Jim Rosica, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 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.

Julie Brown, Gary Clark to stay on PSC

Incumbents Julie Brown and Gary Clark are staying on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday said he had reappointed the two to serve another four-year term each. His picks are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The five-member panel regulates the state’s investor-owned utilities.

Clark, 50, of Chipley, had been Deputy Secretary of land and recreation at the Department of Environmental Protection.

Brown, 43, of Tampa, previously was Associate Legal Counsel for First American Title Insurance Co., and an assistant city attorney for the City of Tampa.

They were among six names sent to Scott for consideration by the Public Service Commission Nominating Council. The position pays $132,000 a year and is based in Tallahassee.

Brown’s and Clark’s current terms expire at the end of the year. The Florida Constitution forbids commissioners from serving more than three four-year terms.

Brown first joined the panel in 2011; Clark was tapped by Scott last year.

He is finishing the term of now-CFO Jimmy Patronis, himself named by the governor to replace Jeff Atwater as state chief financial officer.

Atwater left elected office early to work for Florida Atlantic University.

Personnel note: Rachel Nordby joins Shutts & Bowen

Rachel Nordby, who’s been a deputy solicitor general for Attorney General Pam Bondi, is heading to the Shutts & Bowen law firm as a partner in the Tallahassee office, the firm announced Friday.

Nordby, who starts Sept. 10, will be vice chair of the firm’s Appellate Practice Group.

Her hire follows another recent high-profile addition from state government: Ben Gibson, a former deputy general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, joined the firm as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

“Shutts & Bowen is Florida’s oldest statewide law firm, founded in 1910 when Henry Flagler recruited his favorite lawyer, Frank Shutts, to relocate to Miami and handle legal affairs for his railroad and resort hotels,” said Jason Gonzalez, managing partner of the Tallahassee office.

“With the hiring of Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson, we are carrying on Flagler’s tradition of recruiting the best legal talent in Florida.”

Nordby, a 2008 graduate of the Florida State University College of Law, is married to Daniel Nordby, currently general counsel to Scott — and a former Shutts partner. As general counsel, he’s Scott’s top legal advisor holds great sway over who Scott taps for judicial appointments.

Gonzalez himself is a former general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida and to Gov. Charlie Crist, whom he advised on four state Supreme Court appointments: Charles CanadyRicky PolstonJorge Labarga, and James E.C. Perry.

“I hired Dan Nordby, Rachel Nordby and Ben Gibson as my law clerks when they were in law school over a decade ago,” Gonzalez said.

“Rachel and Dan have become hands-down the most talented husband and wife lawyer duo in this state,” he added. “Just look at the cases they have won at the highest courts and the clients they have been representing (the governor and attorney general). It’s an amazing record of winning.”

To name a few, those cases include successful defenses of Florida’s teacher evaluation policies, the state’s fuel tax policy (challenged by the Seminole Tribe of Florida), and the Communications Services Tax and Tax Credit Scholarship Program, Gonzalez said.

Rachel Nordby was less successful on another high-profile case this year: She was on the team of lawyers that lost a challenge organized by Orlando attorney John Morgan of the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana. That decision is now under appeal, however.

Alan Crotzer, exonerated after 24 years, back in jail

Incarceration isn’t supposed to be a birthright, but it’s as though it has become one for Alan Crotzer.

The St. Petersburg native became a cause célèbre when, in January 2006, DNA evidence led to his exoneration of robbery and rape charges after 24 years in prison.

Now, records show Crotzer — who had moved to Tallahassee after leaving prison — has been in the Leon County Jail since March 21. He’s accused of breaking curfew, which violated his probation on a charge of possessing the drug sometimes known as “flakka.”

And the 57-year-old has had successive brushes with the law since his exoneration, including an attempted murder charge in Tallahassee that was dropped in 2015. A message was left Thursday morning with his longtime attorney, Tom Powell, also of Tallahassee.

At a 2015 news conference, Crotzer told reporters he wasn’t “that monster they keep trying to make me out to be.”

“I’m not going to be that monster,” he said. “I’m trying to do the right thing.”

Crotzer received a $1.25 million settlement from the state as compensation for his wrongful conviction, signed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. It “included a $250,000 lump sum payment and $6,700 a month for 20 years,” according to the Tampa Bay Times.

For years, Crotzer has said “he’s felt like police and prosecutors have targeted him since his release from state prison,” the Tampa Tribune reported.

“I’ve been told by several people, don’t even jaywalk, don’t spit on the sidewalk,” he said in 2015. He returned to that theme in a May 31 handwritten letter he sent to the court while he was in jail.

His wife, Quebella Shabazz Small, divorced him in 2011. He explained how he’s now the single parent of a 4-year-old daughter. (It’s not clear whether she’s back with her mother or in state custody.)

Crotzer also said he has lost jobs because of the curfew imposed under his probation and his car was stolen from the parking lot of his condo complex, but all the while he “didn’t complain.”

“I pay taxes. I vote. I give back when I can. But I ask myself if I am being treated fair and impartial and without bias by law enforcement and by the judicial system?” he wrote to Circuit Judge Robert Wheeler. “Am I being judged today because of my 2006 exoneration?

“… The wrong done and being done to me cannot be made right by wronging me again,” he added. “If that be the mindset … then the justice system … no longer works.”

A violation of probation hearing is set for 2 p.m. Aug. 30, court dockets show.

Cost to protect Rick Scott rises to $2.5 million

Protecting Gov. Rick Scott cost the state $2.5 million last fiscal year, up from $2.3 million the year before.

That’s according to a new report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The combined cost to guard the governor, First Lady Ann Scott, their family, and the Governor’s Mansion and grounds was roughly $3.25 million in 2017-18, up more than a quarter-million dollars from 2016-17 ($2.99 million).

The annual Report of Transportation and Protective Services, released Wednesday, also shows individual costs for 37 protective details for “visiting dignitaries.”

All costs include agents’ and officers’ salary and any overtime, plus the cost of transportation and other expenses. That total was about $50,000.

That’s down from last fiscal year, when 75 protective details were performed at a cost of $304,000, last year’s report shows.

For example, the Feb. 20-21 visit from U.S. Second Lady Karen Pence – who gets Secret Service protection – came in at just $406.

The most expensive visit was March 23-27, by Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and his family: $6,553. It was listed as “personal.”

State law authorizes security and transportation for anyone “whom the failure to provide security or transportation could result in a clear and present danger to the personal safety of such persons, or to the safety of other persons or property within this state, or could result in public embarrassment to the state.”

Ryan Torrens strikes back, sues Sean Shaw for libel

Democratic candidate for Attorney General Ryan Torrens has countersued primary opponent Sean Shaw for libel, saying Shaw injured his “reputation in the legal profession and as a candidate for public office.”

Shaw sued first last month to have Torrens kicked off the ballot, alleging the Tampa lawyer 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.

Torrens lodged the counterclaim in his answer to Shaw’s complaint, filed Tuesday in Leon County Circuit Civil court. Both men are lawyers.

“By erroneously raising these false claims (in his lawsuit), my opponent falsely and frivolously challenged my integrity as a professional and as someone aspiring to public office, and that of my wife,” Torrens said in a Wednesday statement.

“In addition, I have exercised my right to request a jury trial on our libel claim for damages against my primary opponent.”

Torrens, a consumer-rights attorney in Tampa, called Shaw’s lawsuit “frivolous,” noting Florida courts have never removed a candidate from the ballot for the reasons Shaw cited in his complaint.

The suit is “a sad attempt to confuse voters during a primary election after absentee ballots have already been sent out,” Torrens said.

A Shaw campaign spokesman said the candidate had “no comment” on Torrens’ countersuit.

Torrens’ campaign treasurer Jessica Vasconez has acknowledged that the campaign received a $4,000 contribution from Francesca Yabraian, Torrens’ wife. The maximum permitted for a statewide candidate is $3,000.

“The check … was drawn on our joint account,” Torrens said previously. “(T)his was a case in which my money was being transferred to my campaign, and as all candidates know, there is no limit on the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on his or her own campaign.”

On Wednesday, he added: “With his years of public service, I really expected better” of Shaw, formerly the state’s

“If he wants to keep wasting money in the courts on frivolous cases, like Attorney General Pam Bondi has done, then that’s his decision. I will continue to campaign across the state and talk about the issues Floridians are worried about.

“It’s a shame as this suit will only tear down this critical election season.”

Personnel note: Devin Galetta now deputy comm’s to CFO Jimmy Patronis

Devin Galetta now is deputy communications director to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, reporting to Anna Alexopoulos Farrar.

“I’m excited that Devin is part of the team,” she said. “He is a thoughtful, steady, smart communications professional. I’ve worked with him over the years, and he knows this office and will be an asset to the CFO.”

Galetta

Galetta started at the Department of Financial Services when he was still in college at Florida State University, working as an administrative assistant, according to his LinkedIn page. 

He later became a Marketing and Communications Specialist there, before leaving in 2014.

Galetta also has been Assistant Director of Media, Communications, and Marketing for FSU Libraries.

He also was the state Health Department’s Media and Marketing Manager before a brief, recent run as the agency’s interim communications director. 

The Tallahassee native, a Amos P. Godby High School graduate, received his undergraduate degree in political science from FSU in 2008.

Former Supreme Court justice challenges constitutional amendments

Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead is challenging six proposed constitutional amendments on grounds they violate voters’ First Amendment rights.

Anstead, who served on the Supreme Court 1994-2009, on Tuesday filed a petition with the court for 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 court did not immediately accept jurisdiction but later Tuesday “requested” Detzner to respond to the petition “no later than 5 p.m. (next) Monday.”

Anstead is challenging six of the eight amendments placed on the ballot by the 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), because each one “bundles independent and unrelated proposals in a single ballot question.”

That “requires a voter to vote ‘yes’ for a proposal that the voter opposes in order to vote ‘yes’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter supports, and to vote ‘no’ for a proposal the voter supports in order to vote ‘no’ for an independent and unrelated proposal the voter opposes,” the petition says.

“This is logrolling and 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,” it says.

“This court has long acknowledged that a ballot question that requires a voter to vote ‘no’ to support a measure the voter approves cannot remain on the ballot.”

Anstead, an appointee of the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles and chief justice in 2002-04, filed the petition with former High Springs City Commissioner Robert J. Barnas.

They’re represented by Joseph Little, a retired professor of the University of Florida’s law school and a constitutional scholar.

The amendments at issue, by ballot title and summary, are:

Amendment 6 — Rights of Crime Victims (also known as “Marsy’s Law”); Judges.

“Creates constitutional rights for victims of crime; requires courts to facilitate victims’ rights; authorizes victims to enforce their rights throughout criminal and juvenile justice processes. Requires judges and hearing officers to independently interpret statutes and rules rather than deferring to government agency’s interpretation. Raises mandatory retirement age of state justices and judges from seventy to seventy-five years; deletes authorization to complete judicial term if one-half of term has been served by retirement age.”

Amendment 7 — First Responder and Military Member Survivor Benefits; Public Colleges and Universities.

“Grants mandatory payment of death benefits and waiver of certain educational expenses to qualifying survivors of certain first responders and military members who die performing official duties. Requires supermajority votes by university trustees and state university system board of governors to raise or impose all legislatively authorized fees if law requires approval by those bodies. Establishes existing state college system as constitutional entity; provides governance structure.”

Amendment 8 — School Board Term Limits and Duties; Public Schools.

“Creates a term limit of eight consecutive years for school board members and requires the legislature to provide for the promotion of civic literacy in public schools. Currently, district school boards have a constitutional duty to operate, control, and supervise all public schools. The amendment maintains a school board’s duties to public schools it establishes, but permits the state to operate, control, and supervise public schools not established by the school board.”

Amendment 9 — Prohibits Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling; Prohibits Vaping in Enclosed Indoor Workplaces.

“Prohibits drilling for the exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas beneath all state-owned waters between the mean high water line and the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. Adds use of vapor-generating electronic devices to current prohibition of tobacco smoking in enclosed indoor workplaces with exceptions; permits more restrictive local vapor ordinances.”

Amendment 10 — State and Local Government Structure and Operation.

“Requires legislature to retain department of veterans’ affairs. Ensures election of sheriffs, property appraisers, supervisors of elections, tax collectors, and clerks of court in all counties; removes county charters’ ability to abolish, change term, transfer duties, or eliminate election of these offices. Changes annual legislative session commencement date in even-numbered years from March to January; removes legislature’s authorization to fix another date. Creates office of domestic security and counterterrorism within department of law enforcement.”

Amendment 11 — Property Rights; Removal of Obsolete Provision; Criminal Statutes.

“Removes discriminatory language related to real property rights. Removes obsolete language repealed by voters. Deletes provision that amendment of a criminal statute will not affect prosecution or penalties for a crime committed before the amendment; retains current provision allowing prosecution of a crime committed before the repeal of a criminal statute.”

Another CRC amendment banning betting on dog races already has been invalidated by a circuit judge and is under appeal at the Supreme Court.

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Rick Scott: State debt reduced by more than $10B

State debt has been paid down by more than $10 billion since December 2010, Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday.

His office said that’s the largest reduction of state debt during one administration in Florida’s history.

“In Florida, we’ve shown that you can have a balanced budget, reduce debt and create jobs all while cutting taxes,” Scott said in a statement.

The term-limited Republican from Naples now is running to replace Democrat Bill Nelson as Florida’s other U.S. senator besides Republican Marco Rubio.

“Since 2011, our unemployment has dropped by more than 7 percent, and we’ve created more than 1.5 million jobs,” Scott said. “This incredible turnaround is proof that when you cut taxes and invest in what’s important to families and businesses, everyone succeeds.

“I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made over the past seven and a half years and all the work we’ve done to make sure that every Florida family has the opportunity to live the ‘American Dream’ in the Sunshine State.”

In June, Scott announced that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Florida’s General Obligation (GO) bond rating to Aaa, and for the first time in the history of Florida, all three rating agencies now have Florida’s GO bond rating at AAA.

State has spent $2M on legal bills for medical marijuana

As it defends a slew of cases over medical marijuana, the state of Florida has spent close to $2 million on outside lawyers. Nearly all of that went to one firm.

Records reviewed last week show at least $1.9 million approved by the Department of Health (DOH) going to two law firms — mostly Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli, but also Shutts & Bowen.

The contracts, which were usually amended for increasing amounts of money, were posted on Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System, or FACTS. It’s an “online tool developed to make the government contracting process in Florida more transparent.”

Meantime, medicinal cannabis advocates – including Orlando lawyer John Morgan – have called on term-limited Gov. Rick Scott to drop appeals of cannabis-related rulings that went against the state. That includes a case that Morgan backed, challenging the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

“Enough is enough, drop YOUR #MedicalMarijuana appeal,” Morgan said in a May 29 tweet that he has pinned to his Twitter page. “Do it for the PEOPLE!”

Paying big bucks for hired legal guns isn’t surprising: Under Scott “and other top Florida Republicans,” the state has “quietly spent more than $237 million on private lawyers to advance and defend their agendas,” the Associated Press reported last year.

That figure doesn’t include the nearly $16 million “Florida taxpayers have been forced to reimburse (for) opponents’ private attorney fees” when the state has lost, the AP said.

A request for comment with a Health Department spokesman was pending as of late Friday. It regulates the drug through its Office of Medical Marijuana Use.

Its director, Christian Bax, worked his last day Friday after tendering his resignation last month. Deputy director Courtney Coppola will serve as interim head. And the department’s general counsel, Nichole Geary, who signed the legal-work contracts, also has resigned. She leaves later this month.

*                    *                    *

Contracts for outside legal work on medical marijuana begin in March 2015, with a $230,000 deal to the Vezina, Lawrence & Piscitelli law firm of Tallahassee, for “legal representation to DOH in a rule challenge.” Total paid: $219,568.09. 

Dahlia Barnhart, a then 4-year-old with a brain tumor, and her mother, Moriah Barnhart, challenged the department in order to “expedite … (patients’) access to low THC cannabis.”

This was before passage of the state’s constitutional amendment authorizing medical marijuana, but after lawmakers OK’d use of low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help severely ill children. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through the “Right to Try Act,” which includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

The state won the case, with an administrative law judge finding among other things that the Barnharts alleged “insufficient facts … to show (Dahlia) would be substantially affected.”

Moriah Barnhart recently told the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau “she is still getting her daughter’s medical marijuana from out of state,” adding that she’s “never gotten a legal product from the state of Florida.”

The same law firm, in August 2015, also inked a contract eventually worth $1.275 million for “legal proceedings.” Total paid: $1,053,836.46.

Services include reviewing and analyzing files, attending meetings and preparing any court filings needed, the contract shows. For example, the firm has represented the state in administrative hearings on other medical marijuana rule challenges.  

Moreover, partner W. Robert Vezina III is listed as attorney of record for the department in an Okaloosa County lawsuit. That’s over whether a medical marijuana license preference for black farmers should include “Native American farmers and ranchers.”

The firm scored a third contract, similar to the second, worth a total of $700,000 in February 2017. Total paid: $540,721.34. 

*                    *                    *

A fourth contract found on the FACTS system shows an August 2017 deal potentially worth $300,000 for the Shutts law firm, which has an office in Tallahassee. Total paid: $177,990.24. 

For instance, the firm helped represent the state in the lawsuit brought by Tampa strip club mogul, free speech fighter and medical marijuana patient Joe Redner.

Redner is suing the state to be allowed to grow his own marijuana and make juice of it; his doctor recommended fresh juice as the best way to keep his lung cancer in remission. He won at trial, but the state is appealing.

The firm has connections to Scott: Ben Gibson, a former lawyer to the governor, joined the firm this summer as a partner in its Business Litigation Practice Group in Tallahassee.

Gibson served as Deputy General Counsel and Assistant General Counsel to Scott for nearly five years, “helping advise the governor on the appointment of more than 120 judges to Florida’s courts.”

Mike Carroll quits as head of Florida’s child-welfare agency

Mike Carroll, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), will quit his post effective Sept. 6, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office announced Friday.

“Mike embodies the ideals and mission of the Department … and has devoted nearly three decades to improve and change the lives of Florida’s vulnerable children and families,” the governor said in a statement.

“Mike’s tenure as secretary is the longest in DCF’s 21-year history,” he added. Carroll was appointed in December 2014.

He inherited a system documented earlier that year, by the Miami Herald’s “Innocents Lost” investigation, as “clearly broken, leaving children unprotected and at risk.”

Carroll worked at DCF and its predecessor, the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS), since January 1990. Scott, who is term-limited and leaving office in January, did not immediately name his replacement.

The press release from Scott’s office said Carroll oversaw “expanded substance abuse treatment services statewide, including medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders; achieved record numbers of adoptions; (and) championed anti-human trafficking efforts,” among other achievements.

“Throughout his career, Mike has focused on innovative solutions to complicated problems, finding ways to enable better outcomes for children and families,” Scott said.

But lowlights during Carroll’s tenure include a foster child hanging herself while broadcasting it on social media. Naika Venant, a 14-year-old Miami-Dade County girl who was in and out of foster care starting in 2009, killed herself last year during a Facebook Live video.

“This case is kind of symptomatic of what we deal with,” he later told a state Senate committee. “Many of these kids have cracks … they’re broken, they’re in pieces …

“We’re charged as a state agency to put those pieces back together. And we aren’t always able to do that. And that’s the most tragic thing about our work.”

Two years before that, lawmakers heard results of a study into a series of missteps by DCF leading up to the father of 5-year-old Phoebe Jonchuck throwing her off a bridge into Tampa Bay.

“The DCF report concluded Phoebe was subjected to a storm of mental health issues, substance abuse and domestic violence in her short life,” the Tampa Tribune reported.

Carroll told legislators he responded by “requiring abuse hot-line counselors to have a four-year college degree and undergo 13 weeks of training, including nine weeks in a classroom,” the paper reported.

“Getting (employees) who are qualified to do this work and then getting them to stay on the job is a challenge,” Carroll said. “It is very stressful work. The work hours are incredible and not predictable … and you always work with a level of uncertainty.

“Every family you address, every home you walk into, you’re asked to make decisions … and you think you make the right decisions but when you walk out of that home, you never know.”

And a 133-page internal review commissioned by Carroll in 2016 depicted a dysfunctional agency, with workers feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

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