantial cultivation space in Florida.” It also inked a deal to partner with musician and entrepreneur Jimmy Buffett on a new marijuana brand called “Coral Reefer,” named after his longtime back-up band.

Trulieve has one of 14 “medical marijuana treatment center” (MMTC) licenses in the state, according to the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use. Florida has a vertically-integrated market, meaning the same provider grows, processes and sells its own marijuana. 

The new company’s CEO and board chairman will be Kim Rivers, now the head of Trulieve Inc.

New directors include George Hackney of Gadsden County’s Hackney Nursery (which also does business as Trulieve), and Thad Beshears, co-owner and chief operating officer of Jefferson County’s Simpson Nurseries and brother of state Rep. Halsey Beshears, a Monticello Republican. Simpson Nurseries is the Beshears family business. 

Still pending is Trulieve’s legal challenge against the state over how many retail stores it can open, and where, under current law. Its website currently lists 17 retail locations and a call center.

A bench trial was held last month; Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee has yet to render a decision, court records show.

A copy of the Schyan-Trulieve merger agreement is below.

Latest poll: Ashley Moody leads Sean Shaw 46-44 for Attorney General

Republican candidate Ashley Moody is leading her Democratic counterpart Sean Shaw in the 2018 race for Attorney General, according to the latest survey from St. Pete Polls. 

When asked, “If the election for Attorney General were held today, who would you vote for: Republican Ashley Moody or Democrat Sean Shaw,” 46 percent said Moody and 44 percent said Shaw, with roughly nine percent undecided.

The poll was commissioned as part of “Wellness Week,” a collaboration between Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls and Empowering Wellness.

The takeaway: Moody seems to be the one Republican leading in these polls; all of the others had Democrats ahead.

In other questions, 71 percent said they “support the Florida law that allows the use of medical marijuana if approved by a doctor,” with nearly 22 percent opposed and 7 percent undecided. That tracks with the passage rate of the 2016 constitutional amendment authorizing medicinal cannabis.

Asked whether they “approve or disapprove of the way current Attorney General Pam Bondi has handled medical marijuana,” 23 percent approved, 42 percent disapproved and 34 percent were unsure.

“In the race for Attorney General would you rather support a candidate who would continue Bondi’s policies on medical marijuana or one would you prefer a candidate who supported medical marijuana?” For the current policy were 26 percent, with 58 percent leaning toward a changed policy. Another 15 percent said they were “unsure.”

Respondents also were asked: “Sean Shaw is a strong supporter of medical marijuana and, if elected, would end the state’s opposition to patients’ ability to smoke medical marijuana. Knowing this, are you more or less likely to support Shaw?” A little more than 46 percent said they’d be more likely, 32 percent were less likely, and 21 percent said it would make no difference.

The poll was conducted through an automated phone call polling system. The results were then weighted to account for proportional differences between the respondents’ demographics and the demographics of the active general election voter population for the state of Florida. The weighting demographics used were political party, race, age, gender and media market.

The voters polled were chosen at random within the registered voter population within the state of Florida. Voters who said they were not planning to vote were excluded from the results below. The scientific results shown for the questions below have a sample size of 1,657 and a 2.4 percent margin of error. The confidence level is 95 percent.

Supreme Court accepts ‘bundling’ challenge to constitutional amendments

The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously agreed to consider a challenge on whether three proposed constitutional amendments should be blocked from the November ballot.

The court, however, postponed a decision “as to whether the case will be submitted … with or without oral argument,” its order said.

Attorney General Pam Bondi appealed after Circuit Judge Karen Gievers found that the three proposals – including a measure that would ban offshore oil drilling and ban vaping in workplaces – improperly “bundled” unrelated issues.

In her ruling, Gievers agreed with retired Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead and another plaintiff that such bundling would violate the First Amendment rights of voters, who could have conflicting views of issues in single ballot proposals.

The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission this spring approved placing the three measures on the ballot.

Along with the proposal on drilling and vaping, Gievers struck from the ballot a measure that deals with governance of the state-college system and death benefits for survivors of first responders and military members.

Also, she struck a measure that would remove constitutional language that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property and would revise language to make clear the repeal of criminal statutes does not affect the prosecution of crimes committed before the repeal.

The Supreme Court already has ruled on legal challenges to four other proposed amendments placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. Justices upheld three of the proposals, including a proposed ban on dog racing, though they blocked a controversial education measure.

After a Leon County circuit judge ruled last week that three proposed constitutional amendments should be blocked from the November ballot, the legal dispute has moved quickly to the Florida Supreme Court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal had sent the case to the Supreme Court, bypassing the usual steps in the appellate process. With ballots starting to go out to voters this month, that court said “the issues pending in this case are of great public importance requiring immediate resolution by the Supreme Court.”

The high court asked for the state’s initial brief “no later than 3 p.m., Monday, Sept. 17,” with Anstead’s answer brief “no later than (noon on) Friday, Sept. 21,” and the state’s reply brief “no later than (noon on) Monday, Sept. 24.”

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Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post. Background provided by The News Service of Florida, reprinted with permission.

Florida Supreme Court

Apply within: Panel starts process to replace Supreme Court justices

The Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday announced it would start accepting applications to fill three upcoming vacancies.

Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince face mandatory retirement on the same day that term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott will leave office.

Under the state constitution, judges and justices face mandatory retirement at age 70. In Florida, judicial vacancies are filled by appointment by the Governor, from a list of applicants vetted and submitted by judicial nominating panels.

“Based on the Supreme Court’s current composition, one seat must be filled by a qualified applicant who resides in the Third Appellate District (based in Miami); the other two seats are at-large,” a press release said.

The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the state’s highest court: Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the court’s liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is often a swing vote.

On Tuesday evening, Scott said he would agree to confer with the next governor-elect on the three justices. Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is the Democratic nominee; Ponte Vedra Beach congressman Ron DeSantis is the GOP nominee.

Quince was the last justice to be appointed that way in 1998, and was the consensus candidate of then Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, and Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican.

A Gillum spokesman has all but spurned the idea, saying that “in our understanding of the constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Scott, now running for U.S. Senate, says he will announce the new justices on Jan. 7, his last day in office, which coincides with their retirement date.

Scott’s insistence on replacing the three spurred a legal challenge earlier this year by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause. The progressive organization’s implied concern was that Scott would pack the court with more conservatives.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court said in December that it couldn’t step into the controversy because the Governor hadn’t taken any action yet.

The lone dissenter? Lewis, who said Scott’s plan to make the appointments on his way out the door was “blatantly unconstitutional.”

The application form is here. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Oct. 8.

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Capital correspondent Michael Moline and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

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