Florida Supreme Court Archives - Page 4 of 53 - Florida Politics

Traffic ticket firm asks justices to reject Bar case

A Miami-Dade County firm that helps motorists fight traffic tickets asked the state Supreme Court on Monday to dismiss a case alleging it has violated a ban on practicing law without a license.

The Florida Bar in January filed a petition requesting that the Supreme Court issue an injunction against TIKD Services LLC. But in a 19-page document filed Monday, TIKD disputed arguments that it practices law without a license and asked the Supreme Court for a summary-judgment ruling and a dismissal of the Bar’s claims.

TIKD, which was created in 2016, operates an online service in which motorists can upload pictures of tickets, according to the document filed at the Supreme Court. TIKD performs a statistical analysis after receiving tickets and determines whether to provide its services to motorists. If it accepts a ticket, TIKD charges a fee and pays an attorney to represent the motorist.

TIKD also pays fines or court costs if tickets are not dismissed, the document said. “This is not a complex case,” TIKD attorneys Christopher Kise and Joshua Hawkes wrote.

“The undisputed facts establish respondents (TIKD and the firm’s founder) do not engage in any acts constituting the unauthorized practice of law, and they do not employ or control the licensed, independent Florida lawyers who provide legal advice and representation to TIKD customers.”

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

“Respondents 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 weigh police ‘stand your ground’ defense

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office this week urged the Florida Supreme Court to overturn a ruling that allowed a police officer to use the state’s “stand your ground” self-defense law after being charged with manslaughter in an on-duty shooting.

Bondi’s office, in a 22-page brief filed Monday, argued that Broward County sheriff’s deputy Peter Peraza was not legally entitled to claim immunity under “stand your ground” in the 2013 shooting death of Jermaine McBean. Instead, the brief argued, officers can seek a more-limited type of immunity under another part of state law.

The Supreme Court agreed in February to take up the case, after Bondi’s office appealed a ruling by the 4th District Court of Appeal. That ruling upheld a circuit judge’s decision that Peraza was entitled to immunity from prosecution under “stand your ground” and that his use of force was justifiable.

The legal battle stems from an incident in which Peraza received a report of a man walking down a street openly carrying a gun. Peraza and another officer pursued the man and ordered him to stop and drop the weapon, the appeals-court ruling said. The man did not drop the weapon, leading Peraza to fatally shoot him. The weapon turned out to be an air rifle.

Peraza was indicted on a charge of manslaughter with a firearm but successfully used a “stand your ground” defense. Under the law, a circuit judge held a pre-trial evidentiary hearing before siding with the deputy’s arguments.

“The circuit court found that the officer’s account of the incident was consistent with the other credible witnesses’ testimony and the physical evidence,” the appeals court ruling said, summarizing the decision. “The (circuit) court then found, by the greater weight of the evidence, that the man (McBean) ignored repeated warnings to stop and drop the weapon, turned towards the officers, and pointed his weapon at the officers, causing the officer (Peraza) to be in fear for his life and the lives of others, prompting the officer to shoot at the man, resulting in the man’s death.”

The controversial “stand your ground” law says people are justified in using deadly force and do not have a “duty to retreat” if they believe it is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. When the defense is successfully raised in pre-trial hearings, defendants are granted immunity from prosecution.

But in the brief filed Monday, Bondi’s office argued that police incidents are subject to another part of state law that can provide what is known as “qualified” immunity. Under such a scenario, the officer would not receive a pre-trial hearing that could lead to dismissal but would be able to raise self-defense arguments at trial, according to the appeals court ruling.

Bondi’s office said police officers have never had a duty to retreat and that the “stand your ground” law granted the “average citizen the right to stand his or her ground.”

“It makes no sense to apply this statute to officers who have always had the right to stand their ground,” the brief said. “Thus, permitting an officer, to elect an absolute immunity over qualified immunity bypasses the statute specifically designed for this scenario and renders (the law dealing with qualified immunity) meaningless.”

But Peraza’s attorneys, in a document filed at the Supreme Court in January, said the laws “coexist.” They wrote that a police officer could raise a “stand your ground” defense in a pre-trial hearing and, if unsuccessful, make arguments under the qualified-immunity law at trial.

“This case needs to be examined through the practical realities of policing,” Peraza’s attorneys wrote. “To follow the petitioner’s (attorney general’s) argument would allow an average citizen to assert immunity whereas a law enforcement officer who took an oath to uphold the law, to serve and protect, and whose duty entails running toward danger rather than from it, would not be able to avail him or herself of such a defense.”

Supreme Court to decide if car can be weapon

In a case stemming from the death of a man after an altercation in a bar, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office Friday urged the Florida Supreme Court to uphold a ruling that a car can legally be considered a weapon.

The Supreme Court said in January that it would take up an appeal by Adam Lloyd Shepard, who was convicted on a charge of manslaughter with a weapon after fatally striking Spencer Schott with a car after leaving a Jacksonville Beach bar in January 2011. The men were University of Kansas basketball fans, but as their team lost a game, “the amicable relationship between Schott and Shepard began to deteriorate,” according to a brief by Shepard’s attorneys.

Under state law, the use of a weapon bumped up the manslaughter charge from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony, carrying a longer prison sentence. After a jury found him guilty of manslaughter, Shepard challenged the reclassification of the crime to a first-degree felony based on the car being considered a “weapon.”

While the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected Shepard’s argument, it acknowledged that its conclusion differed from a ruling in a separate case in the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Shepard took the issue to the Supreme Court, but lawyers in Bondi’s office filed a 43-page brief Friday that contended a vehicle can be a weapon.

“In this case, petitioner (Shepard) used the car against the victim to attack or defeat him,” the brief said. “Petitioner specifically drove the car into the victim in a manner that was likely to cause death or great bodily harm. Moreover, although a car may not be a traditional weapon, it has become a modern weapon of choice for a variety of criminals, including those who use it to try to strike people or police officers, and terrorists who use cars as a bomb or a weapon of mass destruction to mow down pedestrians on a sidewalk.”

But in a brief filed last month, Shepard’s attorneys argued that vehicles are not considered weapons under a law that allows reclassification of felonies. The brief said the law does not define “weapon” but that previous Supreme Court opinions have made clear that the “reclassification statute only applies to instruments commonly understood as having the purpose of inflicting death or serious bodily injury to others.”

“Under (guidelines from those opinions), Shepard’s vehicle could not be considered a weapon because the commonly recognized purpose of a vehicle is for transportation, not as an instrument of combat,” Shepard’s attorneys wrote. “Therefore, the trial court erred in reclassifying Shepard’s manslaughter conviction to a first-degree felony.”

The Supreme Court has not said when it will hear oral arguments in the case, which also involves arguments about whether Shepard’s car was improperly seized without a warrant. Shepard, now 37, is an inmate at Cross City Correctional Institution.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Charles Canady chosen to serve as Chief Justice

Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady will become chief justice July 1, the second time he has led the state courts system.

Canady, 63, was elected by other justices to serve a two-year term as chief justice, succeeding Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, the court announced Thursday.

Labarga will remain on the court.

Canady, a former state legislator and congressman, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2008 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

He also served as chief justice from 2010 to 2012. Canady, widely viewed as part of a three-justice conservative minority on the court, will be at the helm during a time of change.

Longtime justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — all part of a more-liberal bloc — will step down in January because of a mandatory retirement age, leading to turnover of nearly half of the seven-member court.

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.

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons