Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 167

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 South Florida lawmaker suspended from practicing law

Attorney and former state Rep. Phillip J. Brutus, the first Haitian-American elected to the Legislature, has been suspended from practicing law for one year, The Florida Bar announced Thursday.

The suspension became effective June 3. Brutus, of Lauderdale Lakes, also will be on probation for two years after his reinstatement, according to a disciplinary order by the Florida Supreme Court.

He was further ordered to reimburse the Bar for costs of $11,787.50, records show.

“In handling a (divorce) proceeding, Brutus disbursed funds from the former husband to the client and himself, and the remainder to costs, without a court order or settlement agreement indicating how the money would be disbursed,” the Bar’s press release said.

“A Bar audit also found that Brutus did not properly maintain his trust account in accordance with rules,” it added. “Between July and September 2010, there were at least three overdrafts.”

“A lawyer who receives funds that belong to a client must first place those funds in a trust account separate from the lawyer’s own money,” a LexisNexis white paper explained.

Brutus, who served in the House 2000-06 as a Democrat from North Miami, has been running “unsuccessful races for County Commission, Florida Senate and Congress since 2006,” the Miami Herald has reported.

Most recently, he ran for the Senate District 38 seat last year, now held by Daphne Campbell. Brutus was first admitted to law practice in Florida in 1987.

Joe Negron joins Akerman law firm as litigator

Five months after he quit a law firm job following concerns of conflicts of interest, Senate President Joe Negron has joined the Akerman firm’s West Palm Beach office.

The firm announced the move Wednesday in a press release. Negron will be “of counsel,” an arrangement usually meaning an attorney works on a case-to-case basis and not as an associate or partner.

Negron previously worked at Akerman from 2005-10. It is ranked the largest law firm in the state by Florida Trend magazine and the Daily Business Review.

“Joe is widely known by both the bench and the bar as a compelling advocate who skillfully represents businesses and directors in complex commercial disputes,” said Lawrence Rochefort, chair of Akerman’s Litigation Practice Group. “His strong reputation and track record make him a powerful addition to our trial team.”

In January, Negron—a Stuart Republican—had resigned from the Gunster law firm, four days after Gov. Rick Scott suggested ethics reforms affecting lawyer-legislators.

At the time, Negron said his decision was spurred by Gunster’s representation of U.S. Sugar, which was named in a land acquisition provision included in a Senate measure (SB 10) aimed at protecting Lake Okeechobee from toxic runoff.

Both Gunster and Akerman have lobbying practices in the capital.

“Throughout my legislative service, I have carefully scrutinized my legal and legislative work to ensure I fully uphold the highest ethical standards,” Negron said earlier this year.

“For the first time, I have reached a crossroads where my firmly held conviction to promote legislation that would benefit my constituents, community, and state has the potential to result in a possible perception of a conflict with my professional employment,” he said.

“In the abundance of caution, to avoid even the possible appearance of such a difference, and to make certain I can continue to effectively advocate for my community, I have made the decision to step away from my position with the Gunster Law Firm.”

Negron has “30 years of experience in high stakes litigation, business law and complex commercial litigation,” the press release said.

“He counsels officers, directors, publicly traded and privately held corporations, and individuals in an array of business disputes, including breach of contract and warranty, breach of fiduciary duty and negligence,” it says. “He represents clients across a range of sectors, including healthcare, insurance, real estate and technology.”

On Wednesday, Negron said in a statement, “Given Akerman’s leadership position in Florida and in major markets across the United States, I am very pleased to be returning to the firm, which provides the right platform for me to advance my practice while maintaining my deep commitment to the West Palm Beach market.”

 

Court grills Aramis Ayala lawyer over avoidance of death penalty

A dubious-sounding Florida Supreme Court shellacked Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s lawyer during oral arguments Wednesday, questioning her prosecutorial “discretion” in not seeking the death penalty.

“I don’t even see a gray area,” Justice R. Fred Lewis said. “It seems to me that ‘discretion’ is not to ignore Florida law.”

Justice Barbara Pariente also raised concerns over “equal enforcement of the death penalty statute,” suggesting that Ayala created a legal oasis in which murderers will never face the ultimate punishment.

Ayala, elected last year, unilaterally took “the death penalty off the table in the 9th (Judicial) Circuit … (and) she didn’t run on that platform.”

Attorneys for Ayala, who attended Wednesday’s hearing in Tallahassee, and lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott debated Ayala’s request that the court order the governor to return capital punishment cases he reassigned to neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

Ayala is a Democrat; Scott and King are Republicans.

Her attorney, Roy Austin, argued that no law requires her to seek an execution in any given murder case. Austin, who’s been a civil-rights lawyer with the U.S. Justice Department and aide to President Barack Obama, said Scott should be ordered to return the 24 death penalty-eligible cases he took away from her office.

But Justice Charles Canady, a member of the court’s conservative-leaning minority, countered: “That discretion has to be exercised on a case-by-case basis, rather than a blanket policy … It’s a very absolutist position you are taking.”

Florida Solicitor General Amit Agarwal, who argued his case without notes, represented Scott. He told the court there was “no prinicipled (way) to defend a blanket policy.”

The conflict fight began in March when Ayala said her office would no longer seek the death penalty, explaining the process is costly, it’s not a crime deterrent and it drags on for years for the victims’ relatives. House Republicans soon castigated her and moved to strip funding from her office.

She announced her decision as her office was starting to build a case against Markeith Loyd in the fatal shooting of an Orlando police lieutenant and his pregnant ex-girlfriend.

“No one individual has the right … to make a policy judgment that has practical effect of nullifying” the state’s capital punishment scheme, Agarwal said. “… No one has done what the petitioner has done here, to say ‘in my mind, (the death penalty) should never be enforced.’ “

Agarwal also said Scott gave Ayala an opportunity to recuse herself from death penalty cases, which she declined.

“And reassignment doesn’t let the governor tell prosecutors how to pursue a case,” he said, adding that Scott can’t “micromanage” murder prosecutions.

After the hearing, Austin told reporters “the law is very clear here.”

“There’s nothing that requires a case-by-case decision,” he said. “There’s nothing in the law that requires her to seek the death penalty.”

Ayala spoke briefly, defending her decision to abstain from seeking executions as punishment, saying she was never “given a blueprint.”

The justices did not give a timeline on when they will rule.

(This post includes background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.)

Jimmy Patronis’ move to CFO creates PSC, CRC openings

Now that Jimmy Patronis is leaving the Public Service Commission and Constitution Revision Commission to become the state’s next Chief Financial Officer, Gov. Rick Scott has to replace him on those panels.

The Florida Public Service Commission Nominating Council is charged with “screening and nominating applicants for appointment by the Governor to fill vacancies on the Florida Public Service Commission,” its website says.

(The 12-member council, by the way, has four vacancies, including its vice chair, according to its website.)

Patronis’ term on the commission, which regulated investor-owned utilities, wasn’t up till Jan. 1, 2019. A council spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached Tuesday on whether any applications for Patronis’ seat have been filed.

Scott formally named Patronis, a former state legislator, as state CFO on Monday. He replaces Jeff Atwater, whose last day on the job is Friday. He’s becoming chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

For the empty seat on the Constitution Revision Commission, Scott has three alternates that he already appointed to choose from: Don Eslinger, former Sheriff of Seminole County; Tom Kuntz, chairman of the Board of Governors for the State University System of Florida; and John Stargel, a circuit judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit and husband of state Sen. Kelli Stargel

That body, which already has held several public hearings, is empaneled every 20 years to go over the state constitution and suggest changes that go directly on a statewide ballot. Voters still must OK any amendments with 60 percent approval.

A Scott spokesman said the governor is “reviewing” how to handle that vacancy.

The state constitution says openings “shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments,” but it’s unclear whether Scott has to pick an existing alternate or can select someone totally new.

Gwen Graham: ‘Health care is a right’

Former Congresswoman and now Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham on Tuesday rapped the U.S. Senate’s proposed Obamacare replacement, saying “if you get quality health care, you can have a miracle.”

Graham, speaking to reporters in the state Capitol, was referring to her husband’s recent cancer remission. Steve Hurm was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer last year.

Acknowledging that her family has good insurance coverage, “I want that for everyone,” she said. “No one should be put in a position where they can’t get the health care they deserve.”

Her announcement came shortly after fellow Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum said he was “calling for a constitutional amendment declaring affordable healthcare a fundamental right for all Floridians.”

Graham stood next to a pile of petitions she said opposed Congress’ repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama‘s signature legislative achievement. She planned on delivering the petitions to Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s Tallahassee office after her press conference.

Senate leaders scrambled Tuesday to rescue their health care bill, however, in deepening jeopardy as opposition from rebellious Republicans intensified. The defections proliferated after Congress’ nonpartisan budget referee said the measure would leave 22 million more people uninsured by 2026 than under Obamacare.

Graham, who represented north Florida’s 2nd Congressional District from 2015-17, also said “we should be expanding Medicaid” to cover more poor and working poor Floridians.

Efforts to do so in the Legislature have failed, faced by staunch opposition from House Republican leadership and Gov. Rick Scott, a Naples Republican and former head of a for-profit hospital chain.

“How do (they) sleep at night … knowing that decisions they have made caused people to die?” Graham said. “Where is the humanity? … We want to take care of people; we want to help people.”

She was joined by the mother of a child with the same generic heart disorder that late-night host Jimmy Kimmel‘s son has, and Dr. Louis St. Petery, a Tallahassee pediatric cardiologist who was involved in the controversial 2011 “Docs vs. Glocks” state law that aimed to stop doctors from asking patients about guns in their homes.

“The essential health benefits (of Obamacare) are what all children need,” he said, mentioning “checkups, immunizations and access to hospitalization” when needed.

The Senate bill, on the other hand, “which many people don’t know what’s in it, is heartless,” Graham said. She also opposes Medicaid block grants, which House Speaker Richard Corcoran and others in the Legislature favor.

In response to a question about Gillum’s proposal, she added: “I think health care is a right, but I want to make sure the way we go about it is too.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission.)

Rick Scott vetoes re-organization of state’s technology agency, a priority of Blaise Ingoglia

A House bill aimed at shaking up the state’s Agency for State Technology was vetoed Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

Sources earlier had told Florida Politics the measure (HB 5301), backed by state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, could fall under the Governor’s veto pen.

It passed both chambers this Legislative Session with only 13 total votes against it. In part, Ingoglia had complained the state’s data center costs were “escalating out of control.”

But James Taylor, executive director for nonprofit Florida Technology Council, criticized an earlier version of the bill in a StateScoop.com story this April.

“The only thing this truly does is put Florida further behind,” Taylor said. “When you’re trying to fix something, it is always more expensive in the beginning. And that’s where we’re at right now.”

The House had angled for a major overhaul, even doing away with the agency, but agreed to keep it intact during budget negotiations.

The agency came under fire in January after a report by Florida Auditor General Sherrill F. Norman’s office laid out a laundry list of security and other problems at the relatively new agency.

Jason Allison resigned as Chief Information Officer in February. He joined the Foley & Lardner law firm as a “director of public affairs” in the Tallahassee office.

The agency, which replaced the predecessor Agency for Enterprise Information Technology, was created by lawmakers in 2014. Allison was appointed its head that Dec. 9. He was paid $130,000 a year.

Among the audit findings: The AST failed to “review user access privileges for the mainframe, open systems environments, and the network domains,” kept an inaccurate “inventory of IT resources at the State Data Center,” and “State Data Center backup tape records were not up-to-date and some backup tapes could not be located and identified.”

Ingoglia, a Spring Hill Republican, previously explained that the agency won’t be abolished: It “is going to stay,” he said.

The bill reduces the agency’s “top-heavy” management structure, eliminating “the deputy executive director, chief planning officer, chief operations officer, and chief technology officer.”

It also requires the agency head, the state’s Chief Information Officer, to have 10 years of “executive management experience.”

A provision to move more information to cloud computing earned criticism from Government Technology this May. The website said it “cripple(s) the enterprise structure, allowing data center customer agencies to unilaterally move to cloud solutions.”

Rick Scott says citrus veto is constitutionally valid

Gov. Rick Scott responded Monday to a lawsuit brought by homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down by the state, saying his veto of reimbursements to homeowners was “consistent with his constitutional authority.”

The homeowners have asked the Florida Supreme Court to undo Scott’s veto of more than $37 million.

The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to pay homeowners in both Broward and Lee counties whose trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker. The money was to pay off judgments that had been won against the state.

In court filings, attorneys for the homeowners argue Scott lacked legal authority to veto the money because a court had already ruled the state violated the private property rights of homeowners.

In a 26-page response by Scott general counsel Daniel Nordby, the governor said the petition “should be dismissed or denied” in part because, under the state constitution, Scott “may exercise his veto power for any reason whatsoever.”

It goes on to say there’s “no basis for the exercise of this Court’s jurisdiction and … there is no legal merit to the (homeowners’) claims.” Specifically, they have no “clear legal right to the requested relief,” mentioning lower court action still pending.

Scott said in his veto message that he vetoed the money because there are other citrus canker lawsuits still ongoing.

Moreover, “separation of powers concerns also counsel strongly against any claim that the judicial branch may direct a governor regarding whether and how to exercise his discretionary line-item veto authority with respect to specific appropriations,” Scott’s filing says.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater—who leaves office Friday—also responded to the suit, taking “no position” but saying “he is not a proper party to this proceeding.” Atwater is taking a job as chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

And Secretary of State Ken Detzner—a Scott appointee—filed a response, saying the homeowners have “no clear legal right to have the Governor ‘undo’ his veto,” and thus Detzner has “no duty to ‘expunge’ the Governor’s vetoes from the public records of Florida.”

Both officials were also named in the petition for writ of mandamus, a court order to an elected official to perform a certain action.

The homeowners have till noon Tuesday to file any replies.

Background material provided by The Associated Press, reprinted with permission.

craft distillery

Craft distillers to get fee break under new law

Craft distillers got another win in legislation approved by Gov. Rick Scott on Friday.

The governor signed into law a wide-ranging bill (HB 689) that changes the state’s alcoholic beverage laws. 

Among the changes taking effect Saturday, the first day of the new budget year, it cuts the “annual license fee for a craft distillery from $4,000 to $1,000.”

“Craft distilleries that qualify for the craft distillery designation will see a 75 percent reduction in the annual license fee for a distillery license, or a savings of $3,000 per license each year,” according to a staff analysis.

“We’re grateful for the legislation and to Rep. Colleen Burton and Sen. Keith Perry,” who sponsored the bills in the House and Senate respectively, said Philip McDaniel, co-founder and CEO of St. Augustine Distillery. “This will allow more start-up distilleries to compete and become more profitable, more quickly.”

The bill also defines sake, the Japanese fermented-rice beverage, as “wine” under state law. 

Florida law had defined wine as being made from fruit so sake was technically not wine. Theoretically, restaurants could have been forced to stop serving sake, and the language fixes the potential issue.

Moreover, the bill eases regulations on “caterers licensed to sell beer, wine and distilled spirits,” the analysis said. 

And the measure expressly allows minors to work in stores selling beer, wine or liquor so long as someone over 18 is supervising them.

Andrew Gillum says he’s not ‘focus’ of FBI investigation

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said in a Friday statement he is “not the focus” of the FBI’s investigation of the city Community Redevelopment Agency‘s business deals.

“Last week the FBI approached me about several people and businesses here in Tallahassee,” said Gillum, also a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018. “I spoke with them, and told them they could expect both the City and my personal cooperation with their investigation.

“They assured me I was not the focus of an investigation, and that they would be moving quickly with their work.”

The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida has issued subpoenas seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum was not named in the subpoenas.

As one person involved with the investigation, who asked not to be named, told Florida Politics on Thursday, “This is serious. Very serious. I’m sure that everyone named in those subpoenas has lawyered up. I won’t be surprised if charges are filed in the next few months.”

The agency’s goal “is to create and implement strategies that use a combination of public and private resources to facilitate redevelopment,” its website says. “To meet this goal, the Tallahassee CRA seeks projects that help reduce or eliminate the continuation and/or spread of blight.”

But the city has been criticized, for instance, for ponying up more than $2 million to fund restoration of its former power plant in Cascades Park, now the home of The Edison restaurant, which has several Tallahassee lobbyist investors.

Among the two-dozen people or companies named in the subpoenas is Adam Corey, the lobbyist/developer behind The Edison and a former mayoral campaign treasurer to Gillum.

“I take any allegation of corruption in the City of Tallahassee very seriously, and I am committed to rooting it out in its entirety,” said Gillum, who’s been mayor since 2014. “If corruption has taken place in our city, those parties must be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. We will not tolerate, enable, or turn a blind eye to corruption.

He added: “While no one likes the City being under the FBI’s scrutiny … we must aid them in their work. They have my full support and cooperation as the Mayor, and the full cooperation of the City of Tallahassee.”

Mural

Absent any takers, Senate mural in limbo

You can’t give away some art these days.

At least 10 museums or other institutions have declined an offer from the Florida Senate to donate its “Five Flags Mural“—now in storage—that formerly adorned the wall outside the chamber’s 5th floor public and press galleries in the Capitol.

“Most cited the size of the mural and their limited capacity for storage as the reason why they could not accept it,” Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Thursday.

The nearly 40-year-old mural, installed during construction of the current 1978 Capitol building, is 10 feet by 16 feet.

But it may not help that it also depicts a Confederate general and flag. Contention has been stoked recently across Florida, including Tampa and Orlando, and the South as cities debate and have begun removing Confederate statues and other memorials.

This week, an effort to rename several roads in Hollywood bearing the names of Confederate generals led to angry confrontation. One black state legislator, Democrat Shevrin Jones, told the Miami Herald he was called the N-word and a “monkey.”

According to Betta, institutions that have turned down the mural include:

— Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala.

— Daytona Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.

— FSU Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee.

— Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.

— Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota.

— West Florida Trust in Pensacola.

— Jacksonville Historical Society.

— Jacksonville Museum of Science and History.

— Florida Park Service.

— Tallahassee Museum.

The mural, painted by artist Renee Faure of Jacksonville, includes a Confederate general and flag. The Senate voted to remove a Confederate flag from its official seal and insignia in 2015.

Then-Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa had explained that the flag is a “painful symbol of oppression.”

The flag is over the shoulder of Gen. Joseph Finnegan, commander of the Confederate forces at the February 1864 Battle of Olustee in north Florida, the largest Civil War battle fought in the state.

But Betta previously said the mural was taken down during the Senate chamber’s renovation last year because it was showing signs of age, including fading and peeling.

Since then, it “has been properly cared for and stored by the Historic Capitol,” she added Thursday.

“The Senate plans to keep the mural stored in its current location for the time being,” Betta said. “The Senate remains open to the possibility of transferring ownership, if an institution comes forward with the capacity to display the mural.”

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