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Gary Farmer

Gary Farmer’s moment

Parkland High School is not in Gary Farmer’s state Senate district.

No children from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School live in his district.

But …

Farmer lived in Parkland for a decade and, as degrees of separation would have it, his family is closely connected to several of those who were directly and tragically impacted by last week’s shooting.

So why could this be his moment?

Recalling his heated campaign against former state Rep. Jim Waldman, I am reminded that the race turned on who would be most able and willing to stand up to the National Rifle Association. Yes, there was the tit-for-tat back-and-forth over what grade Waldman actually got from the pro-gun lobby, but in the end, his two pro-NRA votes ultimately sunk him.

And Farmer owned it big.

Most everyone I have spoken with says that, in hindsight, the race turned on Farmer’s unbending and unyielding attack on the pro-gun crowd. In fact, many have forgotten that Farmer didn’t just beat Waldman, he pushed him into third place behind a (very) poorly funded Gwyn Clarke-Reed and he did so on his commitment to take on the NRA.

In addition to a longtime gun control advocate — including his push to end the sale of military-style assault weapons in Florida — Farmer has also consistently fought for consumer rights, such as creating new laws to protect subscribers wrongfully denied coverage by their HMO’s; litigating the “Butterfly Ballot” and absentee voting cases to the Florida Supreme Court after the 2000 election; and representing patients, consumers and employees wronged by various corporations, hospitals and insurance companies’ deceptive trade practices.

According to a 2017 Sun-Sentinel profile, Farmer — named a Florida Super Lawyer by Super Lawyer magazine — was lead counsel in some of the nation’s largest whistleblower lawsuits over off-label marketing of pharmaceutical drugs (Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson). From 2012-2013, he served as President of the Florida Justice Association (FJA), the state’s largest and most influential consumer protection organization.

But gun control has been Farmer’s most high-profile issue as of late; he filed a pair of bills in 2017 to tighten background checks for gun purchases in the wake of the Fort Lauderdale — Hollywood International Airport shooting, which killed five people and injured six. The airport in Broward County is part of Farmer’s Senate District 34.

So what does the Parkland shooting mean for Team Farmer?

From this vantage point, it looks like his moment has arrived. His voice will be a loud one and his role as a future leader within his caucus may be largely defined by his impact in the final weeks of Session, especially as to how things shake out on guns and the restrictions thereof.

When does someone run on an issue with a commitment to impact real change and then that issue becomes THE defining issue of the year? Well, this is one such time.

That is why I believe this is Farmer’s moment and we should all be watching closely.

State appeals abortion waiting period

The state is appealing a Leon County circuit judge’s ruling that blocked a 2015 law aimed at requiring women to wait 24 hours before having abortions.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office filed a notice late Thursday that it will appeal the Jan. 9 ruling by Circuit Judge Terry Lewis, according to the Leon County courts website. The notice, as is common, does not detail the arguments the state will make to the 1st District Court of Appeal.

Lewis’ ruling made permanent a temporary injunction granted by the Florida Supreme Court last year after a Gainesville abortion clinic challenged the law as a violation of privacy rights under the state Constitution. In his 10-page ruling, Lewis said the state failed to show there was a “compelling state interest” for the 24-hour waiting period and didn’t show that it was enacted in the “least restrictive” manner.

“The essential problem is that the language of the act — what’s in it and what’s not — belies the claimed compelling nature of the state interest being advanced, and demonstrates ambivalence, if not outright hostility, to the mandate that the least restrictive measures be utilized to advance that interest,” Lewis wrote.

Supreme Court turns down vegetable garden case

The Florida Supreme Court won’t take up a dispute about whether homeowners can be barred from growing vegetable gardens in their front yards.

Hermine Ricketts and Laurence Carroll asked the high court to resolve a long-running dispute with the Village of Miami Shores, which passed an ordinance four years ago banning front-yard vegetable gardens like the one the couple had maintained for nearly two decades. The ordinance also allowed the village to impose fines of up to $50 per day for noncompliance. Ricketts and Carroll — who, fearing hefty fines, uprooted their vegetables — turned to the Supreme Court, after two lower courts sided with Miami Shores and upheld the regulation.

But on Friday, justices issued a brief order saying they would not hear the case.

Meanwhile, a powerful state lawmaker has taken on the couple’s crusade. A Senate committee Tuesday backed a proposal sponsored by Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who said the gardeners should be allowed to grow their own food wherever they want.

“Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave if he knew that code enforcement officers would one day require Americans to dig up and throw away vegetables grown on their own property,” Bradley told The News Service of Florida in a text message.

Justices reject 10 more death penalty appeals

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday turned down appeals by 10 longtime Death Row inmates, as it continued rejecting batches of similar cases.

The court has rejected 80 such appeals during the past two weeks in eight batches.

Like the earlier cases, Friday’s rulings involved Death Row inmates who were sentenced before a 2002 cutoff date. The inmates’ appeals stemmed from a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision.

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.

But the Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since June 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system in 2016.

In each of the 80 cases, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued unsuccessfully that the new unanimity requirements should also apply to their cases.

The inmates who lost appeals Friday were Floyd William Damren in a Clay County case; Samuel Jason Derrick in a Pasco County case; Michael Allen Griffin in a Miami-Dade County case; George Michael Hodges in a Hillsborough County case; Emanuel Johnson in a Sarasota County case; Gary Lawrence in a Santa Rosa County case; Antonio Lebaron Melton in an Escambia County case; Alvin Leroy Morton in a Pasco County case; Thomas M. Overton in a Monroe County case; and Norberto Pietri in a Palm Beach County case.

Seminole Tribe ‘insulted,’ doesn’t need gambling deal, lawyer says

A lawyer for the Seminole Tribe of Florida on Friday said his client is offended over gambling that violates its exclusive agreement with the state and won’t agree to a new deal unless “the games end.”

Barry Richard, the Tribe’s outside counsel, and tribal leaders met with Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jose Oliva this week on a grand bargain for future gambling that includes a renewed deal guaranteeing the state $3 billion over seven years from the Seminoles’ revenue. The Tribe’s casinos include the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Tampa.

The two lawmakers, set to respectively become Senate President and House Speaker after the 2018 elections, are the Legislature’s lead negotiators for an expected conference committee to hammer out legislation this Session. No offers were made at this week’s meeting, Richard said. The Tribe has paid well over $200 million yearly into state coffers.

The Seminoles fare better under the House position, which would ban designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack offered in pari-mutuel card rooms. It also freezes any chance of expanding slot machines.

The Senate would allow continued play of designated player games. And Senate President Joe Negron said as recently as this week that lawmakers “owe it to the hundreds of thousands of fellow citizens who live in the eight counties that have approved (slot machine) referendums, including St. Lucie County, which I represent … They decided they wanted additional slots … I think that needs to be given great weight.”

Nope, said Richard: “Those things are non-starters for the Tribe. It’s insulting to the Tribe to say, ‘yeah, pay us more and by the way, we’re going to increase your competition.’

“… I’m not saying Sen. Galvano or Rep. Oliva did anything to insult the Tribe. But they’re constantly having to fight these brushfires where there are always people, usually pari-mutuels, trying to find ways to infringe on the Tribe’s exclusivity.

“That’s what designated player games are, that’s what (pre-reveal games) are, that’s what these (slots) referenda are. The Tribe’s position is, you want to make a deal? Close down all this other stuff. And don’t make us be constantly fighting to protect what we have.”

The Tribe is in the catbird seat, however.

In 2016, a federal judge ruled the state had broken the exclusivity deal, called the Seminole Compact, by allowing designated player games that played too much like blackjack. That allowed it to keep its blackjack tables until 2030 and not have to share money with the state.

Moreover, a proposed “Voter Control of Gambling” constitutional amendment will be on the November ballot, requiring voter approval for any new or added gaming in the state. If it gets 60 percent approval, lawmakers will be indefinitely shut out from influencing gambling.

The Tribe’s lawsuit over card games was settled during appeal, and the Tribe and state agreed to a “forbearance period”—think of it as each eyeing the other warily—while the state agreed to “aggressively enforce” the Compact. That period ends March 31.

At this week’s meeting, Galvano and Oliva “wanted to explore whether there was a basis to extend that forbearance and the possibility of a bigger agreement on a compact,” Richard said. “(It was) agreed to talk about that further but there were no specifics. Just to exchange some proposals if anybody came up with anything.”

Richard also challenged Negron’s and other lawmakers’ desire to honor the will of voters in areas that want slots. A unanimous state Supreme Court last May decided “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county,” meaning the law would have to be changed to add slots.

“Maybe somebody needs to explain it to me, but I don’t understand what ‘do right by these counties’ means,” Richard said. “If someone does something illegal, we need to go back and say it’s OK now? That makes no sense at all, and it’s not fair to the Tribe.”

In sum, Richard suggested a hard road to all sides agreeing on a grand gambling bargain before the clock runs out. Jim Shore, the Tribe’s general counsel who was at this week’s meeting, also has said fantasy sports legislation, if passed, would be a deal-breaker.

“The Tribe will never agree to anything that allows other counties to have Class III gaming, like slot machines and these so-called designated player games, and they will never agree to anything that infringes upon their exclusivity,” he said.

“They fought a lawsuit over that, they won, and they have the right to stop making payments, and if they have any willingness to extend the forbearance period, it’s because the state offers something in return.

“… Remember, the Tribe doesn’t have to do anything,” Richard added. “They don’t need to make a deal with the state anymore. They’re willing to make a deal, but only if it makes economic sense. Right now, nobody’s talking about doing anything that makes economic sense.”

Supreme Court eyes traffic ticket firm

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered a Miami-Dade County firm that helps customers fight traffic tickets to show why it is not practicing law without a license.

The Florida Bar last week filed a petition with the Supreme Court, alleging that TIKD Services LLC is violating a ban on the unlicensed practice of law and asking justices to issue an injunction against the firm.

The Supreme Court issued an “order to show cause” requiring TIKD to respond to the allegations. TIKD’s customers take pictures of their traffic tickets and submit payments to the firm, which then hires lawyers to challenge the tickets, according to the firm’s website.

TIKD says it covers all costs, including any fines and court costs.

“We already know what’s going to happen,” TIKD says on its website. “Maybe not with your particular ticket, but on average. Many tickets that are challenged are either dismissed or result in reduced fines. Since TIKD handles so many tickets, we know with a pretty high degree of certainty what is going to happen to a particular type of ticket, and therefore how much it’s going to cost us.”

The Bar petition, however, contends that TIKD advertises “in a fashion which may lead a reasonable lay person to believe” the firm is qualified to provide legal services.

“Respondents (TIKD and the firm’s founder) either personally or through advertisement offer traffic ticket defense legal services while suggesting that their services are the equivalent of or a substitute for the services of an attorney,” the petition said.

Justices continue rejecting Death Row appeals

The Florida Supreme Court opinions started showing up in batches of 10 last week.

The opinions were nearly identical, except for the names of the Death Row inmates seeking new sentences and a few details of each case. But the conclusion was the same: No dice.

With a batch released Monday, the total number of rejections reached 50. The common thread was that all of the inmates’ sentences were finalized before a June 2002 cutoff date that otherwise could have allowed many of them to be resentenced.

The way the Florida Supreme Court released the batches of opinions was highly unusual. But the underlying issues in the 50 cases traced to a January 2016 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that the state’s death-penalty sentencing process was unconstitutional because it gave too much power to judges, instead of juries, in deciding whether defendants should be executed.

That 2016 ruling effectively halted capital punishment in Florida for more than 18 months, as lawmakers and courts grappled with changes in the system. As part of that, the Florida Supreme Court ruled juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty. In the past, juries could recommend death by majority votes.

The Florida Supreme Court’s unanimity requirements allowed many Death Row inmates to argue that those standards should be applied retroactively to their already-decided cases. That has sent cases back to lower courts for resentencing.

But there was a catch for people on Death Row for long periods: The Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since June 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system in 2016.

Each of the 50 appeals rejected during the past week involved cases decided before the Ring decision — with a couple just missing the cutoff.

Perhaps the best example came Monday, when the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of Death Row inmate Gary Ray Bowles in the 1994 murder of Walter Hinton in Jacksonville Beach. Bowles’ sentence became final June 17, 2002 — a week before the June 24, 2002, Ring decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, according to court documents.

In an appeal filed in October, Bowles’ attorney contended that the cutoff date violated constitutional protections against “arbitrary and capricious imposition of the death penalty.” A jury unanimously recommended that Bowles receive the death penalty in the Hinton murder, but Bowles’ attorney, Francis Shea, argued in the appeal that it was unclear whether jurors also unanimously agreed on the critical findings.

“(Bowles’) jury made only a recommendation to impose the death penalty, without making any findings of fact as to any of the elements required for a death sentence under Florida law,” Shea wrote. “This (Supreme) Court cannot reliably infer from the jury’s recommendation whether the jury unanimously found — or a hypothetical jury in a constitutional proceeding would have unanimously found — all the other requisite elements for a death sentence. There is a reasonable probability that individual jurors based their overall recommendation for death on a different underlying calculus.”

But Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office pointed in an October brief to the Florida Supreme Court’s past rulings on issues related to the Ring decision cutoff date and said Bowles has “demonstrated no cause for this (Supreme) Court to recede from its lengthy case precedent.”

In issuing its two-page opinion Monday, the Supreme Court cited precedent in rejecting a resentencing for Bowles, who also has received to life sentences for 1994 murders in Nassau and Volusia counties, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website. A 1999 Florida Times-Union story said Bowles had admitted to killing six gay men in Florida and other states, including Hinton.

Along with Bowles, the other Death Row inmates who lost appeals Monday were Michael Bernard Bell in a Duval County case; Paul Alfred Brown in a Hillsborough County case; Mark Allen Davis in a Pinellas County case; Charles Kenneth Foster in a Bay County case; Kevin Don Foster in a Lee County case; Konstantinos X. Fotopoulos in a Volusia County case; Guy R. Gamble in a Lake County case; Brandy Bain Jennings in a Collier County case; and Robert Joe Long in a Hillsborough County case.

Supreme Court will take firefighter pay raise case

A divided Florida Supreme Court narrowly decided to hear a challenge to Gov. Rick Scott‘s veto of firefighter pay raises in the 2015-16 state budget.

The Court “accepted jurisdiction” of the case (No. SC17-1434) on Thursday, with the first brief on the merits due by Feb. 14.

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince voted to accept the case; the court’s conservative-leaning trio of Justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson opposed it.

The International Association of Firefighters union wants the court to strike down the veto.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal, in a split opinion, previously ruled that Scott’s thumb-down did not violate collective-bargaining rights.

The dispute involved Scott’s veto of a $2,000 raise the Legislature had OK’d for members of the International Association of Firefighters Local S-20 — representing the Florida Forest Service — for the fiscal year that began on July 1, 2015.

The lower court said Scott acted within his authority to veto spending items in the state budget, and that lawmakers could have overridden the veto but did not.

The Legislature included the $2,000 raises for firefighters in budget fine print known as “proviso” language, which Scott subsequently vetoed.

Attorneys for the state say the appeals court “merely applied a clearly articulated constitutional right” of the governor to veto spending items.

1st DCA Judge Brad Thomas, who dissented, had said “the question at issue here is whether the governor, by using his veto power, may unilaterally vacate the Legislature’s decision to resolve a collective-bargaining impasse.

“Based on logic, precedent, and the constitutional basis of public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the correct answer is no.”

Justices reject another batch of death penalty appeals

For the second day in a row, the Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday turned down appeals by 10 inmates who have been on Death Row since at least 2002.

The release of 20 death-penalty rulings over two days is highly unusual, with every rejection stemming from legal issues about jury unanimity. The appeals were rooted in a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision.

The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries. The subsequent Florida Supreme Court ruling said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.

But the Florida Supreme Court made the new sentencing requirements apply to cases since June 2002. That is when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling known as Ring v. Arizona that was a premise for striking down Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system in 2016.

In each of the cases Monday, the Death Row inmates had been sentenced to death before the Ring decision and argued that the new sentencing requirements should also apply to their cases. One of the rulings Tuesday dealt with the Charlotte County case of James D. Ford, whose two death sentences became final on May 28, 2002, less than a month before the June 24, 2002, Ring decision, according to the Florida Supreme Court ruling.

The other inmates who lost their appeals Tuesday were Jeffrey Lee Atwater in a Pinellas County case; Curtis W. Beasley in a Polk County case; Daniel Burns Jr. in a Manatee County case; Ronald Wayne Clark Jr. in a Duval County case; Loran Cole in a Marion County case; Carl Puiatti in a Pasco County case; Richard Wallace Rhodes in a Pinellas County case; Chadwick Willacy in a Brevard County case; and Curtis Windom in an Orange County case.

‘Like’ this: Supreme Court will soon be on Facebook Live

There will be more ways to watch the Florida Supreme Court when it revs up Facebook Live broadcasts this week.

The court will use the social media broadcasting service to televise Thursday’s Florida Bar Pro Bono Awards honoring lawyers who donate services to people in need, court spokesman Craig Waters said in a Tuesday email.

After that, Facebook Live “will be used permanently for all oral arguments, starting with February’s, in addition to the live and archived video already available on the Court’s 20-year-old video website portal called Gavel to Gavel,” he added. Arguments also are on The Florida Channel.

The move makes it “one of the first courts in the world to use social media for official live video,” Waters said.

“In the 1970s, Florida became the first state to allow broadcasts of its court cases at a time when every other court in the nation refused it,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said in a statement.

“This Court’s experiment with transparency showed everyone a better way to balance First Amendment rights against the rights of people involved in a trial or appeal. Social media will be our next step in moving this highly successful model of openness into the 21st century.”

The court’s own coverage “aired worldwide when the presidential election dispute of 2000, known today as Bush v. Gore, came before the Florida Supreme Court twice,” Waters said.

“More recently, the groundwork for Thursday’s Facebook Live video was laid when Labarga and his fellow justices unanimously approved a sweeping court communication plan in December 2015. It called on Florida’s courts to embrace recent advances in technology and communications, such as social media and podcasting.”

For more information, visit these sites:

— Florida Supreme Court Live & Archived Oral Argument Videos: http://wfsu.org/gavel2gavel/

— Florida Supreme Court Facebook Page (including broadcasts): https://www.facebook.com/floridasupremecourt/

— Florida Supreme Court Podcasts: http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/pub_info/podcasts.shtml

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