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Staff Reports

GOP Attorney General hopeful leans on prominent Democrat for fundraising help

The Republican primary for Attorney General is starting to heat up — and every dollar counts.

For former Hillsborough Circuit Court judge Ashley Moody, there is a remarkably catholic approach to where those dollars come from.

Even liberal Democrats — such as mentor Martha Barnett, the reliably liberal former President of the American Bar Association — are rainmaking for Moody.

Moody ghostwrote publications and speeches for Barnett, who was head of the ABA when President George W. Bush stopped consulting the ABA on judicial nominees.

However, a fundraising email from Barnett for a fundraiser today in Tallahassee was self-penned.

Between committee money and campaign account money, Moody had roughly $980,000 on hand at the end of September.

A candidate can’t have enough money, of course. But one expects that as this race heats up, the Moody-Barnett connection will be explored — or perhaps exploited — by opponents running to her right in a GOP primary where ideological flexibility likely will not be celebrated.

Special election ordered to replace Jeff Clemens

A special primary election to replace former Sen. Jeff Clemens will be held Jan. 30, with a special general election April 10, meaning Senate District 31 will have no representation during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order, announced Monday night, calling for the special elections. The 2018 Session is slated to run Jan. 9-March 9.

Clemens, a 47-year-old Lake Worth Democrat, resigned Oct. 27—less than a day after news that he had had an extramarital affair with a South Florida lobbyist.

He was the Senate’s Democratic Leader-designate, having been first elected in 2012 after one term in the House.

The election dates matched a request by Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher, a former Democratic state House member.

Former state Rep. Irv Slosberg has said he will run for the open Senate seat, as has current state Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat. 

Other Democrats expressing an interest in the seat include state Rep. David Silvers and Delray Beach Mayor Cary Glickstein.

The winner of the special election would serve the remainder of the term Clemens’ won last year, which runs through Election Day 2020.

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this report.

FWC chair Brian Yablonski to join Montana-based environmental think tank

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Chair Brian Yablonski is leaving Florida to become executive director of the Property and Environment Research Center based in Bozeman, Montana.

Founded in 1980, PERC is a national conservation research institute that focuses on entrepreneurship and market-based solutions to environmental problems. Yablonski replaces Reed Watson, who is leaving to accept a position at Clemson University.

Yablonski, a part-time Montana resident, begins his new role in January.

“On behalf of the state of Florida, we truly appreciate Brian’s service. His focus has helped make this a great place for families to live, work and enjoy the outdoors,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement Monday. “I am confident Brian will continue to work to conserve our nation’s natural treasures. I wish him and his family all the best in this next endeavor.”

Yablonski began his service to the FWC in January 2004 and has held positions as vice chairman and chairman. He will continue to serve in his current role through the end of this year.

“I can think of no one better-suited for this important role with PERC,” said Nick Wiley, FWC Executive Director. “We know more great things are on the horizon for America’s fish and wildlife resources and habitats, and we cannot thank Chairman Yablonski enough for his leadership and conservation legacy with the FWC.”

Yablonski’s leadership on the Commission has been grounded in his attention to Florida’s diverse wildlife and unique habitats. In a state with over 20 million residents and 100 million visitors, he understood the importance of engaging landowners, anglers, hunters, sportsmen, wildlife and bird watchers, hikers, paddlers and recreational boaters while focusing on common ground.

During his 14 years at FWC, Yablonski worked to create new critical wildlife areas, provide landowners and citizens with more conservation incentives – including a constitutional amendment providing tax relief for conservation – and support freedoms and opportunities for current and future generations to enjoy Florida’s natural resources.

In 2009, Yablonski was named Florida’s Wildlife Conservationist of the Year by the Florida Wildlife Federation, and in 2016 he was the recipient of Audubon Florida’s Theodore Roosevelt Award.

“It has been a true lifetime honor and privilege to work with my fellow Commissioners and FWC staff, the best in the nation, as we’ve engaged with stakeholders, partners and residents on the important issues impacting wild Florida,” Yablonski said. “Florida has been my home for more than 25 years. Its great beauty, bountiful fish and wildlife resources, and good friends working in the stewardship arena, will always have a special place in my heart. To serve on behalf of our fish and wildlife in a state that served as an inspiration for Theodore Roosevelt has made all the difference. I will reflect fondly on our efforts and successes here in Florida as I engage in new and exciting ways to advance the cause of conservation.”

More information on PERC is at PERC.org.

Gov. Scott to push ‘major’ tax cuts in 3 cities Monday

Gov. Rick Scott will visit Fort Myers, Sanford and Jacksonville Monday — and he will be promoting what his office calls “major” tax cuts that add up to $180 million in potential savings.

Among the proposals: a 10-day back-to-school tax holiday, three week-long storm prep tax holidays and cutting the prices of drivers’ license renewals from $48 to $20.

The back-to-school tax holiday in 2017 was just one weekend, and this is clearly an expansion of that concept. The same held true for the disaster prep tax holiday.

Though there are worries, especially in the light of Hurricane Irma, that the state is going to have a tighter budget year than it would otherwise, Scott clearly is undeterred in pushing for these proposals.

Gov. Scott, in addressing other proposals such as his environmental budget, has justified his spending proposals by saying “the big thing today is we have the money to do these things.

“I am proud to announce today that during the upcoming Legislative Session, I will fight to cut $180 million in taxes for families. This includes sales tax holidays to help families get prepared for the school year and for hurricane season, which is especially important following the devastation we saw from Hurricane Irma.

“I am also proposing to roll back many driver’s license fees, which will put money back into pockets of virtually every Florida family. These fees were raised in 2009 before I came into office, and I am proud to cut them by more than 58 percent to help every Floridian when they renew their license,” Scott added.

“Over the past seven years, we have worked relentlessly to turn around Florida’s economy and the results are clear – our unemployment rate has dropped to a more than ten year low of 3.8 percent, business have created more than 1.3 million private sector jobs and we have been able to make historic investments in education, transportation and our environment,” Scott continued.

“All of this was accomplished while cutting taxes more than 75 times, saving more than $7.5 billion for Florida families and job creators. Cutting taxes works and the rest of the nation needs to follow Florida’s lead. I am also fighting to make it harder for politicians to raise taxes in the future and I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session on these proposals,” Scott maintained.

The gaggles in these three cities may be more memorable than the actual proposals; expect Gov. Scott to get hammered with questions about his extension of “prayers” via Twitter after a mass shooting in a Texas church Sunday, and questions about the latest round of alleged sex scandals in Tallahassee.

Legal battle stalls high-end townhomes in downtown St. Pete

A luxury townhome community in downtown St. Petersburg is now on hold from a legal battle between developer and builder, which reacted to an alleged payment default by getting the city to suspend the project’s permits.

Neil Rauenhorst, a licensed architect, real-estate broker and construction financial officer, is the head of Tampa-based NJR Property Investments. The website for NJR Investment & Development Company LLC website describes Rausenhorst as “one of the most active and prominent developers in the Bay area over the past 25 years.”

In 2015, Rauenhorst announced plans to build Regent Lane Townhomes, a “gated townhome community a block and a half from bustling Beach Drive” Peregrine is a St. Petersburg-based construction company hired as general contractors to build Regent Lane. Matthew Foster and Brian Baack are Peregfrine’s co-managers.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported in 2015, Regent Lane was the “third low-rise residential project announced or under construction” in the Beach Drive area. The site is across the street from the location that restaurant and hotel owner Steve Gianfilippo intended to build a series of “New York-style brownstones priced from $1.3 million to $1.8 million.”

Each of Regent Lane’s planned 2,335-square-foot homes would be four stories high with three bedrooms, 3.5-baths, private elevator, roof deck and a two-car garage. Asking prices were to range from $848,500 to $928,000.

“I think the market right now is attractive in many aspects,” Rauenhorst told the Times. “High-rise condominiums are under development, mid-rise and high-rise apartments are under development, townhomes are under development. I think we’re looking at a very strong market from all of those segments.”

Court records show a certificate suggesting the original contract amount was $6.5-million to build 20 townhomes at “400 Regent Lane” and ascend to “438 Regent Lane.”

The homes were planned to be ready for occupancy within a year.

However, in September 2017, NJR Property notified Peregrine Homes that Peregrine was in default for failing to complete the project on time.

According to a case filed Oct. 24 in Pinellas County Circuit Court, after NJR rejected a payment request, Peregrine “improperly” told subcontractors to suspend all work, and asked the City of St. Petersburg building department to suspend all permits – which they did Oct. 20.

Peregrine then filed a $640,208 lien against NJR.

In the suit, NJR is seeking damages for breach of contract and filing a fraudulent lien.

Personnel note: Derek Barrs becomes top commercial vehicle enforcer

Major Derek Barrs now is the state’s Chief of Commercial Vehicle Enforcement, according to a Friday news release from Col. Gene Spaulding, director of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP).

Barrs

Barrs is a 26-year law enforcement veteran who most recently served as the Commander of FHP’s Troop J, which handles commercial vehicle enforcement operations for Florida’s southern region.

“Chief Barrs is a respected leader who is dedicated to accomplishing the mission of ‘A Safer Florida,’ ” Spaulding said in a statement. “(He) brings his strong knowledge of commercial vehicle regulation to this important division of the Florida Highway Patrol.”

He began his career in law enforcement in 1991 with the Madison County Sheriff’s Office as a deputy sheriff.

In 2001, he accepted a Law Enforcement Officer position with the Florida Department of Transportation’s Office of Motor Carrier Compliance. There, he rose to the rank of Captain.

Since July 2011, Barrs has been with FHP. In October 2015 he was promoted to major, serving as Troop J Commander.

Florida Bar creates panels for mental health, children and families

The Florida Bar said it was creating three new committees “to study and develop recommendations …  on supporting attorney mental health and wellness, advancing Florida’s mental health laws, and improving representation for children and families in the courts.”

The Bar announced the moves in a Thursday press release.

“Promoting mental health and wellness for Florida attorneys, improving the court system for parties with mental illness and ensuring children in dependency programs are represented in court are key goals for Florida’s legal community,” said Michael J. Higer, a Miami attorney and president of The Florida Bar.

“The Florida Bar remains steadfastly committed to tackling issues like these that are most impactful to our members, our courts and our justice system.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

— The Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers is working to identify solutions to de-stigmatize mental illness in the legal community, while also working to educate employers, judges and lawyers on how to identify and address and protect the mental health of Florida lawyers.  

Additionally, the committee will study best practices to improve Florida Bar rules and programming to support Florida lawyers and help them better balance personal life and career obligations.

Florida Bar data suggests a clear need for this review. In fact, according to a 2015 Florida Bar membership survey, 33 percent of Florida lawyers believed high stress is a significant challenge within the profession and 32 percent said balancing family and work was also a significant challenge. Overall, 79 percent of Florida lawyers in the same survey believed the legal profession was becoming a less desirable career.

“Lawyers are no strangers to conflict and high-pressure situations, but when left unchecked, the effects can be debilitating to one’s physical and mental health,” said Dori Foster-Morales, chair of the Special Committee on Health and Wellness of Florida lawyers. “Our goal with this committee is to create the right environment and provide the right resources to help our attorneys find success without compromising their health or quality of life.”

Members of the Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness of Florida Lawyers, which includes one non-lawyer member, Rahul Mehra, M.D., a Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist in Tampa, are listed here.

Initial actions taken by the committee already include planning a series of town hall meetings to allow attorneys to speak more openly about the stressful challenges they face. The committee is also exploring the creation of continuing legal education (CLE) courses and law firm toolboxes to improve mental health and wellness education in practices statewide. A complete plan of action is expected to be completed in May 2018.

— The 13-member Special Committee on Mental Health is conducting a comprehensive study of Florida’s mental health laws to make recommendations for improvements and will educate lawyers and judges on best practices and ABA Standards when dealing with clients or other parties with mental illness in the court system.

The unfortunate reality is that people who experience a mental health crisis are more likely to enter the criminal court system rather than get the medical help they need, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  

Data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics also confirms that 64 percent of jailed inmates have a mental health problem, requiring unique approaches to ensuring they have access to representation and/or rehabilitation.

“Those who suffer from mental health problems are far more likely to be placed in correctional facilities and detained longer, in part due to a lack of available resources,” said Judge Steven Leifman, co-chair of The Florida Bar’s Special Committee on Mental Health and a lifetime mental health advocate.

“This committee will take a comprehensive look at how we address mental health in our justice system,” he added. “The result should hopefully be better outcomes for people with mental illnesses and reduced costs to our already overburdened jails and prisons.”

The other co-chair is Judge Melanie G. May of the 4th District Court of Appeal. Members of the Special Committee on Mental Health are listed here.

The Special Committee on Mental Health is scheduled to begin its extensive review this quarter and conclude with a report and proposed set of recommendations to be presented before The Florida Bar Board of Governors by May 2019.

— The Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation is addressing the concurrent need for high quality legal representation for children and parents in dependency proceedings and ensure their safety and well-being.

“Children in dependency programs, no matter their geographic location, deserve high-quality counsel to advocate for their best interest,” said former Attorney General Bob Butterworth, chair of the Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation. “This committee will bring to fruition the Florida Bar’s years of work on dependent child representation.”

The committee was born out of the need for more uniformity across Florida’s jurisdictions so that all children and families can have access to quality counsel and representation.

Currently, justice for children is often determined by geography and foster children who live in counties that fund legal aid programs are far more likely to have lawyers than those who do not. This committee will make recommendations for uniform training, oversight and guidance of attorneys representing dependent children, so that no child is left without a court-appointed advocate.

The 29-member Special Committee on Child and Parent Representation is co-chaired by Florida Bar past presidents Jesse H. Diner of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney in Fort Lauderdale, Miles A. McGrane III of The McGrane Law Firm in Fort Lauderdale, and Edith G. Osman of Carlton Fields in Miami. Members are listed here.

The committee is scheduled to conclude its work with a report and proposed set of recommendations by May 2018.

Rick Scott proposes $200M for adoption of foster kids

Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t roll out his entire proposed budget Thursday at AP Day, yet he floated a proposal that likely will meet no objection.

The governor proposed $200 million for families who adopt children from foster care. This money will continue post-adoption services for more than 37,000 children.

Adoptions have gone up since Scott took office; 3,600 children were adopted from foster care last year, according to the state’s executive office.

“Every November, we take time to recognize the many families across the state who have opened their hearts and homes to adopt children in need,” Gov. Scott said. “This Florida Adoption Month, I am proud to propose a nearly $200 million investment as part of my 2018-2019 recommended budget to support children adopted from foster care.

“Every child deserves a loving family and adoptive parents have a unique opportunity to help change a child’s life for the better,” he asserted.

“Being adopted into safe homes with loving families changes the lives of children and also transforms the forever families they join. Continued support after adoption enables more families to open their hearts and homes to children who are available for adoption,” added Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll.

This is a developing story. 

Personnel note: Dan Newman joins Capital City Consulting

Dan Newman, the Florida Democratic Party’s former House Victory Director, will join the Capital City Consulting lobbying firm in Tallahassee, the firm said Wednesday.

Newman served as the Caucus Director for House Democratic Campaigns from the end of 2013 through June 2017 under Democratic Leaders Perry Thurston, Mark Pafford and Janet Cruz.

“He oversaw record fundraising for House campaigns in 2014 and the addition of several seats in 2016,” a statement said.

Prior to managing House campaigns, Newman helped run the successful judicial retention campaigns of Justices R. Fred LewisBarbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince on the Florida Supreme Court.

In 2010, Newman served as statewide political director for the unsuccessful Alex Sink for Governor campaign, coordinating her outreach to elected officials, 67 county parties, labor unions, trade associations and key constituencies.

From 2003-07, Newman worked in the political department of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, alongside the legendary Marian Johnson.

There, he helped coordinate a $6 million program culminating in the successful passage of 2006’s Amendment 3, which increased the number of votes needed to approve a proposed constitutional amendment from 50-percent-plus-one majority to a 60 percent supermajority.

Newman started in The Process as an intern at the Fowler White firm for lobbyists Mac Stipanovich and Kim McGlynn.

The Richmond, Virginia native is a 1999 graduate of Princeton University and now lives in Tallahassee with this family.

Palm Beach Post to be sold, newspaper says

The company that owns The Palm Beach Post and Palm Beach Daily News on Tuesday said it plans to sell the papers.

Cox Media Group also said it would sell the Austin-American Statesman and a group of Texas community newspapers.

“As the media business continues to change, we must adapt our business strategy to navigate these disruptive times for the benefit of our entire media portfolio,” said Cox Media President Kim Guthrie in a statement.

“We have made the decision that we will be better equipped to operate our newspapers in Atlanta and Ohio, where we have the integrated opportunity with our TV and radio operations.”

Cox owns the Atlanta-Journal ConstitutionDayton Daily News, and an assortment of radio and television stations across the country.

“We are deeply grateful to the employees in Austin and Palm Beach for the great work they have done over the years,” Guthrie added.

“The Post marks its 102nd anniversary in January and the Daily News is celebrating its 120th anniversary this year,” according to The Post. “Both newspapers have been Cox properties since 1969.”

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