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Felon voter restoration advocates make their case to Supreme Court

The group behind a proposed state constitutional amendment to automatically restore voting rights to nonviolent felons told the Florida Supreme Court this week that the initiative meets all criteria to appear on the ballot.

In a brief filed Tuesday, Floridians for a Fair Democracy argued that the proposed amendment “presents voters with a unified and limited question of whether to automatically restore voting rights to persons convicted of a felony.”

Additionally, “the ballot title and summary of the proposed amendment clearly and unambiguously explain that such automatic restoration is the chief purpose of the amendment,” the brief argues.

“Reading them together, the voter will be adequately informed and able to cast an intelligent vote about whether to include the proposal in the Florida Constitution.”

The text of the amendment and its ballot summary comply with Supreme Court precedent requiring a “logical and natural oneness of purpose,” the brief argues.

Signing the document were Jon Mills of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, a former Florida House speaker and dean emeritus at the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law; and Orlando attorney Andrew M. Starling.

Supporters hope to place the initiative on the ballot in 2018.

The Supreme Court reviews all proposed constitutional amendments and can block any that violate the single-subject rule. That means either that they amount to “logrolling,” forcing voters to accept something they don’t like to get something they do; or substantially affect more than one branch of state government.

“The proposed amendment would make one simple policy change that touches upon only a single branch of Florida’s government,” the brief says. “Given the vast executive functions of the governor and Cabinet, this solitary impact is not substantial in the sense contemplated by the single-subject rule.”

Under existing law, the governor and Cabinet review petitions to restore voting rights filed by all felony offenders. Were the amendment adopted, that system would apply only to felons convicted or murder or sexual offenders.

The ballot summary reads:

“This amendment restores the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation. The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis.”

“The drafters explicitly excluded individuals convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, who will continue to seek restoration under the current system,” the brief says.

flowers florist

Florist wants Supreme Court to take up tax decision

A Florida-based florist is asking the nation’s highest court to review a state Supreme Court sales-tax decision.

American Business USA Corp. filed its petition with the U.S. Supreme Court last month, dockets show.

The state’s Department of Revenue was due to file a response next Monday but the deadline has now been moved to Jan. 12.

The state’s high court had ruled that Florida can impose a sales tax on the web-based florist for flowers sold to out-of-state customers and delivered outside of Florida.

The court overturned an appeals court decision that said the Department of Revenue couldn’t collect taxes from the company’s out-of-state sales.

Because the Palm Beach County-based business has a physical presence in the state and does business within Florida, that’s enough of a tie to the state to make all its sales taxable — regardless if they originated outside of Florida.

The company has argued it shouldn’t be responsible for sales tax on orders from out-of-state customers for flowers that were grown and delivered outside of Florida.

Background from The Associated Press, reprinted with permission. 

Supreme Court candidate interviews will be live streamed

The Florida Channel plans to live stream the interviews of candidates for an opening on the Florida Supreme Court.

The interviews are open to the public, but they will be held in Orlando next Monday, instead of Tallahassee.

They’ll be at the offices of the GrayRobinson law firm, where Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission chair Jason Unger is a shareholder.

The commission previously voted to interview all 11 applicants for the vacancy on the court created by the December retirement of Justice James E.C. Perry,

The interview schedule is:

Noon-12:30 p.m. — Wendy W. Berger, a judge on the 5th District Court of Appeal.
12:30-1 p.m.— Alice L. Blackwell, a circuit judge in Orange County.
1-1:30 p.m. — Roberta J. Bodnar, an assistant U.S. attorney in Ocala.
1:30-1:45 p.m. — break.
1:45-2:15 p.m. — Dan Gerber, an Orlando civil-trial defense attorney.
2:15-2:45 p.m. — Sylvia Grunor, a Central Florida trial lawyer.
2:45-3:15 p.m. — Brad King, state attorney of the 5th Judicial Circuit.
3:15-3:30 p.m. — break
3:30-4 p.m.— C. Alan Lawson, the chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal.
4-4:30 — Larry Metz, a Republican state representative from Yalaha.
4:30-5 p.m.  Michelle T. Morley, a circuit judge in Sumter County.
5-5:15 p.m. — break.
5:15-5:45 p.m. — Michael J. Rudisill, a circuit judge in Seminole County.
5:45-6:15 p.m. — Patricia L. Strowbridge, a circuit judge in Osceola County.

The nominating panel will forward six names by Dec. 13 to Gov. Rick Scott, who will then name Perry’s replacement. This is Scott’s first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice.

In Florida, justices are picked through a “merit selection” process, beginning with a nonpartisan, nine-member commission that reviews and evaluates applicants.

Because Perry represented the state’s 5th appellate district, applicants must be from that area, which includes Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.

The commission also invited written comment on any of the applicants. Comments should be sent via email to Unger at jason.unger@gray-robinson.com.

More than 30 have applied to Supreme Court for constitutional rewrite panel

The list of applicants to Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga for a seat on the Constitution Revision Commission has now reached 32.

Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters released an updated list this week.

Labarga is allotted three appointments to the commission. He is accepting applications through Dec. 31, and has said he’ll make the appointments with the advice of the other justices.

The newest list is below:

William Gary Beard

Thomas Burnett

Richard Caldwell

Dick Collins

Debbie Crockett

Debra Moss Curtis

Anne Gannon

Winston Gardner

Larry Gillis

Richard Grant

Jason Handin

Jason Johnson

Arthenia Joyner

George Knox

Jeffrey Kottkamp

Paul Lester

Joseph Little

Roberto Martinez

Joseph Matthews

Steven Maxwell

Gregory McAloon

Mark Moriarty

Judge Robert Morris

Barry Richard

Isaac Ruiz-Carus

Steven Specht

Chief Judge Elijah Smiley

Michelle Suarez

Alex Villalobos

Peter Webster

Tyler Winik

Mark Zientz

The Florida Constitution allows for a “revision commission” to meet every 20 years to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners and select its chairperson. The House speaker and Senate president each get nine picks, and Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as attorney general.

The next commission is scheduled to meet before the beginning of the Legislature’s 2017 regular session.

Any changes it proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Labarga’s application instructions are here.

Commission will interview all Supreme Court applicants

The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission on Monday voted to interview all 11 applicants for a vacancy on the court.

The interviews, open to the public, will be held in Orlando Nov. 28, starting around noon and likely lasting through 7 p.m., said Jason Unger, the commission’s chair. The panel held a brief organizational conference call on Monday morning.

The interviewees are:

— Judge Wendy W. Berger of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

— Circuit Judge Alice L. Blackwell of Orange County.

— Assistant U.S. attorney Roberta J. Bodnar of the Middle District of Florida.

— Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber.

Sylvia Grunor, a Central Florida trial lawyer.

— State Attorney Brad King of the 5th Judicial Circuit.

— Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

— Republican state Rep. Larry Metz of Yalaha.

— Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County.

— Circuit Judge Michael Rudisill of the 18th Judicial Circuit.

— Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge of Osceola County.

The opening was created by the pending retirement of Justice James E.C. Perry, who will leave the bench at the end of the year.

Gov. Rick Scott will name Perry’s replacement, his first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice.

In Florida, justices are picked through a “merit selection” process, beginning with a nonpartisan, nine-member commission that reviews and evaluates applicants.

The governor appoints five members, however, and The Florida Bar “sends nominations to the governor to fill the remaining four spots,” according to the Bar’s website.

For example, the Supreme Court commission includes attorney Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former head of the Department of Economic Opportunity; Fred Karlinsky, a lawyer and insurance lobbyist with close ties to the governor; and Daniel Nordby, the former general counsel to the Florida House of Representatives.

“These Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNCs) then submit three to six names of the most highly qualified applicants to the governor, who must make a final selection from the list,” the Bar’s website says.

Scott, though, has asked for a full slate of six names. That list is due to the governor’s office by Dec. 13.

Because Perry represented the state’s 5th appellate district, applicants be from that area, which includes Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.


Updated 11:45 a.m. — The official notice for the interviews has been released, reprinted in part below:

Interviews will be conducted on Nov. 28, 2016, at the offices of GrayRobinson, P.A., 301 E. Pine St., Suite 1400, Orlando.

INTERVIEW SCHEDULE
Monday, Nov. 28, 2016
Noon-12:30 Berger, Wendy W.
12:30-1:00 Blackwell, Alice L.
1:00-1:30 Bodnar, Roberta J.
1:30-1:45 break
1:45-2:15 Gerber, Daniel J.
2:15-2:45 Grunor, Sylvia A.
2:45-3:15 King, Bradley E.
3:15-3:30 break
3:30-4:00 Lawson, C. Alan
4:00-4:30 Metz, Larry E.
4:30-5:00 Morley, Michelle T.
5:00-5:15 break
5:15-5:45 Rudisill, Michael J.
5:45-6:15 Strowbridge, Patricia L.

The JNC welcomes comments on the qualifications of any of the applicants. Those wishing to comment should do so by email to Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission Chair Jason L. Unger at jason.unger@gray-robinson.com.

The members of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission are: Chair Jason L. Unger, Tallahassee; Vice Chair Nilda R. Pedrosa, Coral Gables; Cynthia G. Angelos, Port St. Lucie; Fred Karlinsky, Fort Lauderdale; Daniel E. Nordby, Tallahassee; Jesse M. Panuccio, Miami; Israel U. Reyes, Coral Gables; Hala A. Sandridge, Tampa; Jeanne T. Tate, Tampa.

11 apply for Florida Supreme Court

As of the Friday deadline, 11 people had applied to become the next justice of the Florida Supreme Court. 

The last application received was from Circuit Judge Michael Joseph Rudisill of the 18th Judicial Circuit for Brevard and Seminole counties.

There, Rudisill replaced James E.C. Perry, now the justice whose December retirement is creating the Supreme Court vacancy.

Besides Rudisill, here are the other applicants that will now be considered by the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission:

— Judge Wendy W. Berger of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

— Circuit Judge Alice L. Blackwell of Orange County.

— Assistant U.S. attorney Roberta J. Bodnar of the Middle District of Florida.

— Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber.

 Sylvia Grunor, a Central Florida trial lawyer.

— State Attorney Brad King of the 5th Judicial Circuit.

— Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

— Republican state Rep. Larry Metz of Yalaha.

— Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County.

— Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge of Osceola County.

The commission will discuss the applicants in a conference call Monday at 9 a.m.

Its members are then scheduled to interview finalists Nov. 28 and submit six recommendations to Gov. Rick Scott by Dec. 13.

Scott then will name Perry’s replacement, his first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice.

The commission advising him includes attorney Jesse Panuccio, Scott’s former head of the Department of Economic Opportunity; Fred Karlinsky, a lawyer and insurance lobbyist with close ties to the governor; and Daniel Nordby, the former general counsel to the Florida House of Representatives.

Because Perry represented the state’s 5th appellate district, applicants must have been from that area, which includes Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.

Florida Supreme Court

Larry Metz applies for Florida Supreme Court opening

Republican state Rep. Larry Metz of Yalaha, who face term limits after his current stint in the House, wants to be the next Florida Supreme Court justice.

Metz
Metz

Metz filed Friday morning, the deadline day for applying, said Jason Unger, chair of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

The opening was created by the retirement of Justice James E.C. Perry, who’s leaving the bench at the end of the year. The commission is scheduled to discuss the applicants in a conference call next Monday at 9 a.m.

Metz, a lawyer in private practice, was first elected in 2010 and re-elected without opposition to a final term this week.

He was just promoted to chair the new Public Integrity & Ethics committee under Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran. He previously chaired the Justice Appropriations subcommittee.

“Larry Metz has great judicial temperament and a brilliant legal mind,” Corcoran said in a text message. “He also understands judicial restraint and originalism and how important those concepts are to protecting our Constitution and our way of life.” (“Originalism” refers to judicial interpretation of constitutions and laws according to the intent of their drafters.)

The 61-year-old Metz, admitted to the Florida bar in 1983, could not immediately be reached for comment. The former Marine has been one of the House’s stalwart conservative members.

In September, he argued before the court in favor of a new evidence law he sponsored, one that toughens the state’s expert witness standard. The switch would align Florida’s courts with the federal courts, which follow a stricter test of allowing certain scientific expert testimony, known as the Daubert standard.

Metz also has backed measures that would stop Florida cities and counties from shielding undocumented immigrants (the “sanctuary cities” bill), and call for a “convention of states” to consider congressional term limits.

The other applicants are State Attorney Brad King of the 5th Judicial Circuit, Circuit Judge Alice L. Blackwell of Orange County, Judge Wendy W. Berger of the 5th District Court of Appeal, Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County, assistant U.S. attorney Roberta J. Bodnar, Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge of Osceola County, Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber, and Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal

Later Friday, the nominating commission also received the application of Sylvia Grunor, a longtime Central Florida trial lawyer. That makes 10 candidates now in the running.

Gov. Rick Scott will name Perry’s replacement, his first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice. The nominating commission is scheduled to interview finalists Nov. 28 and submit six recommendations to Scott by Dec. 13.

Because Perry represented that appellate district, applicants must be from that area: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.

Florida man’s death sentences in 5 killings upheld by court

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentences imposed on a man convicted of five murders in two separate 2007 robberies, including one in which two women were set on fire.

The justices upheld the convictions and sentences imposed on 38-year-old Leon Davis Jr., who committed the killings just days apart in December 2007. He was convicted of killing the women – one of whom was pregnant – in the fiery robbery of a Lake Wales insurance office and shooting two clerks at a gas station.

The high court also ordered a hearing for death row inmate William Lee Thompson, 64, who pleaded guilty to the March 30, 1976, beating death of Sally Ivester. He was sentenced to death despite having an IQ in the 70 range, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is the level at which it would be unconstitutional to execute a person because of intellectual disability. The Florida court ordered a new hearing to determine Thompson’s mental status.

In the Davis cases, the gas station killings actually happened first but he was not identified as a suspect until after the slayings at the insurance office on Dec. 13, 2007. Davis had been a customer at the insurance office.

Trial testimony showed that Davis, who was encountering financial problems, went to the office with a .357-caliber handgun, duct tape, a gas can and a lighter. He demanded money in a cash register and safe from the office’s two employees, Yvonne Bustamante, 26, and Juanita Luciano, 23, who initially refused.

After binding them to chairs with duct tape, Davis doused both women with gasoline and set them afire. He forced open the register and safe and got about $900, according to trial evidence.

The badly burned women managed to escape and ran outside seeking help. Davis shot Luciano in one hand as she was running, then got into his car and left. The women later died at a hospital, with Luciano’s son born prematurely and dying three days afterward.

Before she died, Bustamante identified Davis as the perpetrator. After local TV stations began showing his picture, Davis turned himself in and was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges.

While awaiting trial, detectives began to suspect Davis killed the gas station clerks on Dec. 7, 2007. The two men, Pravinkumar Patel, 33, and 51-year-old Dashrath Patel, were shot in the head as they changed lettering on the outdoor signs.

The killer did not get away with any cash. Later, investigators determined that Davis’ handgun was the one used to shoot the clerks and tire prints matched his car, according to the court rulings. He was convicted after waiving a jury trial and handed two more death sentences.

In the insurance office case, Justice James E.C. Perry agreed that Davis’ convictions should be upheld but questioned whether the death sentences were proper. Perry said there wasn’t enough evidence to show jurors found sufficient aggravating factors to warrant death unanimously, as the Supreme Court recently ruled is required.

“Even though the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty, whether the jury unanimously found each aggravating factor remains unknown,” Perry wrote. “We simply cannot assume that every juror found every aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press

Brad King files for Supreme Court opening

State Attorney Brad King of the 5th Judicial Circuit has applied for the upcoming vacancy on the Florida Supreme Court.

King
King

King’s application was received Thursday, according to Tallahassee attorney Jason Unger, chair of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission.

King — the Republican elected chief prosecutor for Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties in Central Florida — is the eighth applicant to replace Justice James E.C. Perry, who’s retiring at the end of the year.

The deadline to apply is 5 p.m. Friday. Gov. Rick Scott will name Perry’s replacement, his first chance to pick a state Supreme Court justice.

The nominating commission is scheduled to interview finalists Nov. 28 and submit six recommendations to Scott by Dec. 13.

King, 59, is a career prosecutor, first elected to the office in 1988. He was re-elected without opposition this year. King received his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida, working briefly as a Marion County Sheriff’s deputy.

The other applicants are Circuit Judge Alice L. Blackwell of Orange County, Judge Wendy W. Berger of the 5th District Court of Appeal, Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley of Sumter County, assistant U.S. attorney Roberta J. Bodnar, Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge of Osceola County, Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber, and Chief Judge C. Alan Lawson of the 5th District Court of Appeal.

Because Perry represented that appellate district, applicants must be from that area: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.

Alice Blackwell applies for state Supreme Court seat

Circuit Judge Alice L. Blackwell of Orange County, originally a Lawton Chiles appointee, is the latest applicant for a seat on the Florida Supreme Court.

Blackwell
Blackwell

That brings to seven the number of those who have filed to replace Justice James E.C. Perry. He is retiring at the end of the year.

The deadline to apply to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission is 5 p.m. Friday, according to its chair, Tallahassee attorney Jason Unger.

Because Perry represented that appellate district, applicants must be from that area: Brevard, Citrus, Flagler, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Sumter, and Volusia counties.

Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, will name Perry’s replacement, making it his first opportunity to pick a state Supreme Court justice. Now, Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston the only reliable conservative votes on the seven-member court.

Then-Gov. Chiles, a Democrat, first appointed her to the bench in 1991, according to her Ballotpedia profile.

In 1997, she was the first woman in the 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, to be named administrative judge of the civil division. She now handles complex civil litigation.

Blackwell received her undergraduate degree from Furman University and a law degree from the University of South Carolina, according to her official bio.

The other applicants are:

Wendy W. Berger, appointed by Gov. Scott to the 5th District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach in late 2012. She was originally appointed to the circuit bench by Jeb Bush.

— Circuit Judge Michelle T. Morley, who sits in Sumter County. She was elected to the 5th Judicial Circuit bench in 2006 and re-elected in 2012.

Roberta J. Bodnar, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Florida.

— Circuit Judge Patricia Strowbridge, who sits on the family-law bench at the Osceola County Courthouse. Scott appointed her last year.

— Orlando civil-trial defense attorney Dan Gerber, a partner with the law firm of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell. His complex-litigation practice focuses on “toxic tort, class actions, commercial, product liability, and governmental affairs,” according to his official bio.

— C. Alan Lawson, chief judge of the 5th District Court of Appeal. When he applied for a high-court opening in 2009, Lawson was backed by “religious conservatives and the National Rifle Association,” according to the Tampa Tribune.

The nominating commission is scheduled to interview finalists Nov. 28 and submit six recommended replacements to Scott by Dec. 13.

 

 

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