Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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.

The 25 moments that defined the 2018 primary for Florida Governor

Marco Rubio brought us to this.

The long slog to Tuesday’s primary election for Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates was the usual series of false starts, histrionics, re-inventions, pandering to bases, and — new this time — dealing with the shadow of Donald J. Trump.

But if one could pick a starting point for the trail that led us here, it would have to be the Republican Rubio’s June 2016 decision to end his quest for the presidency, and re-enter the U.S. Senate race.

That was the political big bang that set into motion the forces and decisions — starting with Ron DeSantis’ exit from that same Senate race — shaping Election 2018 for the person to succeed the two-term Rick Scott, 45th governor of the Sunshine State.

Before the big show starts tomorrow at 7 a.m. Eastern time, let’s revisit the key moments that went from a small singularity to the current universe we call “Florida politics”:

June 13, 2016: Rubio decides to re-enter U.S. Senate race

After a bruising fight for the GOP nomination for president, Rubio said he wouldn’t go back to trying to get reelected to his Senate seat. But of course, his senses kicked in, and he did, announcing that decision on June 22. That essentially squeezed out DeSantis, the congressman who very well could win the GOP gubernatorial contest. Rubio went on to crush Scott ally Carlos Beruff in the GOP primary and edge out Democrat Patrick Murphy in the general election. “Gee,” we know some of you thought at the time. “Wonder what DeSantis’ political future holds now?”

Dec. 22, 2016: Will Weatherford decides not to run

In late 2014, as both men were leaving their leadership roles, Senate President Don Gaetz told the Tampa Tribune that then-House Speaker Weatherford “is the future of Florida.” He said he expected “to host a fundraiser for Will Weatherford for Governor or U.S. Senator sometime in the next five years. He will be, if he wants to be, very significant on the Florida political landscape for the next 30 years.” “If he wants to be” turned out to be prescient. Weatherford, citing his family and Weatherford Partners, the venture capital group he created with his brothers, declines to run for Governor in 2018.

Jan. 20, 2017: Donald Trump is inaugurated

The president goes on to become the biggest force in this state’s GOP primary, bar none. His kingmaking ability, which had faltered in Alabama’s U.S. Senate race, works in shovelsful here, as we’ll see. 

April 13, 2017: Gwen Graham’s husband’s cancer goes into remission

Had Steve Hurm’s cancer not gone into remission, we would not now be talking about former Congresswoman Graham’s campaign for Governor. Indeed, Hurm’s fight against prostate cancer “was a factor in her decision on whether to run for governor,” WCTV later reported. “Graham … said her husband is one of her biggest supporters and did not want her to make the decision based on him.” But she did, and here we are. She entered the race May 2, becoming the first major-party woman candidate.

May 7, 2017: George Soros gets behind Andrew Gillum

Readers of conservative journal Human Events once voted billionaire financier Soros “the single most destructive leftist demagogue in the country.” Soros, who fled Nazi Germanyoccupied Hungary as a youth, also has been described by the Tampa Bay Times as a “liberal mega-donor and bogeyman to conservatives.” He gave $250,000 to Forward Florida, the Gillum-associated political committee, in April. He later went on to pump hundreds of thousands more to Gillum’s electoral benefit.

June 22, 2017: The FBI’s subpoena in a Tallahassee corruption investigation drops

Gillum, the city’s Mayor, never really recovers. “Federal authorities have demanded the city of Tallahassee produce volumes of records related to top local developers behind some of the biggest projects subsidized by the Community Redevelopment Agency,” the Tallahassee Democrat reports at the time. “Among those named in the subpoenas are Adam Corey, developer of the city-backed Edison restaurant in Cascades Park and a former campaign treasurer for Gillum.” It’s bad … but Gillum later says the FBI told him he’s not a target. Still, the association with Corey lingers, and other revelations continue, including a Costa Rica trip.

July 25, 2017: Adam Putnam’s “NRA sellout” tweet

Putnam went all-in for gun rights, saying guns should be allowed on college campuses and hinting it was time to look at once again allowing open carry in the state. After a Times columnist panned the speech with the headline, “Adam Putnam sells out to the NRA,” Putnam tweeted, “The liberal media recently called me a sellout to the NRA. I’m a proud #NRASellout!” As Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, he oversees concealed carry licensing. (That comes up later in the story.)

Oct. 10, 2017: Philip Levine sets up shop

The Miami Beach Mayor “hired a veteran fundraiser for his political committee, which he already stuffed with nearly $5 million since establishing it six months ago,” POLITICO reported. We learn that “veteran Democratic fundraiser Courtney Whitney” has joined his All About Florida political committee. Levine says he “intends to make an official decision on whether to join the crowded Democratic primary for Governor in 2018.” He, of course, gets in. 

Nov. 3, 2017: POLITICO Florida reports on Jack Latvala sexual misconduct allegations

This story was the beginning of the end for the Clearwater Republican, who had risen to Appropriations chairman after an unsuccessful run at the state Senate presidency. He later declared he would run for Governor. Then the website drops the bomb that “six women who work in Florida’s Capitol say … Latvala has inappropriately touched them without their consent or uttered demeaning remarks about their bodies.” It was “so disgusting, and I had to just stand there, over and over again when he would do this, squeezing me hard and grunting in my ear,” one woman said. Latvala eventually resigned, suspended his campaign and escaped prosecution after Tallahassee’s top prosecutor said he wouldn’t pursue him criminally

Nov. 24, 2017: Orlando businessman & lawyer John Morgan takes himself out of contention

Everyone had feared the native Kentuckian’s charisma, down-home appeal, and — perhaps most of all — his ability to self-fund. Then he tweeted, “While it’s amazing to be leading the polls for Governor without being a candidate I can’t muster the enthusiasm to run for the nomination.” Good thing, too, for the other Democrats: “His name recognition alone, built through years of TV ads throughout Florida, would have cost every other candidate tens of millions of dollars to achieve,” the Times explained. (And they’re right.)

Dec. 22, 2017: The first Trump tweet for DeSantis

“Congressman Ron DeSantis is a brilliant young leader, Yale and then Harvard Law, who would make a GREAT Governor of Florida. He loves our Country and is a true FIGHTER!” … Not quite a full endorsement, but that was simply yet to come.

Jan. 30, 2018: The 50th Graham workday, a hallmark of her campaign

Graham posts on Twitter: “On my 50th Graham Workday, I spoke with Dad (former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham) about the meaning of our family tradition and what he learned working 408 different jobs with Floridians across the state.” Graham herself spent that day “learning the ins and outs of a Florida microbrewery (at) the M.I.A. Beer Company in Doral.” This only helped burnish the Graham brand. 

Feb. 14, 2018: The Parkland shooting

A teenaged former student gunned down 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County. The politics of gun control spiked yet again as a “student-led campaign organizes two mass walkouts from schools and country-wide demonstrations, (while) Trump and Mike Pence, the vice president, appear at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Dallas,” The Economist later reports. A “Rally to Tally” later sees nearly two dozen buses bringing parents, teachers, and students to the Capitol to demand action from lawmakers on the day a gun bill would be heard.

Feb. 14, 2018: Richard Corcoran, Gillum debate on immigration

The House Speaker, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, and Gillum squared off over the “tired, (the) poor, (the) huddled masses yearning to breathe free …” The debate “was sparked by Corcoran’s anti-sanctuary cities ad and House Bill 9, which is legislation Corcoran is pushing to eliminate sanctuary cities in Florida,” WTXL explained. The event was moderated by Troy Kinsey of BayNews 9 and Gary Fineout of the Associated Press.

April 18, 2018: The first Democratic gubernatorial candidates’ debate

It was a lackluster performance all around, with some on the stage “stumbling on basic questions regarding some aspects of state government,” the USA Today Network-Florida reported. Graham scored with her “Gwen and the men” line, but she and the others flunked when asked about their morning reading habits. Not one mentioned SUNBURN, POLITICO Playbook, the Tampa Bay Times — the largest circulation newspaper in the state — or any state-centric news source. The GOP soon smelled blood.

May 9, 2018: Corcoran drops out, endorses Putnam

Corcoran, who had been expected to enter the Governor’s race, instead got behind Putnam. Term-limited in the House, he framed his decision to stay off the ballot as sticking to his word. He told news media repeatedly that he would run for Governor or otherwise “go home.” “I’m proud to say that decision is, thoroughly, we’re going home,” Corcoran said, before getting in a dig at DeSantis: “He’s got a bulldog mouth, a chihuahua a —, and he doesn’t even know what the heck is going on in this state. Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, that’s the only thing he can say. At some point, you’ve got to come out and give people a Florida vision.”

June 4, 2018: Billionaire Jeff Greene enters race

The über-rich Palm Beach real estate investor, who had previously told the Post he was “underwhelmed by the Democratic field,” files to enter the race as a “D” himself. That’s after “Greene spent about $24 million of his own money on a losing 2010 U.S. Senate bid, getting 31 percent in a Democratic primary against former U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.” The idea, insiders say, is that he won’t throw good money after bad: He’s in it to win it. 

June 7, 2018: Patrick Murphy decides against running

Murphy gets behind Graham, “ending speculation he’d run on a bipartisan ticket with former Republican U.S. Rep. David Jolly,” according to TCPalm. Murphy says “he hasn’t decided whether he’d accept a position as Graham’s running mate, if she offered him a shot at Lieutenant Governor. (He) said he (was) worried over mounting such a late campaign in an already crowded primary. ‘I was always, I guess, on hesitant footing to do this, and it was always going to take quite a bit to get me over that hump to do it.’ ” Nice timing: The next day, the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, endorses Graham.

June 8, 2018: The concealed weapons permitting scandal breaks

The Times’ Steve Contorno reports that “for more than a year, (Putnam’s gun-licensing division) failed to review national background checks on tens of thousands of applications for concealed weapons permits … The employee in charge of the background checks could not log into the system, the investigator learned.” Putnam later said applications were still run through two other databases: “When we became aware of the problem, we undertook the process of reviewing 365 names … and ultimately revoking 291 licenses.” Other stories continued to dribble out about problems at his Licensing Division over the summer, causing headaches for Putnam and staff.

June 22, 2018: Trump’s full-throated endorsement of DeSantis.

Tweet: “Congressman Ron DeSantis, a top student at Yale and Harvard Law School, is running for Governor of the Great State of Florida. Ron is strong on Borders, tough on Crime & big on Cutting Taxes — Loves our Military & our Vets. He will be a Great Governor & has my full Endorsement!” … Whoomp, there it is.

June 28, 2018: The Fox News debate

As the network described it, Putnam and DeSantis “sparred … over their support for President Trump … DeSantis championed his relationship with the president, and Putnam argued he’s more focused on local issues than his opponent … Putnam said in his opening remarks, ‘It’s different than a Washington, D.C., studio. Welcome to Florida, congressman.’ DeSantis played up Trump’s endorsement … ‘I am proud to have the endorsement of President Trump in this race.’ ”

June 29, 2018: Gillum gets ‘Next Gen’ support

Gillum gets to boast of the support of a second billionaire after Soros with Tom Steyer‘s NextGen America announcing its “investment” of $1 million into his bid for governor. Mo’ money, indeed. 

July 19, 2018: Tampa Bay-area “Stand Your Ground” case becomes an issue

The shooting death of Markeis McGlockton, 28, by Michael Drejka, 47, happens in a convenience store parking lot in Clearwater after the two men get in a confrontation over McGlockton’s girlfriend parking in a handicapped spot. The county sheriff initially declines to file charges, saying Drejka is protected by the state’s “Stand Your Ground” provision of self-defense law. Democrats seize on the shooting to say the state law “incentivizes” violence. Republicans back the law and use the incident to show how 2nd Amendment rights could be threatened.

July 31, 2018: Trump campaigns for DeSantis

The Times tops itself with this lede: “Declaring himself the most popular Republican in the history of America, President Donald Trump revved up thousands of fans Tuesday night at a rowdy Tampa Bay campaign rally to help gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis and, above all, celebrate Donald Trump … ‘(W)e need to elect Ron DeSantis … He’s going to be an incredible governor. I have no doubt, no doubt. I don’t do these endorsements easily.’ ”

Aug. 2, 2018: The final Democratic debate

Anyone hoping Florida’s five Democratic candidates for Governor would break new ground in the final debate left disappointed. On stage, each candidate mainly stuck to the standards, with only a couple of questions eliciting any form of surprise. The five contenders pulled more punches than in previous debates, with just a few recycled squabbles — mostly centering on Graham’s record as a moderate member of Congress. The political class hit their collective snooze button.

Aug. 23, 2018: Jeff Greene “goes dark”

Greene, after barreling into the race in early June and becoming omnipresent on TV through much of the summer, stepped out of the spotlight for the final push. The campaign essentially went dark publicly, with six days before the end of primary voting. He decides to focus on mobilizing his organization for get-out-the-vote efforts and to get paid staffers and volunteers to lead the way with more intimate messaging on his behalf, while pulling campaign ads and limiting public appearances, according to a campaign spokesman.

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Tallahassee correspondent Danny McAuliffe, Orlando correspondent Scott Powers, and Senior Editor Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

Rick Scott names lawyers to Florida Elections Commission

Gov. Rick Scott appointed two Tallahassee attorneys to the Florida Elections Commission, his office announced Friday night.

Coincidentally, both specialize in representing automotive dealers.

Martin Hayes, 62, is a partner at the Akerman firm. Hayes fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning Aug. 24 and ending Dec. 31, 2020.

Hayes

Hayes, a litigator, mainly works with motor vehicle dealerships “in all aspects of the motor vehicle dealer-manufacturer relationship,” according to his firm bio.

He “represents auto dealers in litigation, mediations, and informal settlement conferences on issues as diverse as acquiring additional dealerships, warranty audit issues, facility upgrades, terminations, and buy-sell turndowns.”

Hayes received his undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University. He was nominated by Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II of Miami Gardens.

Jason Allen, 39, is a partner at Bass Sox Mercer, which “represents automobile, truck and motorcycle dealers in complex commerical transactions,” its website says.

Allen

Allen got his undergraduate degree from Florida State, where he was a member of the golf team, and his law degree from Mercer University School of Law, his bio says.

He served as a staff attorney for then-House Speaker Marco Rubio, now the state’s Republican U.S. senator, and later as a clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston.

Allen succeeds Commissioner Sean Hall and is appointed for a term beginning Aug. 24 and ending Dec. 31, 2020. He was nominated by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican.

The appointments are subject to state Senate confirmation.

Ryan Torrens appeals decision kicking him off primary ballot

Tampa attorney Ryan Torrens on Saturday said he filed a notice of appeal, requesting a “halt (of) the implementation of a lower court judge’s 11th hour ruling” decertifying him as a Democratic candidate for Attorney General.

The day before, Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee ordered him out of the race, saying he “clearly acted contrary to the law” when he qualified in June to run.

That was after a hearing this Wednesday in which Gievers determined Torrens’ testimony was “not credible.” The primary election is Tuesday.

In a statement, Torrens said the judge removed him based on a “contribution law technicality,” and said she was “disenfranchising the tens of thousands of citizens who have already voted for his campaign,” apparently referring to estimates of his share of vote-by-mail ballots and early votes.

As it stands now, Tampa state Rep. Sean Shaw is the lone Democratic contender. He’ll face one of two Republicans, Ashley Moody or Frank White, in November’s general election.

Shaw himself filed the complaint that led to Torrens’ ouster, claiming he qualified to run only by way of improperly transferring money into his campaign account. That was to have enough money for Torrens to cut a check for the $7,738 qualifying fee.

But Torrens said Gievers “ignored” evidence “that the funds in question were indeed his own,” in a joint account belonging to him and wife Francesca Yabraian. He called it a self-loan, which campaign finance law does not limit, unlike other contributions.

But he had admitted in court he signed the check with his wife’s name – with her OK – because his name wasn’t printed on the checks for that account. The law imputes money to come from the person signing off; in this case, technically Yabraian.

“Today I’m kicking myself for that oversight, but that doesn’t change the essential bottom line that this was always my money, going to my campaign account in accordance with the law,” he said.

“No court should ever intervene in the exercise of our democracy, especially at the last minute,” he added.

In her decision, Gievers said the case “involves a candidate who chose to deposit an improper contribution on Monday of qualifying week, acknowledged on Tuesday … that he knew a refund would have to be provided, intentionally chose not to issue the refund, and knowingly used the illegal funds to pay the qualifying fee on Thursday.”

Gievers added Torrens “clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly,” saying he “could have done things correctly. He clearly and convincingly chose not to, and he must be deemed removed from the ballot.”

Torrens said his “legal team is working tirelessly this weekend, taking this matter to the appeals court in order to allow the voters to decide who they want for attorney general.

“Our political system has become corrupted by big corporate interests and their establishment candidates, and I am proud to be the candidate in this race with the nerve to take on those powerful interests.”

Torrens did not address the $88,693 in public matching funds he’s received, and whether he’s obligated to repay that money to the state should he lose his appeal.

As of Friday, Shaw had raised a total of $985,637 and had $455,946 in cash-on-hand; Torrens’ posted $221,830 all told, and had $30,271 left.

Judge tosses Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens off primary ballot

In what could be a first in Florida, a judge has decertified Democrat Ryan Torrens as a candidate for state Attorney General, saying his testimony was “not credible” and that he “clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly” when he qualified to run.

Friday’s ruling by Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee means—barring appellate action otherwise—Sean Shaw becomes the Democratic contender to face one of two Republicans, Ashley Moody or Frank White, in November’s general election.

Gievers’ decision came after a Wednesday bench trial in a challenge filed by Shaw, now a state representative and formerly the statewide Insurance Consumer Advocate under CFO Alex Sink, and only four days before the primary election.

Torrens will still be on printed primary ballots, but the judge ordered Secretary of State Ken Detzner, the state’s chief elections officer, to “promptly notify all 67 of Florida’s supervisors of elections that Mr. Torrens has been decertified … and may not be (elected) regardless of what the vote totals are on Tuesday, Aug. 28.”

The judge also dismissed Torrens’ counterclaim for libel against Shaw. Tallahassee-based legal legends Sandy D’Alemberte and Barry Richard said, as far as they were aware, this is likely the first time a candidate for statewide office in Florida has been disqualified before an election.

Torrens – a George Washington University Law School graduate admitted to practice law in Florida in 2011 – referred a request for comment to his lawyer, Jared McCabe of Tampa. He said only that Torrens, a Tampa-based consumer affairs attorney, planned to appeal to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

In a statement, Shaw—also a Tampa attorney—said he’ll “be a fighter for Floridians every day as Attorney General, and today’s court ruling is a validation of that fact.

“It is now time for Democrats to unite to take back Florida this fall,” he added. “We currently have two candidates in the Republican Attorney General Primary, fighting over who can stand closer to President Trump, when it seems those closest to him are being shown to be corrupt and criminal.

“Should either of those candidates become this state’s next Attorney General, you can be assured that they will roll back Roe v. Wade, act as a rubber stamp for the gun lobby, and do the bidding of the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history. This state and this country can’t afford more of the same. It’s time to unite as a party and make history in November.”

Shaw’s complaint said his opponent qualified to run only by way of improperly transferring money into his campaign account. That was to have enough money to cut a check for the $7,738 qualifying fee.

At issue was a $4,000 check written June 18 out of a Washington, D.C. credit union account controlled by both Torrens and his wife, Francesca Yabraian, and deposited into the campaign coffers. Torrens’ campaign treasurer soon flagged the deposit as over the $3,000 contribution limit for statewide Cabinet-level offices allowed under law.

On the witness stand, Torrens testified he had signed the check with his wife’s name – with her OK, he said – and not his own name “because I was in a great hurry.”

Shaw’s attorney, Natalie Kato, suggested that Torrens had dithered while trying to figure out what to do when it was clear there was a problem. Gievers agreed, despite Torrens’ argument that it was ultimately a self-loan from a “joint account” to his campaign, which state law doesn’t limit.

“The undisputed evidence shows that at the time Torrens (qualified on June 21, he) knew the campaign account probably contained insufficient legal contribution amounts to cover the qualifying fee.”

And “Torrens knew his campaign was always short of money, (that) it was a grassroots campaign,” she added in her 22-page ruling.

“Thus, this case involves a candidate who chose to deposit an improper contribution on Monday of qualifying week, acknowledged on Tuesday … that he knew a refund would have to be provided, intentionally chose not to issue the refund, and knowingly used the illegal funds to pay the qualifying fee on Thursday.”

Gievers wrote that Torrens, “as an attorney, as a candidate for public office, as an applicant for public financing to help with his campaign, and as a candidate to serve as the highest ranking law enforcement officer in the state, … clearly acted contrary to the law, knowingly.”

“Mr. Torrens could have done things correctly,” Gievers wrote. “He clearly and convincingly chose not to, and he must be deemed removed from the ballot.”

State campaign finance records show that Torrens received $88,693 in public matching funds on Aug. 10 to help fund his bid. It’s not clear whether Torrens is now obligated to repay that money to the state.

Dispute over FIU bridge records moves to federal court

Two days after a Tallahassee judge ordered that records related to a deadly bridge collapse at Florida International University be handed over to the Miami Herald, the federal government has had the case moved to federal court.

Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll on Tuesday ordered the Florida Department of Transportation to release records related to the March 15 collapse after the Herald sued to obtain the documents.

Using Florida’s public-records law, the Herald requested a wide range of documents related to the 950-ton, 174-foot span, which collapsed days after being positioned across an eight-lane road in Miami, killing six people.

But state transportation officials claimed they could not comply with the newspaper’s request because of a federal law related to an accident investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The NTSB backed up state officials’ position, saying the requested documents, which ranged from Feb. 20 to March 17, fell within the scope of a regulation prohibiting the release of information “obtained during an investigation.”

Siding with the Herald, Carroll found the documents in dispute “were public records” that “were obtained prior to the existence of an investigation … before the state began participating in said investigation.”

On Thursday, the NTSB had the case “removed” to federal court, something federal agencies are allowed to do, and asked that Carroll’s order be put on hold while a federal judge considers a motion to overturn the decision.

The move by the NTSB came hours before state transportation officials were scheduled to turn over the documents, according to a motion filed Thursday on behalf of the NTSB by Andrew Grogan, an assistant U.S. attorney.

Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Tom Yu said the state was ready to comply with Carroll’s order.

In Thursday’s federal-court motion, Grogan argued that a stay is warranted in the case because “the government is likely to succeed on the merits of its forthcoming motion to quash the state court’s order.”

And, he argued, the NTSB “may suffer irreparable harm to its investigation if the investigative information is prematurely disclosed.”

Grogan acknowledged “both the plaintiffs and the public have a legitimate interest in learning what happened in the lead-up to the bridge collapse.”

But, he added, “it is also in the public’s interest to preserve the integrity of the investigation so that NTSB can fulfill its mission of determining the probable cause of the accident and making recommendations to prevent similar accidents in the future.”

An emergency hearing was held late Thursday afternoon by phone, in which Senior U.S. District Judge William Stafford granted the government’s request for a stay, which essentially freezes the case and temporarily prevents the records from being divulged.

On Monday, the government is expected to file the motion to quash Carroll’s order, and the Herald’s attorneys have said they will file to get the case remanded back to state court.

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Senior Editor Jim Rosica in Tallahassee contributed to this post. Content provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.

Judge will now decide whether Ryan Torrens stays on ballot

A Tallahassee judge now controls the political fate of Democratic candidate for Attorney General Ryan Torrens.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers held a bench trial Wednesday on whether to disqualify the Tampa attorney. For now, the Tampa consumer affairs attorney faces state Rep. Sean Shaw – also a Tampa lawyer – in next Tuesday’s primary election.

Gievers did not say when she would rule, but there’s little time left for review if either side wants to appeal.

Shaw filed suit to get Torrens kicked off the ballot, saying he qualified to run only by way of improperly transferring money into his campaign account. That was to have enough money to cut a check for the qualifying fee.

During his testimony, Torrens – a George Washington University Law School graduate admitted to practice law in Florida in 2011 – said he was running a “grassroots” effort: “I do whatever I can to help the campaign. It’s usually struggling for resources.”

But he repeated that what he did was ultimately legal under campaign finance law. Natalie Kato, Shaw’s lawyer, disagreed.

“This is a case about bad faith and dishonest purpose,” she told Gievers. “It is about … what happened (when) ill-gotten funds were used … to improperly qualify for the ballot.”

Attorney Jared McCabe, representing Torrens, countered that his client simply “took money out of his own account and lent it to himself,” adding that Torrens’ only mistake was muddying things by signing his wife’s name instead of his own.

At issue is a $4,000 check written June 18 out of a Washington, D.C. credit union account controlled by both Torrens and his wife, Francesca Yabraian, and deposited into the campaign coffers. Yabraian is often out of the Tampa area; she works for the federal government and has a security clearance.

Torrens’ campaign treasurer soon flagged the deposit as over the $3,000 contribution limit allowed under law.

But Kato made hay of the fact that Torrens apparently dithered for “over a month” while trying to figure out what to do about the money.

“You just whistled past that graveyard, didn’t you?” Kato asked. Torrens later said he was “doing due diligence, trying to figure out how to handle this.” Kato came back again, suggesting that not getting an answer until after the qualifying period ended gave him “plausible deniability.”

She also had him read Division of Elections guidance that a check signed by one party of a joint account is presumed to come only from that party—in this case, his wife, since it’s her ‘signature.’ The implication was that Torrens can’t count it as a self-loan.

Torrens, under questioning by his own attorney, suggested any mistake he made was an honest one, and agreed with McCabe that he never intended to deceive anyone, including “the general public.”

He explained he signed the check with his wife’s name – with her OK, he stressed – and not his own name “because I was in a great hurry.”

Still pending is a counterclaim by Torrens against Shaw, who did not attend Wednesday’s trial. Torrens claims Shaw’s allegations in his lawsuit libeled him, though Gievers remarked that things said in a court filing are generally privileged and not actionable.

‘Please explain’: Legislative panel again questions marijuana regulators

A special panel of lawmakers continues to demand answers from medical marijuana regulators, according to a new letter obtained Tuesday through a public record request.

Among the latest queries from the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee (JAPC): The identities of “subject matter experts” that the Department of Health plans to use to evaluate license applications, and whether a rule governing a license reserved for a black farmer contradicts state law.

Not mentioned in the committee’s Aug. 17 letter, however, is a Tallahassee judge’s ruling earlier this month that the medical marijuana law’s carve-out of special categories of licenses is unconstitutional.

JAPC ensures that agencies write rules that line up with statutes passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. The department regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Health spokesman Brad Dalton said the agency’s lawyers were “still reviewing the letter,” and “no response has been authored at this time.”

The 9-page JAPC letter, signed by Chief Attorney Marjorie C. Holladay, starts many of its paragraphs with “please explain” or “please correct.”

For instance, “Please explain how an applicant can explain its plan for the recall of medical marijuana products based on a testing result when the department has not proposed or adopted rules regarding testing.”

It dings regulators for conflating “license” and “registration” as used for medical cannabis providers, known as “medical marijuana treatment centers,” saying “the terms are not interchangeable.”

“The Legislature’s use of the terms ‘license’ and ‘licensure’ … was deliberate and indicates a preference for the use of those terms, and the use of the word ‘registration’ within that context is inconsistent with the statute,” Holladay wrote.

She even asks why one regulation “only requires the applicant’s floor plan to demonstrate that it has outdoor lighting” when state law “requires a medical marijuana treatment center to ensure that its outdoor premises have sufficient lighting from dusk until dawn.”

The missive comes less than a month after Circuit Judge Charles W. Dodson struck down several parts of the law that implements the constitutional amendment – passed by 71 percent of voters in 2016 – that authorized medicinal cannabis.

The ruling came in a challenge brought by Florigrown, which had been denied a chance to become a provider. The company is partly owned by free speech advocate and Tampa strip club mogul Joe Redner.

He is a medical marijuana patient himself, having won a ruling to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it to keep his cancer from recurring. That’s under appeal by the state.

The letter is another salvo by legislators, many of whom have been exasperated over what they see as the department’s sluggishness in implementing medical marijuana.

At a meeting this February, JAPC formally approved 17 individual objections and listed more than 40 distinct operations violations “with no standards or guidance, thereby vesting unbridled discretion in the Department.”

The committee also sent more than a dozen letters to the department giving Health officials a heads-up as to concerns—to be met with no response.

As a reminder of its displeasure, the Legislature also included a provision in the 2018-19 state budget that freezes a portion of salaries and benefits for the department’s top brass until they get going on putting new rules in place.

The full letter is below:

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Pam Bondi says certain constitutional amendments can be ‘bundled’

There’s no such thing as improper ‘bundling’ of issues when it comes to amendments proposed by the state’s Constitution Revision Commission, Attorney General Pam Bondi argued in a new filing on Monday.

Bondi responded to a challenge filed last week at the Florida Supreme Court by one of its retired justices, Harry Lee Anstead. He said six CRC amendments were wrongly “logrolled;” that is, they could force people to vote for an amendment because they’re in favor of one policy in it, but not others.

That’s “a form of issue gerrymandering that violates the First Amendment right of the voter to vote for or against specific, independent and unrelated proposals to amend the constitution without paying the price of supporting a measure the voter opposes or opposing a measure the voter supports,” he said.

No, Bondi countered, saying that a “filtering” process protects the CRC’s work product from logrolling challenges.

“The single-subject requirement applies to amendments proposed by citizen’s initiative, and only to such amendments,” she argued.

“In other words, the single-subject limitation exists because the citizen initiative process does not afford the same opportunity for public hearing and debate that accompanies the other constitutional proposal and drafting processes (i.e., constitutional amendments proposed by the Legislature, by a constitutional revision commission, or by a constitutional convention).”

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

The measures at issue include Amendment 8, a contentious education-related amendment that a Tallahassee judge ordered off the ballot earlier Monday in an unrelated case.

Others are Amendment 6, which would create a crime victims’ bill of rights; Amendment 7, which would extend survivor benefits to first responders and military; Amendment 9, which bans both offshore oil drilling and indoor ‘vaping,’ Amendment 10, which would overhaul state and local governments by requiring certain offices now appointed to be elected; and Amendment 11, which deals with property rights and criminal laws.

Still another amendment aimed at ending live dog racing in Florida, Amendment 13, also has been ordered off the ballot in a separate challenge; that case is also under appeal at the Florida Supreme Court.

Bondi, who is representing Detzner, had until 5 p.m. Monday to file a response; the filing was clocked in at 4:59.

Anstead, an appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and chief justice in 2002-04, filed the petition with Robert Barnas, a former High Springs City Commissioner and former state Elections Commissioner. They’re represented by Joseph Little, a constitutional scholar and retired professor of the University of Florida’s law school.

Bondi’s 41-page filing is below.

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Loan for Amendment 1 passage sparks suit

Two environmental groups may soon duel in court over an alleged unpaid debt from an effort to get a state constitutional amendment on the environment before voters in 2014.

The Florida Wildlife Federation last week sued Florida Conservation Voters (FCV) over what it says is an outstanding amount of $72,500 from a loan the federation made to FCV, then called Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. The suit was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court.

In December 2013, the federation lent the group $80,000 “for use in the initiative petition campaign to place the Water and Land Conservation Amendment on the Florida 2014 General Election ballot,” the complaint says, with the expectation of repayment by September 2014.

But FCV paid back only $7,500 and defaulted on the loan, according to the complaint. A request for comment was sent Monday to Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. 

What became known as the Water and Land Legacy Amendment, or Amendment 1, mandated state spending for land and water conservation. It got ballot placement in 2014, receiving a landslide of nearly 75 percent, or more than 4.2 million “yes” votes.

Amendment 1 requires state officials to set aside 33 percent of the money from the real estate “documentary stamp” tax to protect Florida’s environmentally sensitive areas for 20 years.

Advocates — including the federation and Sierra Club — sued the next year, saying lawmakers wrongly appropriated money for, among other things, “salaries and ordinary expenses of state agencies” tasked with executing the amendment’s mandate.

They won a summary judgment in June from Circuit Judge Charles Dodson; the case now is under appeal. The present case over the loan also has been assigned to Dodson.

Ryan Torrens calls for truce in Democratic race for Attorney General

I’ll drop mine if you drop yours, Ryan Torrens told Sean Shaw on Sunday night.

Lawsuit, that is.

Torrens, a Democratic candidate for Florida Attorney General, sprang a Sunday night surprise on Shaw, his primary opponent and a Tampa state representative.

“Let’s both agree to drop our lawsuits – right now – and instead of meeting in a courtroom on Wednesday to tear each other down, let’s meet for a joint press conference, declaring loud and clear that no matter who prevails in this primary, we will stand united to make sure we elect a Democratic attorney general in November,” Torrens – a consumer-rights attorney in Tampa – said in a press release.

Here’s the backstory: Shaw sued first last month to have Torrens kicked off the ballot, alleging he only qualified to run because of an “illegal campaign contribution” to pay the qualifying fee. Torrens later said it was a self-loan — his wife had written the check from their joint account.

In his answer to Shaw’s complaint, filed in Leon County Circuit Civil court, Torrens counterclaimed that Shaw had libeled him, having “falsely and frivolously challenged my integrity as a professional and as someone aspiring to public office, and that of my wife.”

Sunday’s press release is a surprising turnabout for Torrens, coming after a Friday hearing hastily scheduled by Circuit Judge Karen Gievers.

That was to address Torrens’ “emergency motion for protective order” on the bank records of his wife, Francesca Yabraian, whom he said “holds a high-security clearance with the federal government.”

Torrens did not disclose her job, but said: “Her banking information is highly sensitive, and she could lose her employment if she does not comply with the security requirements of her employer.” A web search shows that, as of 2016, she worked at the Department of Homeland Security.

The result of the Friday hearing before Gievers was not docketed as of Sunday night. A bench trial in the case remains set for Wednesday.

And just last Thursday, Torrens demanded that Shaw produce a copy of a check that was a $2,500 contribution to his campaign from Democratic candidate for governor Jeff Greene.

He also asked for “all bank records from … Shaw’s campaign finance account,” and a bevy of “emails and text messages” regarding “the release of (Shaw’s) lawsuit to the press.”

Later Sunday night, a Shaw spokesman ignored Torrens’ white flag after being asked to comment.

“Democrats are unified and excited to lead this state in a new direction,” Michael Starr Hopkins said. “Sean Shaw is a fighter and regardless of who Republicans nominate, we are confident our message will continue to resonate with voters.”

Torrens’ full statement is below.

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