Gov. Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics
Pam Bondi 9-6-2017

Pam Bondi, FDLE now watching recounts for ’criminal activity‘

After a public scolding of the statewide police agency, Attorney General Pam Bondi now says her office is “actively engaged” with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to watch for recount shenanigans. 

Several recounts are underway, including in the U.S. Senate, Governor’s and Agriculture Commissioner’s races. A joint Attorney General’s Office/FDLE statement released Monday night said they are “monitoring (those) processes for potential criminal activity.”

The statement did not make clear whether that meant state lawyers, agents or other employees were stationed at any of the county supervisor of election offices where recounts are now taking place. A request for clarification is pending.

Outgoing GOP Gov. Rick Scott, the so far prevailing candidate in the Senate race, and President Donald Trump have complained of election fraud without offering any evidence. An FDLE spokesperson previously said the agency had received “no allegations of fraud.”

Nonetheless, the new statement said “procedures (are) in place to address allegations of fraud or other criminal misconduct associated with any election in Florida.”

Further, “FDLE has been in continuous contact with the Department of State and we continue to work jointly. As allegations are received, FDLE will continue to vet and review those that may be indicative of criminal activity.”

Florida Politics sent a public records request over the weekend to the Department of State, asking for “copies of all elections fraud complaints filed with the (department) stemming from the 2018 general election.” That request also is pending.  

Bondi, a term-limited Tampa Republican who leaves office in January, had sent and publicly released a letter to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen on Sunday. In it, she said she was “deeply troubled by your announcement that you will not pursue any investigation or inquiry into clearly documented irregularities of election officials in Broward and Palm Beach counties.”

In a separate letter, she also demanded that Secretary of State Ken Detzner report all election irregularities in those Democratic-leaning counties to the Office of Statewide Prosecution, which reports to her.

That was then.

FDLE agents and analysts in the Office of Executive Investigations, Miami Regional Operations Center and members of the Commissioner’s Office continue to examine allegations, by interviewing individuals, assessing potential evidence, and researching relevant statutes,” the Monday night statement said. “A case will remain open while allegations are being analyzed.”

FDLE agreed to “work closely” with Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution “on any criminal investigation and subsequent prosecution,” it also said, adding:

We encourage citizens to remain peaceful as the recount process continues.” 

Florida Supreme Court

Supreme Court weighs process to pick justices

In an hour-long hearing characterized by sometimes-intense exchanges, the Florida Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday about reopening the application process for three upcoming vacancies on the court.

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause are asking the Court to order a nominating commission to extend an application deadline and halt the current nomination process in light of a court order issued last month.

The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Oct. 15 that the next governor has the “sole authority” to appoint replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince. The justices are all leaving the court in early January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.

After Tuesday’s election, Republican Ron DeSantis is in line to succeed Gov. Rick Scott in early January. But DeSantis’ narrow win over Democrat Andrew Gillum is expected to head to a recount before a final winner can be determined.

The selection of the three justices has drawn heavy attention, as it could lead to a major ideological change on the Supreme Court. Scott initially argued that he had the power to appoint the three justices, but the Supreme Court ruling last month rejected that possibility.

The Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, a nine-member panel appointed by Scott, set an Oct. 8 application deadline for candidates for the court vacancies. The commission on Friday is scheduled to finish interviewing the 59 judges and lawyers who applied for the positions. The expectation is that the commission could shortly advance a list of potential court nominees — up to six names for each vacancy.

Chief Justice Charles Canady opened Thursday’s hearing by noting that the situation of having three justices retire on the same day at the end of a governor’s term is not likely to occur again because voters adopted a constitutional amendment on Tuesday that increases the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.

Under the amendment, which takes effect July 1, justices and judges will have to leave the bench immediately when they reach age 75, rather than waiting for the end of their terms, which is the current process.

“That (three justices leaving at the same time) is not going to be happening in the future,” Canady said.

John Mills, a lawyer representing the League of Women Voters, acknowledged that such a situation would be unlikely. But he said it could occur, for instance, if multiple justices or appellate judges were rejected in merit-retention votes. Voters have never rejected a judge under the current retention system.

Raoul Cantero, a former justice who represents the nominating commission, defended that panel’s actions, noting it was following precedent in developing a list of court nominees in advance of the actual vacancies, which will occur on Jan. 8 when the new governor takes office.

“In fact, the practice uniformly for the last 20-plus years, has been that the JNCs start the process and even make the nominations before the justice or judge leaves office,” Cantero said.

The Supreme Court appointments are drawing extra scrutiny because they could shift the judicial direction of the state’s highest court for decades to come.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority on the seven-member court and has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the governor took office in 2011.

Another element of uncertainty has been added with the expected recount in the governor’s election. If Gillum somehow emerges as the winner through a recount, it will further complicate the court appointments.

Six storm-struck counties extend early voting to Monday

Early voting will continue up to the day before Election Day in six counties still recovering from Hurricane Michael.

Polling locations remain open in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, and Jackson counties, all of which sustained major damage. The state extended the early-voting deadline in those counties.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, Florida’s chief elections officer, on Oct. 18 announced the state would bend voting rules in storm-struck portions of Florida’s Panhandle. Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order granting authority to extend early voting to certain counties.

“The Department shares the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that all registered voters from counties devastated by Hurricane Michael are able to exercise their right to vote safely and securely in the upcoming General Election,” Detzner said.

“With the input from local Supervisors of Elections, we put forth recommendations to Gov. Scott and we greatly appreciate (his) support of our requests.”

Scott’s executive order allowed elections supervisors in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty, and Washington counties further leeway in several areas.

That included the ability to open more early voting polling locations, allowing for early voting as early as Oct. 22 and as late as Nov. 6, and easing rules on forwarding vote-by-mail ballots to addresses other than a voters’ residence.

The Department of State dismissed other suggestions for voter convenience such as allowing voters to cast ballots by fax or email, based on security issues faced by other states with those voting methods, Detzner said.

The counties in question are in the Panhandle and Big Bend area, a rich area for Republicans in state races, though voter registration shows a closer balance.

Combined, the six counties serve as home to 88,317 Republicans, 80,127 Democrats, 34,808 votes with no party affiliation and 1,550 registered with a minor political party.

And elections supervisors in Michael-struck areas are telling voters who plan to vote on Tuesday to make sure they know where to go: Many of the previously used buildings were destroyed or damaged.

Andrew Gillum heads back to Tallahassee after yoga studio shooting

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said he was leaving the campaign trail and returning to the capital Friday night after news of a shooting in a yoga studio that claimed the lives of at least one victim and the gunman.

“I’m deeply appreciative of law enforcement’s quick response to the shooting at the yoga facility in Tallahassee today,” the Democratic gubernatorial candidate tweeted shortly after 6:30 p.m.

“No act of gun violence is acceptable,” he added. “I’m in close communication with law enforcement officials and will be returning to Tallahassee tonight.”

The gunman, still unidentified by police as of 8 p.m., killed one person and critically injured four others some time between 5 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. before killing himself at a Hot Yoga studio, the Tallahassee Democrat reported.

The shooting took place in a shopping center in the city’s Midtown neighborhood, at the intersection of Thomasville, Betton and Bradford roads.

City Commissioner Scott Maddox soon posted on his Facebook page: “In my public service career I have had to be on some bad scenes. This is the worst. Please pray.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office issued a revised daily schedule, showing he had phone conversations Friday evening about the attack with FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen; Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, who also was Tallahassee’s police chief; and current Police Chief Michael DeLeo.

“All indications are this is the act of a single person,” DeLeo told reporters. “There is no immediate threat to our community.”

Businesses in or near the shopping center, like Riccardo’s Restaurant, posted their status on Facebook: “John (the owner), our employees and customers are safe. I can’t say anything else right now.”

Haute Headz Salon also posted all were safe: “We are praying for the victims and their families … so incredibly heart breaking.”

Updated 9 p.m. — The Democrat reported that Democratic state Rep. Kristin Jacobs of Broward County was a “barside witness” to the shooting.

Jacobs

Jacobs was sitting in Bar on Betton, near the yoga studio, after taking part in an “active shooter training,” the paper said.

The lawmaker credited an unidentified man whom she said rushed the shooter and then was pistol-whipped by him before the man turned the gun on himself.

“Many people are alive because (of) this guy,” Jacobs said.

Her district includes Parkland, where a former student shot and killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year.

Rick Scott seeks another shot at screening Supreme Court nominees

Gov. Rick Scott has asked the Florida Supreme Court to reconsider allowing him to begin screening replacements for three of its justices, arguing the court may have “misapprehended” his arguments that he holds that authority.

The court issued an order Oct. 15 declaring that only the next Governor has the authority to replace Justices R. Fred LewisPeggy A. Quince, and Barbara Pariente, who face mandatory age-related retirement at midnight between Jan. 7 and Jan. 8, as Scott’s term ends.

“On its face, the order suggests that the court may have overlooked or misapprehended the relief sought by the petitioners in this proceeding,” Scott argues in a motion filed Tuesday evening by his general counsel, Daniel Nordby.

“The petition … filed in this case did not ask this court to determine the scope of the gubernatorial appointment power. Instead, the petition is directed entirely to the nomination process,” it says.

“As a result, the parties’ briefs in this case did not address the scope of the appointment power. And the Governor had no occasion, in this case, to present legal argument on the significant and disputed constitutional question that was the subject of previous litigation between the parties.”

Scott wants the court to rehear the case to clarify that point.

The three justices at issue are members of the court’s more liberal wing, so their retirements open an opportunity to reshape the court — depending on whether a Republican or Democrat next occupies the Governor’s Mansion.

Scott had asked the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin screening applicants and posited the possibility of huddling with his successor to choose among candidates.

That’s what the late Gov. Lawton Chiles (a Democrat) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (GOP) did when this issue arose in 1998. That process resulted in Quince’s ascension to the high court.

“The petitioners have provided no basis at this time to foreclose even the possibility of a similar agreement between Gov. Scott and his successor,” Scott’s motion argues.

“If this court does not clarify the Oct. 15 order … the order should be clarified by recognizing that Gov. Scott — like Gov. Chiles — has the authority to make the appointments in question with the consent of the governor-elect chosen at the November 2018 general election.”

Parties including the League of Women Voters of Florida were behind the legal challenge to Scott’s attempt to fill the seats.

Puerto Rico leaders to Rick Scott: Divest state from company doing foreclosures

Puerto Rican diaspora leaders sent a letter to Gov. Rick Scott demanding a halt to state investments in TPG Capital, a company conducting foreclosures on Puerto Rican families.

The letter alleges TPG affiliate Roosevelt Cayman in May ramped up foreclosures despite the extension of a federal moratorium on such actions against hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

“TPG has continued to file cases in federal court, where the filings are in English, court is less accessible, and legal representation is more expensive for homeowners,” the letter reads.

Signatories on the letter to Scott include: Armando Santiago Pintado of Vamos4PR, Stephanie Porta of Organize Florida, Otoniel Figueroa Durán of Alianza Por Puerto Rico, Melissa Mark Viverito of Power4PR, Julio López Varona of Center for Popular Democracy/Hedge Clippers, Mairym Ramos of SEIU, Luis Ponce of Boricuas Unidos en la Diaspora, and Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan of LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

“Even prior to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico a year ago, the island faced an unprecedented foreclosure crisis that has destabilized families and communities,” the letter reads.

“An average of 14 families lost homes every day to foreclosure in Puerto Rico, more than double the rate a decade ago during the global financial crisis.”

The letter also asserts TPG intentionally files foreclosures in federal court where all documents appear in English, that the courts themselves remain largely inaccessible to island residents, and that legal representation is costly.

“Despite repeated requests from Puerto Rican community and allied advocacy groups, TPG has refused to move cases from federal court to local courts,” the letter reads.

Florida’s State Board of Administration invested $200 million into TPG’s TSSP Adjacent Opportunities Fund, the arm of the company engaged in foreclosures on homes and businesses on the island.

The state since 2012 invested $400 million into TPG overall.

Investment decisions for the SBA fall under the control of a three-member board of trustees including Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The letter also comes a week before the mid-term elections, where Scott, a Naples Republican, is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson for his Senate seat and Patronis faces a challenge from Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring. Bondi is term-limited.

“In light of TPG’s aggressive home foreclosures, including during a period when a HUD foreclosure moratorium was in effect, we ask that Florida halt new investments with TPG Capital,” the letter closes.

Appeals court orders judge to review Rick Scott records

A state appeals court has overruled a Tallahassee trial judge who ordered Gov. Rick Scott to disclose details of his official and campaign schedules, ordering that judge to first review the material privately.

State law clearly requires such “in camera” scrutiny of the disputed material, a unanimous three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal said Monday.

Judge Lori Rowe signed the opinion and wrote separately to stress that disclosure of some Scott’s travel plans might compromise his security.

She cited an affidavit signed by Darrick Walker, of Scott’s security detail, attesting that those details “could reveal surveillance techniques, procedures, and the identity of law enforcement officers, which would compromise the safety and security of the governor.”

“Compelled disclosure of these highly sensitive records not only compromises law enforcement information made exempt under the Public Records Act, it also compromises the statutory mandate of the security detail to provide for and maintain the security of the governor,” Rowe wrote.

Judges Harvey Jay III and Joseph Lewis Jr. concurred. The ruling sends the case back to Tallahassee Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, who delivered his ruling Sept. 5.

Monday’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed by AHF MCO of Florida Inc., an affiliate of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, one of five providers denied Medicaid contracts by the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The suit sought electronic and hard-copy calendar entries for all of Scott’s meetings, events, and appearances July 20-Oct. 31; documents and records concerning his travel plans and places he intended to reside; and a list of all campaign and fundraising events planned.

Rowe noted that Scott’s office has handed over similar records in the past, including the names of FDLE agents in his entourage.

However, in a footnote, Rowe said “the governor’s decision to release records on a schedule of his choosing does not waive his ability to assert the exemption (to disclose) prospectively.”

Compared to other Florida governors, Scott has held details of his daily schedule uncommonly close to the vest.

Asked whether the outcome represented a win or a loss, Ryan Andrews, the Tallahassee attorney representing the AHF, said: “In between. We disagree with the court’s ruling, especially since (the Executive Office of the Governor) entered no evidence into the record.”

He insisted the governor’s campaign schedule is a public record that Scott is legally obliged to turn over.

“The delay and refusal to produce the records further suggests there is something untoward in the records relating to AHF’s bid to provide AIDS related services and treatment in South Florida,” Andrews said via email.

“AHF deserves better than EOG withholding the records so that the release doesn’t adversely affect the governor’s Senate campaign. People’s lives and health are at stake.”

He didn’t rule out an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court, but conceded that “it is more likely that the records will be produced more quickly from the trial court once an in camera review of the records is conducted … There will be numerous EOG employees who will likely be subpoenaed to that hearing to provide testimony.”

Scott is even withholding records of his past schedules, Andrews said. He issued a demand Oct. 5 for those documents.

Extra troopers deployed to Florida religious institutions after Pittsburgh shooting

State leaders dispatched Florida Highway Patrol troopers to increase patrols around religious institutions following a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Gov. Rick Scott announced hours after the Pennsylvania attack that patrols would be enhanced at places of worship throughout the state of Florida.

“The shooting at a synagogue in Pennsylvania was an act of pure evil and hatred,” Scott said. “There is no place in America for intolerance and violence, and we will do everything in our power to protect Floridians who are peacefully gathered to worship.”

Pennsylvania authorities report 11 people died in the attack there, according to Pittsburgh news station KDKA CBS 2. The FBI already began investigating the incident as a crime a hate crime, and witnesses say shooter Robert Bowers walked into the synagogue saying “All Jews must die.” The shooter brought an AR-15 and three handguns.

Police apprehended the subject alive within 20 minutes of initial calls to police. Four police officers were injured in the attack.

President Donald Trump responded to news of the shooting, saying the outcome may have been different if armed guards had protected the synagogue. “They didn’t have any protection,” Trump said, according to the Associated Press.

Florida has seen a significant jump in reported hate crimes, according to the most recent published data.

Order in the (Supreme) Court: Suit aims to short-circuit nominating process

Progressive groups now are suing to stop a state nominating panel from recommending candidates to the Florida Supreme Court, saying it “lacks the authority to make its nominations before the vacancies occur.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause filed Friday evening to halt the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC).

Earlier Friday, that panel announced it still plans to interview 59 lawyers and judges who applied to be the next three justices on the state’s highest court.

That’s after the court itself, in an unsigned order earlier this month, said outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Scott cannot appoint the replacements for Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, and Peggy A. Quince. Scott, who favors conservative jurists, said he would name their replacements; the groups challenged him and won.

Here’s what’s at stake: The next justices will likely determine the ideological balance of the court. Pariente, Lewis, and Quince are regarded as the liberal-leaning contingent; Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson are the conservatives. Justice Jorge Labarga is sometimes a swing vote.

The organizations argued Scott shouldn’t be able to replace the outgoing justices because their terms don’t expire till the last minute of his last day in office, but the new governor will be sworn in earlier.

And the court’s order came with similar provisos, that “the justices do not leave prior to the expiration of their terms at midnight between January 7 and January 8, 2019, and provided that the (new) governor takes office immediately upon the beginning of his term.”

As it stands now, the next governor — almost certainly either Republican Ron DeSantis or Democrat Andrew Gillum — will have to pick from the JNC’s list of nominees.

The “proceedings underway create, at the very least, sufficient appearance of a tainted process that (Scott and the JNC) should be prohibited from any further actions other than alerting the public that applications will continue to be received at least through January 8,” according to Friday’s filing by attorney John S. Mills of Tallahassee.

It asks the court “to order the Commission to accept new applications … no earlier than January 8, 2019, prohibit the Commission from taking any other action on these vacancies until January 8, 2019, and prohibit Gov. Scott from taking any further action related to the Commission or its membership other than preserving all records related to the proceedings of the Commission generated at any time during his administration.”

The JNC “begins interviewing applicants November 3, and it is clearly poised to make its nominations by November 9,” the filing said. “The dispute will not become moot once interviews begin or even if nominations are made, but it would be far better to decide these issues before the Commission announced nominees.”

Of the 59 applicants, it added, “only 11 women applied, only 6 applicants identify as black, and only 6 identify as Hispanic. The list of applicants has been described in the press as including a ‘who’s who of conservative judges.’ ”

Jason Unger, who chairs the Supreme Court JNC, could not be reached Friday night.

In recent weeks, Scott tried to defuse the litigation by offering to confer with his successor on candidates, taking a page from the late Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, who reached a similar accord with incoming Republican Jeb Bush in 1998. Quince is the last justice appointed through such consultations.

Geoff Burgan, then the campaign communications director for Gillum, spurned the offer, saying: “In our understanding of the Constitution, the next Governor will appoint the next three Supreme Court justices.”

Ethics, election complaints question Rick Scott’s use of post-storm footage

Correction: The piece when first published said we reached out for comment to the Scott campaign Friday for comment on these charges. We reached out this morning.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday that he is returning to the campaign trail. But there are some suggestions that he never stopped, with charges that the Governor exploited storm relief for campaign purposes.

The American Defense Legal Fund, a partner group of liberal group American Bridge 21st Century, filed complaints Friday with the Florida Commission on Ethics and Federal Election Commission.

The charge: Scott accepted an in-kind contribution from state government in the form of video and images of Hurricane Michael cleanup used by his campaign for a television ad.

Scott “has approved, and his [political committee] is airing, a television advertisement that includes video footage and images of Gov. Scott visiting areas of Florida that were recently devastated by Hurricane Michael.

“This footage and these images were recorded, edited, and disseminated by the Governor’s Office,” the elections complaint asserts.

The complaint invokes the $2,700 limit on contributions in an attempt to value the footage, noting the use of “state government property—video footage and images of Governor Scott responding to Hurricane Michael … [used] in a campaign ad without paying the state for the value of the footage.”

“Given the substantial costs of transporting a film crew and a photographer to a disaster area on short notice, the value of the footage and images almost certainly exceeds the law’s $2,7000 contribution limit to federal candidates,” the complaint says.

The ethics complaint is similar to the federal elections filing.

Scott’s campaign, via spox Lauren Schenone, asserts that these charges lack merit.

“Apparently the folks at the American Defense Legal Fund need to go back to law school. These pictures were released publicly and are available to be used by anyone, including these liberal Washington groups. Of course, there’s no reason they would since the candidate they’re desperately trying to prop up had already abandoned the communities devastated by hurricane Michael and had little interest in helping with recovery,” Schenone asserted Saturday.

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