Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 131

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.

In Mark Asay case, court says death penalty ruling isn’t retroactive

Mark Asay will remain on the state’s death row, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday, likely to become the “first white person executed for the murder of a black person in this state.”

Asay, Mark

Its 80-page opinion also determined that this year’s U.S. Supreme Court opinion, Hurst v. Florida, requiring Florida juries—not judges—”to (determine) the facts necessary to sentence a defendant to death” does not apply retroactively to Asay and many others.

However, the opinion can be retroactive for certain death-sentenced inmates whose “cases were not final” when another related U.S. Supreme Court ruling came out in 2002.

In Ring v. Arizona, the court first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty. As of Thursday, there were 384 convicts facing capital punishment in Florida.

But Thursday’s decision further suggested a court that continues to be fractured over the state’s death penalty. Most recently, Florida’s high court this October also said death sentences require a jury’s unanimous vote.

The controlling opinion in Asay’s case was a plurality of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy A. Quince and Ricky Polston. The latter two often are polar opposites in opinions, with Quince leaning left and Polston a reliable conservative vote.

But Labarga and Polston also weighed in with separate concurring opinions, as did Justices R. Fred Lewis and Charles Canady, who agreed with the result only.

Justice Barbara Pariente wrote a mixed-bag opinion, concurring in part with the opinion but also dissenting, and Justice James E.C. Perry, who retires at the end of the month, dissented with a stunning admission.

“The majority’s decision today leads me to declare that I no longer believe that there is a method of which the state can avail itself to impose the death penalty in a constitutional manner,” he wrote, echoing Justice Harry Blackmun that he “no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

“I would find that Hurst v. Florida applies retroactively, period,” Perry wrote.

Asay, a white supremacist sentenced to death for gunning down two people in Jacksonville in 1987, had asked the court to review his case. He was on parole at the time of the shootings.

Asay, his brother, and another man were in downtown Jacksonville looking for prostitutes when a confrontation with Robert Lee Booker, who was black, turned deadly. Asay later that night shot and killed a transgender prostitute, born Robert McDowell, “a black man dressed as a woman” whom Asay had hired for sex.

“As to both murders, the trial court found Asay’s age of 23 at the time of the murders to be the only mitigation for his offenses,” the opinion said.

Asay, now 52, was sentenced in November 1988 and Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant this January. The court lifted a stay of execution in Asay’s case entered on March 2.

His latest claims include questioning firearms evidence used at trial and not having a lawyer when Scott signed his death warrant “and for the previous 10 years.”

Asay also argued he should be re-sentenced because of the Hurst decision, requiring juries to determine the factors that support a death sentence. And he said prosecutors had suppressed new evidence in his favor.

The plurality opinion dismissed each of his arguments, including saying Hurst can’t be applied retroactively, in part because “this Court, the State of Florida in prosecuting these crimes, and the families of the victims had extensively relied on the (then-)constitutionality of Florida’s death penalty scheme.”

Moreover, “there are a substantial number of death sentences the finality of which would be upended, nearly half of those defendants committed their crimes and had their sentences upheld decades ago,” it said.

Then, in a classic example of what law professors call a “negotiated paragraph,” the court reaches its main result.

After weighing all the applicable legal tests, it “conclude(s) that Hurst should not be applied retroactively to Asay’s case,” then says “we limit our holding to this context.” The justices immediately add, however, the tests “weigh against applying Hurst retroactively to all death case litigation in Florida.”

In her opinion, Pariente later explains the ruling “limit(s) the retroactive application of Hurst v. Florida to those cases that were not final when the United States Supreme Court decided Ring,” calling that unconstitutional.

Polston wrote that “the majority opinion has incorrectly limited the retroactive application of Hurst” in the context of the Ring case, that first said juries alone must decide on “aggravating factors” for the death penalty.

The majority “bar(s) relief to even those defendants who, prior to Ring, had properly asserted, presented, and preserved challenges to the lack of jury fact finding and unanimity in Florida’s capital sentencing procedure,” he said. “This Court need not tumble down the dizzying rabbit hole of untenable line drawing ….”

“Every pre-Ring defendant has been found by a jury to have wrongfully murdered his or her victim,” Polston said. “(T)his Court now limits the application of Hurst, resulting in the State wrongfully executing those defendants.

“It seems axiomatic that ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’; yet, this Court essentially condones that outcome with its very limited interpretation of Hurst’s retroactivity and application.”

And Labarga said separately, “our decision today does not apply to those defendants whose death sentences were imposed … solely as a result of a judicial override,” that is, a judge who imposes death over a jury recommendation of life imprisonment.

“There are only two death row defendants who satisfy this criteria—Matthew Marshall and William Zeigler Jr.,” he writes. “The impact of Hurst … upon their death sentences is an issue for another day.”

Judge won’t throw out court clerk funding lawsuit

A Tallahassee judge has denied the state’s request to toss out a lawsuit over funding of the state’s court clerks.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers‘ two-page order was dated Dec. 12 but not docketed till Tuesday, records show. “The four corners of the complaint state a cause of action,” she wrote.

The Department of Revenue, the Department of Financial Services and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission had filed a motion to dismiss against Broward County Clerk of Court Howard Forman.

Forman, who did not run for re-election this year, is being succeeded after 16 years as clerk by his wife, Brenda Forman.

He wants a judge to declare the current system of “funding of the offices of the clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court-related functions” as unconstitutional.

Florida’s court clerks have long complained about what they consider underfunding by the state. They have responded by shrinking staff and reducing their office hours.

Records show the state’s clerks collectively take in more than $1 billion yearly in filing fees and other court costs but get back less than half of that for operations, even as Florida has largely rebounded from the Great Recession.

The defendants had said elected officeholders like Forman don’t have the legal standing to file constitutional challenges. They also argued the budgeting process was OK’d under a previous challenge in 2010, and there’s no constitutional requirement that any particular amount of money from fees has to go back to the clerks.

Forman’s complaint asserts the defendants are wrongly allowing filing fees collected by the clerks to be diverted into general revenue and various trust funds “for purposes other than for funding of the offices of the clerks.”

Forman, a Democrat and former state senator, filed on behalf of himself. The statewide Florida Clerks & Comptrollers association is not a party to the suit.

The state now has till Jan. 5 to respond to the suit’s allegations and offer any legal defenses.

Havana Cuba

Rick Scott to Raul Castro: Bring “absolute freedom and democracy to Cuba”

Gov. Rick Scott is telling Cuban President Raul Castro to bring “absolute freedom and democracy to Cuba,” in a letter released Wednesday morning.

The letter, in English and Spanish, was delivered to Cuban ambassador Jose Ramon Cabanas Rodriguez in Washington.


Scott tells Castro, whom he addresses as “Mr. Castro,” that “following the death of your brother Fidel, the streets of Miami were packed with people celebrating.”

Castro is brother of Fidel Castro, died Nov. 25 at the age of 90, who was dictator of the island nation after overthrowing Fulgencio Batista‘s government in January 1959. He handed over power to brother Raul in 2008.

“The celebration represented the hope for an end to the decades of torture, repression, incarceration and death that you and your brother have caused the people of Cuba,” Scott wrote.

“While many are hopeful for the future of Cuba, it is thus far clear that nothing has changed,” he said. “Like your brother, you are known for firing squads and imprisonment of those who oppose you. You have said that you plan on retiring in 2018, but the leadership that you have picked to come after you is designed to keep your oppression intact, and to keep your people trapped.”

R. Castro

“… My prayer for you and the Cuban people is that you listen to Pope Francis and focus on bringing absolute freedom and democracy to Cuba,” the governor wrote. “I pray that you open Cuba to freedom of the press and religion; release all political prisoners; provide unfettered access to the internet; allow ownership of land; provide reparations to those whose property was confiscated; bring all Cuban military home and allow for free and fair elections with international supervision.

“… Or, you can continue on the other path. This path is best characterized by oppression, tyranny, wrongful imprisonment, torture, and murder. This is the path that hates freedom, the path that does not trust every man and woman to make their own decisions, the path that opposes all those who honor and worship God.

“… I have no doubt that the people of Florida stand ready to flood Cuba with prosperity,” Scott added. “No one thinks you will choose the way of freedom, the way of democracy, the way of peace. People will mock this letter and call it naïve. But, for the sake of the Cuban people, I pray change will come.”

The full letter in English is here, and in Spanish here.


Federal judge won’t change mind on blackjack decision

A federal judge has rejected the state’s request to reconsider his ruling allowing the Seminole Tribe of Florida to keep blackjack at its casinos.

In a two-page order, Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said the “original opinion correctly analyzes the issues.”

Hinkle had ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed dog and horse tracks to offer card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

The judge ruled that the Tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wanted Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games.

The Tribe had said Hinkle properly found that those games, known as designated player games, “are ‘banked card games’ (like blackjack) based upon reasonable interpretations” of federal Indian gambling law, state law and testimony at trial, the memo says.

Hinkle has not yet ruled on a separate request by lawyers for a race track in Gretna to intervene in the case.

Attorneys David Romanik and Marc Dunbar have asked Hinkle to remove the part of his ruling they say could make it a “crime” for the track’s cardroom to continue offering certain card games. Romanik and Dunbar are part-owners of Gretna Racing.

The track has a case pending before the state Supreme Court on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Voters in Gadsden County, where the track is located, and five other counties passed local referendums to approve slots.

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


Seminole Tribe pays state nearly $20M in gambling money

The Seminole Tribe of Florida has paid the state nearly $20 million this month in gambling revenue share, according to public records released Tuesday.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation‘s “licensing and revenue intake system” shows two deposits of $9.75 million were made last Thursday. The agency regulates gambling in the state.

That intake system is limited to single deposits of no more than $10 million, DBPR spokesman Stephen Lawson explained, so the $19.5 million payment had to be split in two. The money will go into the state’s General Revenue Fund, Lawson previously said.

The Tribe is seeking to extend a “compact” with the state to exclusively offer blackjack in return for a cut of that revenue, even though a federal judge ruled the state broke the original deal and the tribe can offer “banked card games” through 2030.

The Seminoles offer blackjack at five of their seven casinos, including the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa.

“As further evidence of its positive approach, the Tribe is continuing to make monthly payments to the state that will total $306 million this year,” spokesman Gary Bitner told FloridaPolitics.com earlier this month.

The original 2010 deal actually wound up being worth more than $200 million per year in revenue share to state coffers. Blackjack and other gambling, including slots, has brought in billions for the tribe.

A renewed blackjack agreement struck by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year promised $3 billion over seven years in revenue share to the state, but it failed to gain approval from lawmakers.

Both House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron say they support bringing that deal back before lawmakers in the 2017 Legislative Session.

But while Corcoran says there must be a reduction in overall gambling in the state, Negron says he’s OK with expanding gambling opportunities.

Florida State Parks

Personnel note: Lisa Edgar named state parks director

Lisa Edgar has helped regulate the state’s investor-owned utilities. Now, she’s going to oversee its parks.

Edgar, Lisa

Edgar was named Director of the Florida Park Service, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced Tuesday in a press release. She’ll start next month.

“From my time at DEP and as a frequent visitor of our state parks, I’ve seen first-hand the high caliber of the Florida Park Service team,” she said in a statement.

“I look forward to working with this team to continue to achieve the Florida State Parks mission to provide resource-based recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources.”

She replaces Donald Forgione – a 32-year park service veteran, six of those as director – who was demoted to manage Paynes Prairie State Park near Gainesville.

Environmentalists have been concerned that Gov. Rick Scott is pursuing his plan to make parks profitable by leasing out parkland for cattle grazing, selling timber and opening wildlife preserves to hunters. But Gary Clark, the department’s deputy secretary for land and recreation who announced Edgar’s hire, has said that’s “simply not true.”

Edgar, a three-term member of the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), previously was Deputy Secretary of DEP. She decided not to seek another term on the PSC and will be replaced by water use engineer Donald Polmann of Dunedin.

Her DEP responsibilities included “executive management oversight of the agency’s budget, fiscal and strategic planning, accountability measures, information technology, administrative services, Florida Geological Survey, and coordination between the state and federal government on environmental issues,” the release said.

She also was chief environmental policy analyst in the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget under Govs. Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush, as well as a senior cabinet aide for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Edgar “will bring a wealth of agency knowledge, superb leadership skills and an understanding of and appreciation for Florida’s diverse environmental resources to this role,” Clark said.

The 52-year-old will remain at the PSC until her current term expires Jan. 1. She was first appointed by Gov. Bush in 2005, re-appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist in 2008 and appointed a third time by Gov. Rick Scott in 2012.

But Edgar came under fire during her last appointment, with tea party groups and others urging Scott to replace her, saying she wasn’t aggressively defending the state’s utility customers from rate hikes.

Edgar got her undergraduate and law degrees from Florida State University. She is married, has two children and lives in Tallahassee.

Orlando correspondent Terry Roen contributed to this post. 

Seminole Tribe objects to any about-face on blackjack ruling

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is opposing the state’s asking a federal judge to reconsider his decision to let the Tribe keep blackjack at its casinos.

The tribe filed a legal memo last week in opposition to the state’s motion.

Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that regulators working under Gov. Rick Scott allowed dog and horse tracks to offer card games that mimicked ones that were supposed to be exclusive to tribe-owned casinos for a five-year period.

Hinkle ruled that the tribe could keep its blackjack tables till 2030. The state wants Hinkle to instead order the tribe to remove the games.

The Tribe says Hinkle properly found that those games, known as designated player games, “are ‘banked card games’ (like blackjack) based upon reasonable interpretations” of federal Indian gambling law, state law and testimony at trial, the memo says.

“The state ignores virtually all of that evidence, disregards the court’s reasoning, and presents its argument as though there had been no comprehensive briefing on the relevant issues and no trial,” says the memo by Greenberg Traurig attorney Barry Richard, who represents the Tribe.

Also, lawyers for a race track in Gretna filed paperwork to intervene in the case.

Attorneys David Romanik and Marc Dunbar have asked Hinkle to remove the part of his ruling they say could make it a “crime” for the track’s cardroom to continue offering certain card games. Romanik and Dunbar are part-owners of Gretna Racing.

The track has a case pending before the state Supreme Court on whether to expand slot machines in the state. Voters in Gadsden County, where the track is located, and five other counties passed local referendums to approve slots.

The court docket shows Hinkle has not yet decided any of the motions.

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

Donald Trump wins all votes of Florida’s Electoral College

As expected, Florida’s 29 Republican members of the Electoral College on Monday cast their vote for Donald Trump for president and Mike Pence for vice president.

The electors are among Florida’s most loyal Republicans. They were chosen by the state GOP and approved by Gov. Rick Scott.

The votes were cast as dozens of protesters hollered and chanted against Trump in the Capitol rotunda.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who was appointed by Scott, presided over the highly-scripted and generally uneventful meeting.

One bit of tension came when elector and state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the House Republican Leader, missed the roll-call vote. He was back in the chamber within minutes, however.

“You’re buying us dinner,” Detzner joked.

Elector and Senate President Joe Negron led the pledge of allegiance before members got down to the quick work of filling out separate and distinct ballots” for president and vice president.

Each elector then signed copies of the official “certificate of vote” and had a group photo taken.

State Rep. and Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia apologized to electors for any “intrusion on your family time.”

The electors had been deluged with emails, letters and phone calls from people hoping to convince electors not to cast their vote for Trump, but their pleas didn’t sway them.

Elector Nick DiCeglie, the Pinellas County GOP chair, Sunday said he received “thousands of letters, thousands of emails” asking him to reconsider. He showed reporters a picture of his home postbox filled with mail on Thursday.

Ingoglia mentioned the “awesome responsilbility we have as electors,” and added he hoped his colleague would look back and say, “We were part of history.”

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

kids dental care

Dental care vendor loses trade secrets case

The winning vendor of a deal to provide dental benefits for the state children’s health insurance program has lost a court fight over what it claims are trade secrets.

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers of Tallahassee last week ruled against Managed Care of North America (MCNA Dental). She ordered the company to divulge certain records to Delta Dental.

MCNA now must give up the names and locations of the dentists it contracts with.

It’s the latest trade-secrets case in the news recently. Visit Florida claimed its secret promotional deal with rapper Pitbull also was a trade secret. House Speaker Richard Corcoran then sued to get the contract disclosed, but Pitbull himself released the contract online, revealing he was eligible to be paid up to $1 million to promote Florida tourism.

Delta was one of four companies to bid on providing kids’ dental services, and the only one to lose. It filed a public records request with Florida Healthy Kids Corp., which manages the contract. MCNA learned of the request and objected.

Half of its score was based on its provider network — essentially the depth of its bench — and MCNA said disclosing that info would divulge “trade secrets.” But the info is publicly available, in bits and pieces through specific searches, on its website.

Delta said it wanted “access to MCNA’s network data in the exact format that it was submitted to (Healthy Kids)” to independently verify its bid.

“If the information was not accurately presented or formatted, a small variation in office address, county or office hours can result in duplicate counting of providers,” its filing said.

MCNA moved to block the release of records. “Delta is a corporate competitor only interested in raiding MCNA for its statutorily protected trade secrets,” the company said in another filing.

Gievers called MCNA’s trade-secret claims “non-credible and border on the frivolous.”

“The purpose of having a network of providers is so that people will know who the providers are for them to see … (it’s) information that will be made available to the public,” she wrote.

An MCNA spokesperson had not responded to a request for comment as of Monday afternoon.

Thomas Crapps, a former administrative law judge and past law partner to Florida legal legend Dexter Douglass, represents Delta Dental.

Ken Bell, a former Florida Supreme Court justice who’s now a partner in the Gunster law firm, represents MCNA. Its general counsel is Carlos Lacasa, a former Florida House appropriations chair (2000-02) and past chair of state-run Citizens Property Insurance.

And former Texas governor and Energy Secretary-designate Rick Perry is on MCNA’s board of directors. He lobbied Gov. Rick Scott on dental care issues earlier this year on behalf of the company.

Gievers’ order is here.

Nick DiCeglie

Nick DiCeglie: “I’m casting my vote for Donald Trump”

Just in case there was any doubt, Electoral College member Nick DiCeglie says yes, he’s still voting for President-elect Donald Trump.

The Pinellas County Republican Party Chairman spoke with reporters Sunday night before Monday’s Electoral College meeting in the Capitol.

He’s also sure none of his colleagues will be defecting, either.

“The state party selects all the electors and they do that very carefully,” DiCeglie said. “I have 100 percent confidence that Donald Trump will get 29 electoral votes tomorrow,” the number of Florida’s GOP electors.

Other GOP electors include state Rep. Larry Ahern, lobbyist Brian Ballard, state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, state Rep. and Republican Party of Florida chair Blaise Ingoglia, Senate President Joe Negron and state Rep. Carlos Trujillo.

That’s not to say DiCeglie hasn’t received “thousands of letters, thousands of emails” asking him to reconsider. He showed reporters a picture of his home postbox filled with mail on Thursday.

“It’s ‘vote for Hillary (Clinton), she won the popular vote,’ it’s “please don’t vote for Trump, he’s dangerous for the country’ … that’s the feedback I’ve been getting,” he said. “Folks want to voice their opinions; I’m totally OK with that.”

He even got a request to vote for a “unity ticket” of Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich for president and Democratic Virginia U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine for vice president. Kasich was a GOP presidential candidate; Kaine was Clinton’s running mate.

But, DiCeglie added, “I take (seriously) the responsibility of representing the will of the voters here in the state of Florida, and Donald Trump won the state by over 100,000 votes” – almost 113,000 votes to be exact.

The Long Island native has been active with the Pinellas Republican Party since 2009, and its chair since 2014. He’s the co-owner of Solar Sanitation, a solid waste collection company serving Pinellas residents since 1980.

The Electoral College meets at 2 p.m. in the Senate chamber. Depending on reports, anywhere from 200 to 1,000 protesters are expected to converge on Tallahassee to voice their displeasure with Trump’s election.

Though Trump won only 62,958,211 votes to Clinton’s 65,818,318 votes, he captured 306 electoral votes, more than the 270 to take the White House. Clinton has 232 electoral votes.

“Most of these folks, I would assume, are Democrats,” DiCeglie said of those urging him to flip his electoral vote.

“I do think this is part of an organized effort to undermine Donald Trump’s victory. This is something that is not going to go away … Republicans should get used to that.”

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