Florida Supreme Court Archives - Page 2 of 40 - Florida Politics

Florida Supreme Court upholds ban on openly carrying guns

The Florida Supreme Court says there’s nothing wrong with a state law that bans openly carrying handguns.

In a 4-2 decision Thursday, the court rejected a claim that the law is unconstitutional because it restricts the federally protected right to bear arms.

Concealed weapons permit holder Dale Norman was arrested by Fort Pierce police in 2012 because his gun was visible as he walked down a sidewalk.

He was convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor but appealed his conviction.

Florida hasn’t allowed guns to be openly carried in public for decades, although the Legislature is considering bills this year that would grant that right.

Similar bills failed last year.

Supreme Court suspends judge considered by House impeachment panel

A North Florida judge used as an example by a House panel looking into impeachment of public officials has been suspended for six months by the Florida Supreme Court.

Decker

The court’s 46-page decision, released Thursday, also orders 3rd Circuit Judge Andrew Decker to get a public reprimand and pay investigative costs. A judicial misconduct hearing panel had recommended the same, but only a 90-day suspension.

Decker had been under investigation for three years for alleged attorney-ethical lapses before he was elected a judge in 2012.

State Rep. Larry Metz, chair of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, has been critical of the court for sitting on the case for over a year without taking final action.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices Peggy A. Quince, Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and C. Alan Lawson concurred in the per curiam ruling.

Justice Barbara Pariente also concurred but wrote a separate opinion, joined by R. Fred Lewis, saying “Decker’s ethical missteps as an attorney … are compounded by the false and otherwise unethical statements he made on the campaign trail.”

At the same time, she agreed that “despite his professional misconduct as an attorney, Judge Decker has ably served the citizens of the Third Judicial Circuit since assuming the bench.”

Decker had been charged with a number of ethical breaches as a civil litigation attorney, including not disclosing conflicts of interest to clients in one case and inappropriate communication with an opposing party in another matter.

During his campaign for judge, he took part in a televised debate in which he said he had never been accused of having a conflict of interest. “The statement was false because less than four months earlier, a formal complaint was filed with The Florida Bar by a former client, alleging conflict of interest,” the opinion said.

Moreover, “at a judicial forum sponsored by the Lafayette County Republican Executive Committee, then-attorney Decker stated to the audience that he is a registered Republican, that his former affiliation with the Democratic Party was an error, and that he is ‘pro-life.’ It was alleged that these statements violated the Code of Judicial Conduct,” which also applies to candidates.

Last month, Decker was used a case study by Metz’s panel as it looks into exercising the House’s constitutionally-granted impeachment power.

The Yalaha Republican admitted, however, that the House can only act on “misdemeanors that occur in office,” not on earlier behavior. Metz was not immediately available for comment.

State Rep. Randy Fine, a Brevard County Republican, raised concerns Decker had not been made aware he was going to be used as an example: “It does trouble me we don’t at least (him) know we’re going to be laying out all the bad things (he’s) done.”

“I’m just glad it’s over and I’m sure the judge is too,” said Tampa lawyer Scott Tozian, who representied Decker in the misconduct investigation.

Supreme Court won’t hear FPL’s Turkey Point nuke project appeal

The Florida Supreme Court has declined to hear Florida Power & Light Co.’s appeal of a lower court ruling blocking the company’s plan to build two new nuclear power reactors at Turkey Point.

The court issued an order declining to accept jurisdiction in the case.

The move leaves intact a ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal rejecting the nuclear plant addition.

The city of Miami, Miami-Dade County, and other municipalities in the region had challenged a vote by Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet to allow the project to move forward.

The 3rd DCA said Scott and the Cabinet, sitting as the state Siting Board, had failed to apply Miami’s land regulations and mistakenly thought it lacked authority to order the utility to bury transmission lines.

Judicial term limits, death penalty bills clear final House committee votes

Bills that would require unanimous jury votes to impose the death penalty, and ask voters whether to impose term limits on appellate judges, were headed to the House floor following their approval Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The death penalty bill attracted a single “no” vote, and that was from Democrat Joe Geller, who said he would never again support any proposal that would “keep the horror of a death penalty.”

The judicial term limits bill passed on a vote of 11-8. The only Republicans to vote against it were Jay Fant and George Moraitis Jr.

The committee also approved HB 65, which would allow victims of terrorist acts to sue perpetrators and their enablers in state court; and HB 301, requiring the Florida Supreme Court to report each year to the the governor, attorney general, and legislative leaders the number of cases still pending 180 days after oral argument.

HB 527, the death penalty bill, answers qualms by the Florida Supreme Court about putting people to death absent unanimous jury recommendations. In October, the court struck down a law allowing executions upon 10-2 jury votes.

Only Monday, the court said executions could proceed in cases where that wasn’t a factor.

“We’ve had paralysis in our death penalty cases until yesterday,” said sponsor Chris Sprowls, who chairs the committee.

The Palm Harbor Republican said that, when he was a prosecutor, uncertainty regarding the penalty for murder was painful to victims’ families.

In sending the bill to the floor, “we would do just our small role for these families, in ensuring we have a death penalth statute that is constitutional, legal, and that these cases can move forward.”

The committee voted after death penalty opponents — including a man exonerated after serving on death row, and the mother of a murder victim — argued for abolition of capital punishment.

HJR 1, the term limits bill by Eustis Republican Jennifer Sullivan, would need approval by three-fifths of the House and Senate to appear on the ballot, where it would become a constitutional amendment upon approval by 60 percent of the voters.

It would limit judges of the district courts of appeal and justices of the Florida Supreme Court to 12 years in office.

Representatives of an array of legal groups — including the Florida Bar, the Florida Board of Trial Advocates and the Florida Justice Reform Institute — warned it would discourage bright lawyers from seeking the bench and interfere with judicial independence.

The latter argument struck a cord with Tallahassee Democrat Ramon Alexander.

“There was a time when people who look like me weren’t allowed to vote,” he said. “Because of the independent judiciary, I am afforded the opportunity to sit here today.”

Yalaha Republican Larry Metz said judges should be subject to term limits, the same as governors and legislators.

“With respect to the judiciary, one might argue, well, they’re not policymakers,” he said.

“But I would say that appellate judges in Florida — not all of them, but many of them — act as policymakers; they actually legislate from the bench.”

Supporters including Sullivan argued the bill would promote accountability — and noted that the proposal would merely place the question before the voters.

“At the end of the day, leave it to the voters of Florida decision,” she said.

Redistricting overhaul barely clears second Senate panel

The legislation (SB 352) was OK’d by the Senate Ethics and Election Committee, with all three Democrats on the panel voting no.

The bill is a response to court challenges over the state’s redrawn districts after the 2010 Census.

“The Florida Supreme Court issued eight separate apportionment opinions, the trial court issued additional opinions, and litigation spanned nearly 4 years in the state courts,” a staff analysis said.

“The litigation often proved confusing to candidates hoping to qualify and run for office because the candidates were uncertain where the district boundaries were located,” it added.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Elkton, will next be considered by the Rules Committee.

Florida prosecutors can seek death penalty despite questions

Florida prosecutors can seek the death penalty in ongoing cases despite a state Supreme Court ruling that found a new death penalty law unconstitutional.

The court ruled Monday that the death penalty can be applied as long as there is a unanimous jury recommendation.

It ruled last October that a new state law requiring at least a 10-2 jury recommendation is unconstitutional.

But Monday justices said other aspects of the law are constitutional and prosecutors can proceed in capital punishment cases.

Prosecutors had been in limbo wondering whether the death penalty could be applied. Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the court to clarify.

The court released an opinion last month saying the death penalty couldn’t be applied in pending cases, but then withdrew the opinion hours later.

Bar exam board seeking two lawyer members

The organization responsible for writing the state’s bar examination is looking for two good lawyers.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners has two openings for attorney-members, it said in a Monday news release.

Applicants have to be “practicing lawyers with scholarly attainments” and must have been a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years.

Sorry, judges and law professors are ineligible.

Members have to “attend approximately ten meetings a year in various Florida locations, be willing and able to devote the equivalent of 3-4 days’ work a month, or up to 350 or more hours per year on Board business,” the release added.

Interested? Click here to download the application or call (850) 561-5757 to get one.

Completed applications must be received by the Executive Director, The Florida Bar, 651 East Jefferson St., Tallahassee, Florida, 32399-2300 or submitted via e-mail to <specialapptapp@floridabar.org> no later than close of business on Monday, April 3.

A “screening committee” will recommend six nominees for the two vacancies at its May 26 meeting.

“The nominations will then be forwarded to the Supreme Court to fill two five-year terms commencing November 1, 2017, and expiring on October 31, 2022,” the release said. 

Florida’s bar exam is given twice yearly over two days, in July and February, at the Tampa Convention Center. The next exam is this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Florida abortion waiting period law temporarily blocked

A state Supreme Court order blocking enforcement of Florida’s 24-hour abortion waiting period will remain in place while a lower court determines whether the law is constitutional.

The Florida Supreme Court issued its ruling Thursday, leaving in place its order from 10 months ago.

The court said there’s a strong likelihood that a lower court will determine the law is unconstitutional and the state provided no evidence that the law addresses a compelling state interest.

Gov. Rick Scott signed the waiting period into law in 2015 and it was quickly blocked by a lower court after the ACLU sued.

But an appeals court lifted the injunction a year ago and the law was in effect until the Supreme Court temporarily blocked it two months later.

Supreme Court limits information insurers may demand under PIP policies

The Florida Supreme Court has taken a narrow view of the amount of evidence hospitals and other health care providers are obliged to turn over to insurance companies concerning the reasonableness of personal injury protection claims.

In a unanimous ruling, the court sided with the 1st District Court of Appeal over the 4th District Court of Appeal, which had issued conflicting interpretations of Florida’s PIP statute.

“We conclude that discovery is limited to the production of a written report of the history, condition, treatment, dates, and costs of such treatment of the injured person and why the items identified by the insurer were reasonable in amount and medically necessary, together with a sworn statement, as well as the production, inspection and copying of records regarding such history, condition, treatment, dates, and costs of treatment,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote.

“Furthermore, we agree that (the statute) provides limited pre-litigation discovery into specified information about the treatment and charges for treatment provided to an injured party, and that the discovery tools found in the rules of civil procedure … are not triggered until litigation over the reasonableness of those charges has ensued.”

Justice C. Alan Lawson, who only recently joined the court, did not participate.

The dispute in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Shands Jacksonville Medical Center Inc. centered on the insurer’s attempt to collect information about the treatment afforded 29 insured following auto accidents.

Florida’s PIP statute allows insurers “discovery of fact” — meaning access to provider records to determine whether the treatment was reasonable.

Shands delivered medical records, documents detailing treatments and charges, its Medicare cost report, and data reflecting what other hospitals charged for the same procedures.

Shands refused to turn over copies of third-party documents covering discounts it had negotiated with other carriers. State Farm sued for those records. A trial judge ruled that the company was entitled to them.

The 1st DCA and the 4th DCA, in a similar dispute, disagreed about the amount of information Shands was obliged to turn over. The first court took a narrow view, holding that State Farm was entitled only to records spelled out in subsection 6 (a) — essentially, the information Shands had delivered.

The latter court took a more expansive view, ruling that the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure’s broader discovery rules applied.

The Supreme Court agreed with the 1st DCA that the Legislature intended the statute to afford a “limited pre-litigation procedure for a PIP insurer to obtain specified information about the treatment provided to its insured and the charges for that treatment.”

Supreme Court rejects evidence standard supported by Rick Scott, lawmakers

In yet another rejection of a policy backed by conservative lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Supreme Court Thursday “declined” to change the state’s expert evidence rule to one used by federal courts and most states.

“We decline to adopt the Daubert Amendment to the extent that it is procedural, due to the constitutional concerns raised, which must be left for a proper case or controversy,” said the majority opinion by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

Those concerns include “undermining the right to a jury trial and denying access to courts.”

Florida uses the Frye standard, generally considered easier for plaintiffs to get damaging expert testimony before a jury, while it’s much harder to do so under Daubert.

That’s why Frye is preferred by plaintiffs’ attorneys, and Daubert became a favorite of the defense bar and its big business clients. The Florida Bar’s Board of Governors last year voted to recommend to the court against the change.

Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston, the court’s conservative minority, disagreed with their colleagues. The newest justice, conservative C. Alan Lawson, did not participate in the decision.

Polston, in a dissent in which Canady joined, questioned the majority’s concerns.

“Has the entire federal court system for the last 23 years as well as 36 states denied parties’ rights to a jury trial and access to courts? Do only Florida and a few other states have a constitutionally sound standard for the admissibility of expert testimony? Of course not,” he wrote.

In 2013, the Legislature approved and Scott signed into law the changing of Florida’s expert evidence rule to the Daubert standard, but the courts did not immediately follow suit.

The judicial branch avoided having to follow the change because of a question over whether switching the expert testimony rule is substantive or procedural. Generally under the state constitution, the Legislature has authority over the “substance” of court operations and the courts decide matters purely of “procedure.”

State Rep. Larry Metz, who sponsored the law that included the Frye-to-Daubert swap, had argued before the court last year that the change “gets to the fundamental purpose of courts,” having “a greater standard of reliability so we can get to the truth in cases.”

On Thursday, he said the court ignored the fact that his legislation passed in both chambers with comfortable majorities: “And we are representing the people of Florida in doing that.”

But William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, a group created by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement “there are no federal cases holding (that) Daubert violates a right to a jury trial and access to courts. The court was wrong to insinuate otherwise.”

The court noted it had received 56 comments in favor of keeping Frye and 131 comments in favor of switching to Daubert.

Of those, 77 were “form emails from ‘small business owners’ repeating the same request that the court (move to) ‘the Daubert expert witness standard that the Florida legislature passed in 2013,’ ” a footnote in the majority opinion said.

The Frye standard asks whether expert testimony is “generally accepted” in a particular scientific community. Daubert is stricter scientifically and can often require a kind of “mini-trial” even before an expert can appear in front of jurors. Both are named after court cases.

Oral argument in the case last year added the wrinkle of criminal cases, where advocates said Daubert might help defendants’ lawyers hold police crime labs more accountable, in cases involving drug-sniffing dogs and testing for arson, for example.

The full court Thursday also turned down two other proposed evidence changes.

One would require “a standard-of-care expert witness in a medical malpractice action to specialize in the same specialty as the health care provider against whom or on whose behalf the testimony is offered.”

The other would change “the hearsay exception relating to reports of abuse by elderly persons or disabled adults.”

 

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