Pam bondi Archives - Florida Politics

Ryan Torrens, political outsider running for Attorney General, says he’s what Florida Democrats need

Consumer protection attorney Ryan Torrens is quite aware that he’s not an established political presence, but he says that should be an argument for his fledgling candidacy to become Florida’s next Attorney General.

“Look, I get it,” the 32-year-old told an audience who gathered Friday morning at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange to hear the Hillsborough County resident speak as part of the Cafe Con Tampa lecture series.

“I’m young. First-time candidate. A lot of people look at me and think, ‘Can he really win this thing? He’s never run for office before. He’s been practicing for five years? Come on.””

The answers are hard to dispute.

“In the Democratic Party in Florida, what we’ve been doing the last 20 years isn’t working.”

Torrens says he’s offering something different. Energy, passion, new ideas and the fact that he is decidedly not a politician, which he has surmised during his brief time as a statewide candidate is something that voters are hungry for.

A fifth generation Tampa native with Cuban roots, Torrens became the first (and still only) Democrat to file for Attorney General two months ago. Former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville state Representative Jay Fant have filed to run in the GOP primary.

Under previous AG’s like Charlie Crist and Bob Butterworth, the position as Florida’s top cop was about being a consumer advocate for the people, something that Torrens says has been missing under Pam Bondi’s direction.

“A lot of people think it’s like the state attorney prosecuting murders and things like that,” he says of the AG’s job description.”That’s really not what the Attorney General does. If I’m Attorney General, I’m supposed to fight for all the people of Florida, and not simply take big contribution checks from companies and give them a pass.”

Working on the opioid epidemic he says will be a top priority in his administration, and if elected, he says he’ll sue the pharmaceutical companies for their role in perpetuating the crisis.

“They need to be held liable,” he says, “and we could use those proceeds from a settlement or a verdict to help get treatment from those who are currently suffering.”

That’s not such a radical idea, as attorneys general in Ohio and Mississippi have already done so.

Torrens recently outed himself as being a recovering alcoholic, and said that experience allows him to identify with  Floridians working through their own addictions.

Referring to the controversy over the recent “school of hope” education bill, he talked about the state constitution, which says that the state must adequately fund public schools.

“I would like to see if the AG could possibly file a lawsuit against the Legislature, for not adequately funding the public schools, and fulfilling its constitutional obligation,” he said.

Torrens also says he’ll go after predatory student lenders and abusive debt collectors. But he insists that he’s not some “left-wing radical” who wants to pick on Wall Street.

“When I talk all over the state with Democrats and Republicans they want the same thing, which is, they need to follow the same rules.”

A political science major at the University of Tampa, Torrens sounds like an analyst when he told the crowd he understands that it’s been the Democratic party’s arrogance that led to the election of Donald Trump last November.

“They feel that the Democrats are not speaking to them. That we make promises that we’re going to fight for working class people, but we’re a bunch of hypocrites because we get into office and we don’t really fight for them,” he said, adding that “we have a  tendency sometimes to talk down to working class people and they feel like we’re trying to dictate to them how they need to live their lives.”

Torrens will certainly be an underdog to the Republican nominee if makes it that far next year when it comes to fundraising. He announced that he had raised a little more than $22,000 after two months on the campaign trail recently.

Fant raised over $79,000, and Moody more than $600,000 between her own campaign and her political committee.

Steve Webb: Run, John Morgan, run — no, not for that

Dear John Morgan:

All kinds of Florida Democrats are enthused that you will follow your successful campaign to expand legal medical marijuana with a 2018 campaign for governor.

You could self-finance, and the party sorely needs to concentrate its fundraising down ballot. You have name recognition, but it doesn’t carry the baggage of a government record. You aren’t timid, and at this point, we hunger for boldness to oppose a mess in Tallahassee, you could argue has been the template for the mess in Washington.

But stop, for a minute, and turn the question that justifies your running on its head. How are you any more qualified than Rick Scott or Donald Trump to run a government? In 2018, this question is important because Scott wasn’t qualified and still isn’t. Ditto Trump.

We lose the “amateur hour” argument if you are the candidate. It will be similar to waging the argument four years ago that the best way to turn the corner on four terms of Republican governors was to elect the third-term guy to a fifth.

However, Florida has a constitutional office you are highly qualified for, and frankly, the office begs even more for a change in direction. Florida has a bad governor, but it has an even worse attorney general. Pam Bondi should not be able to name her successor.

How did Bondi become the state’s chief lawyer? Not from a legal record. She functioned largely as a telegenic spokeswoman for the Hillsborough state attorney’s office, then parlayed a gig as one of Roger Ailes‘ blonde expert witnesses into her election campaign. She won, frankly, because losing is what we Democrats were doing in 2010.

Once in office, Bondi turned the Office of the Attorney General into a small-town law firm for mostly out-of-state interests. Clients who had put up a retainer when she was a candidate found her a less-than-energetic protector of consumers, investors or residents impacted by mistreatment of our natural resources. One client in particular — the Republican Attorney Generals Association — found her to be a much more enthusiastic co-plaintiff than a prosecutor. She led Florida into federal suits that on the surface stood outside or even in conflict with the state’s interests. The most famous involved the Affordable Care Act, and a 2012 image lingers of her and Scott confusedly having to abandon their victory lap news conference when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA.

But you and I both know that wasn’t Bondi’s most ridiculous co-plaintiff move. That would be one of the times when she signed the state of Florida on to stop other states from adopting standards Florida has itself adopted, sometimes introduced. I would love to see an accounting of how much taxpayer money she wasted pursuing various suits at the behest of the RAGA, how much she spent on outside attorneys to accomplish tasks she ignored while servicing her out-of-state clients, and how often the suits have ended poorly — losses, but also an increased acrimony among the states involved and a belief among large segments of Florida that Bondi is anyone’s lawyer but ours.

In addition, a state’s best government oversight is a strong attorney general, and Bondi has never challenged her party’s excesses. An attorney general who took the state and federal Constitutions seriously would have blocked the legislature from defying the Fair District amendments in the 2011 redistricting. The resulting litigation has ended up costing taxpayers more than $20 million. In 2015, Scott used taxpayer money to fly to and purchase radio advertising in Kentucky on the eve of their gubernatorial election, where he warned voters Democrat policies would allow Florida to steal all their jobs. The best you can say about her own ethical decisions is that she broke no criminal laws.

An attorney general who represented the people against the government would tell both Scott and the legislature that they were on their own passing HB 7059 the way they did. Such an AG might even act as plaintiff’s attorney if the government and legislature refused to fulfill voter-approved constitutional amendments.

I know it would be difficult to take what, on the surface, is a supporting role in changing Florida. It wouldn’t have to be. You would be a crusader, dragging Florida’s official legal presentation back into the sunshine.

In contrast, you might make a lousy governor. Your success has come doing a specific set of things, and they might not translate into a position that is administrative, collaborative. Baseball writer Bill James once said of a 70s Red Sox center fielder, that his doubles against Fenway’s wall became routine fly outs in Anaheim.

That might happen to you in the governor’s office.

But do you doubt for a minute that you would thrive as The People’s Lawyer? Please, think about it.

___

Steve Webb is a Lakeland resident and member of the Polk County Democratic Executive committee.

 

Pam Bondi ordered to respond to lawsuit over unregistered charities

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Monday was ordered to file a written response to a lawsuit claiming she forces businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, sitting in Tallahassee, also granted a request from Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith to seek “discovery” in the case — that is, to get information from Bondi’s office in preparation for a possible trial.

Smith filed a petition for a “writ of quo warranto,” which demand government officials to prove their authority to perform a certain action. He did not attend Monday’s hearing.

Russell Kent, Bondi’s special counsel for litigation, objected to discovery, saying it was “generally not allowed” in quo warranto cases. He also said he intends to ask the court for summary judgment in the case, allowing Bondi to win without a trial.

But Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, said one of Bondi’s defenses is that donations to groups that weren’t registered as charities were OK because they were “unsolicited,” or not asked for.

“There is only one way for is to find out about that, and that’s to get discovery from” their office, Siverson told Dodson.

“I don’t know of anything that would prevent you at this time” from asking for records, Dodson replied. The judge also said a previous order he issued was “a little misleading” about whether Bondi needed to file an answer to Smith’s complaint.

“I don’t mind taking the fall for messing up on that,” Dodson said.

Smith had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He says some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was improperly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” Siverson said his client just wants Bondi to play by the rules.

“This is a citizen’s lawsuit to make the Attorney General comply with the law,” he said after Monday’s hearing. “That, I think, is remarkable.”

Pam Bondi case over unregistered charities heads to court

A Tallahassee-based circuit judge will hear arguments Monday in a lawsuit against Attorney General Pam Bondi that claims she forces businesses to pony up millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

Circuit Judge Charles Dodson will hear the case at 2 p.m. in the Leon County Courthouse, dockets accessed Friday show.

The plaintiff, Orlando entrepreneur John D. Smith, was investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015. He invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms.

He now argues that some of the unregistered charities Bondi makes settling parties give money to is her own “Law Enforcement Officer of the Year” award and various “scholarship funds designated by the Attorney General.”

Smith also said Bondi was wrongly directing contributions to her office’s nonprofit, Seniors vs. Crime, which is a “conflict of interest,” the suit says. Two of its directors work for Bondi.

Bondi, through Deputy Solicitor General Jonathan L. Williams, earlier responded that some of the organizations criticized by Smith aren’t “require(d) … to register (with the state) before receiving contributions from governmental entities.”

She further said Seniors vs. Crime “was created in 1989 by then-Attorney General Bob Butterworth (and) since 2002, OAG (Office of Attorney General) employees have consistently served on the organization’s board … In keeping with that close historical relationship, OAG and Seniors vs. Crime share a common interest—protecting Florida’s senior citizens against fraud.”

Scott Siverson, Smith’s attorney, also denied that Smith had settled his case with the Florida Attorney General’s Office. Many companies choose to settle in what’s known as an “assurance of voluntary compliance.”

“Apart from their initial threat letter to Storm Stoppers, the OAG never took any other action, and never sent a letter to Mr. Smith informing him that their investigation was concluded,” he said in a statement.

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

In a previous statement, Bondi called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” She now will be represented by Russell Kent, her special counsel for litigation, records show.

Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens calls out Rick Scott for attempt to pack Supreme Court

In one of his first public statements since he announced his candidacy last month, Democratic Attorney General candidate Ryan Torrens says he’s strongly opposed to Rick Scott’s attempt to replace three members of the Florida Supreme Court on his last day of office in 2019.

“In 2014, Florida voters had an opportunity to approve a constitutional amendment which would have permitted this practice and our voters rejected it,” Torrens said. “Governor Scott needs to respect the wishes of Florida voters and permit our new governor to appoint the replacement justices. After all, a newly-elected governor better reflects the will of the people rather than a governor elected four years ago.”

That constitutional amendment cited by Torrens not only failed to get the 60 percent support necessary for passage but lost outright by a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. However, Scott continues to say that after finishing his second term in January of 2019, he will name the the successors to the three justices who are scheduled to leave office on the same day as he does.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince are scheduled to retire because they have reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on Jan. 8, 2019 — the same day a new Governor will be sworn in the replace Scott. They also make up a part of the Florida Supreme Court’s liberal majority.

Two voting rights groups – the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause – filed a petition last month requesting that the Florida Supreme Court Governor Scott from appointing the justices’ replacements.

“I encourage the Florida Supreme Court to affirm the will of the voters and to find that this appointment power rests with the newly-elected governor, not the outgoing governor,”said Torrens, who is also calling on Attorney General Pam Bondi to take a stand on Scott’s attempt to “pack our Supreme Court.”

“We should rise above partisan politics and respect the wishes of our voters,” the University of Tampa graduate says.

“When I am your attorney general, I will always fight for our people over entrenched special interests, even if that means standing up to our governor,” said Torrens.

The 32-year-old Odessa based attorney has just recently announced his candidacy attorney general, the first Democrat to do so.

Former Hillsborough County judge Ashley Moody and Jacksonville area state Representative Jay Fant have filed to run in the Republican race for AG.

Florida Bar will focus on ‘protecting the courts’ during constitutional revision process

The new president of The Florida Bar says the organization is standing by to offer “technical legal” support to the Constitution Revision Commission as it readies to amend the state’s governing document, which could include changes affecting the judicial branch. 

Higer

But Michael J. Higer, a partner in Berger Singerman’s Miami office, won’t say which public proposals already filed he favors—or fears. He assumed the Bar presidency on June 23. 

“It is too early in the process to focus on any one idea proposed by Florida’s citizens,” he said in an email interview. “But changing our Constitution should be done with caution, because once something is added, it is very difficult to repeal.

“That is why it is critical that we as a bar educate our members and the public so that they are fully informed and engaged in the CRC process.”

But a recent poll by Florida TaxWatch showed “77 percent of Florida voters said they haven’t heard about recent Constitution Revision Commission meetings.” Another 13 percent said they only saw, read or heard “a little” about the commission’s activities.

Higer said the Bar will be “working with its members statewide to educate their communities and encourage engagement in the process,” including a public education program in the fall.

My hope is that, if Florida’s citizens understand the issues, the work of the CRC will be beneficial to our state,” he said.

The 37-member commission meets every 20 years to review and offer changes to the state’s constitution. Gov. Rick Scott appointed the bulk of its current board, including chair Carlos Beruff, along with picks by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and Chief Justice Jorge Labarga. Attorney General Pam Bondi also is a member.

This is the first commission to be appointed by a Republican majority, leading some to fear that amendments it offers will veer too far to the right. Any amendments it offers go straight to the 2018 statewide ballot, but still must pass with 60 percent approval.

The commission’s “focus will not be on strengthening” the judiciary, said Martha Barnett, a former president of the American Bar Association and 1997-98 member of the CRC.

Barnett said she instead expects an effort to “restrict, narrow and weaken the judicial branch.” She spoke at a panel discussion at The Associated Press’ annual Legislative Session planning meeting this January. “And if that happens, it is to the peril of the life and liberty of the people of this state.”

Lawmakers this year filed but did not pass several bills, including ones setting appellate-level judicial term limits and requiring the Supreme Court to report regularly on case delays.

The Florida Bar’s focus will be on protecting the courts, to make sure that they are fair, impartial, adequately funded and preserved as the third, separate branch of government,” Higer said. “Anything that impedes the operation of the courts would be a major concern.”

He added Bar leaders already have met with the CRC executive director Jeff Woodburn and general counsel William Spicola—both former members of Scott’s administration.

“The Bar has offered to assist the commission by providing legal subject matter experts on the various issues coming before the commission who may answer questions or provide analysis,” Higer said.

The CRC already has held nine public hearings across the state; the next hearing has not yet been set.

Miami judge: New stand-your-ground law is unconstitutional

A judge ruled Monday that Florida’s lawmakers overstepped their authority in updating the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

In ruling the law unconstitutional, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch said Monday that the changes should have been crafted by the Florida Supreme Court instead of by the Legislature.

The Miami Herald reports that the 14-page order is a victory for prosecutors who have firmly opposed the law. Critics have said the law makes it easier for defendants to get away with murder and other violent crimes.

The Legislature modified the 2005 statute and Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law in June. The bill was backed by the National Rifle Association.

The controversial law has long been criticized for fostering a shoot-first mentality, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force in responding to an apparent threat. Prosecutors said the law made it easier for judges to dismiss criminal charges if they believe someone acted in self-defense.

The Herald reports that in Miami-Dade County, judges have tossed out several high-profile murder cases after pre-trial immunity hearings. But they’ve also allowed others to go to a jury. Now, the new law requires prosecutors to shoulder the burden of disproving a self-defense claim. State attorneys have said that essentially forces them to unfairly try a case twice, making it easier for criminals to escape justice.

Under the law, prosecutors must prove by “clear and convincing” evidence that someone wasn’t acting in self-defense.

The judge’s ruling likely will lead to legal wrangling in the appellate courts and the Florida Supreme Court. Kylie Mason, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi, told The Associated Press they would appeal the order.

Scott spokesman John Tupps also said the governor’s office is reviewing the judge’s ruling.

The 2012 killing in Florida of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman opened a debate about the limits of self-defense, and it hasn’t let up since. Zimmerman was acquitted of second-degree murder after jurors received instructions on Florida’s “stand your ground” law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Ashley Moody adds a political committee to her Attorney General bid arsenal

Former Hillsborough Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who filed in the Republican Primary for Attorney General this month, also launched a political committee this month.

The name: “Friends of Ashley Moody.

Moody has certain tailwinds behind her, including backing by current Attorney General Pam Bondi, who basically endorsed Moody even before she entered the race.

Moody has one opponent on the GOP side thus far: Jacksonville state Rep. Jay Fant.

Fant has $79,575 in his campaign account; of that sum, $8,000 came from Fant, and $3,000 came from his political committee, “Pledge This Day,” which raised $9,000 in May.

Contributions mostly came from Northeast Florida. However, a very important northeast Florida Republican won’t do anything to help him: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

We asked an advisor to Curry if the mayor was going to overlook criticisms Fant made of him at a local Republican Party meeting and help Fant out. The answer was short and brutal.

“Not a chance.”

Without Curry’s blessing, it’s going to be difficult for Fant to compete with the resources that will be at Moody’s disposal.

 

Bob Gualtieri, Chris Nocco endorse Ashley Moody for Attorney General

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Sheriff Chris Nocco of Pasco County are endorsing former Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody for Attorney General.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Attorney General Pam Bondi during my tenure as Sheriff. Her commitment to protecting our state from pill mills, drug traffickers, and those who prey on seniors through identity theft and scams has made us all safer. We need to continue these aggressive, common-sense initiatives and there is no one better suited to do that than Ashley Moody. She is a proven prosecutor and experienced leader in the legal community. She knows what it takes to protect our state and she has my full support,” Gualtieri said in a statement Monday.

Moody responded: “Sheriff Gualtieri is one of the most proactive and engaged Sheriffs in our state. He is constantly taking the fight to those who seek to do us harm and works with neighborhood and community leaders to ensure the safety of those he and his deputies have sworn to protect. He is also a leader in advocating for a stronger and smarter criminal justice system.”

“As sheriff, my top priority is the safety of my community and the brave men and women who risk their lives each and every day to keep our streets safe,” Nocco added. “I’m supporting Ashley Moody for Attorney General because she shares my priorities and has the experience, knowledge, and determination to keep our state safe and support our law enforcement community and its quest to protect Floridians.”

“Sheriff Nocco is one of the most highly respected and trusted Sheriffs in our state,” Moody said. “As the wife of a law enforcement officer I know just how important it is that our men and women in law enforcement have leaders who constantly look out for their safety and best interest.

“Sheriff Nocco has a proven track record of taking the fight to criminals who seek to do us harm and supporting those who keep us safe,” Moody said. “I can’t thank him enough for his support and I look forward to working with him, and all our Sheriffs, to keep Florida safe.”

Moody spent a decade as a circuit judge in Hillsborough County, resigning abruptly in April. After Moody’s resignation, Bondi, a longtime friend, encouraged her to run for attorney general. Jacksonville Republican State Rep. Jay Fant and Democrat Ryan Torrens of Tampa have already entered the race.

Ashley lives with her husband, Justin, a federal law enforcement agent, in Tampa, with their two sons, Brandon and Connor.

Pam Bondi’s net worth rises to $1.7 million, report shows

Attorney General Pam Bondi has reported her latest net worth at nearly $1.7 million, according to her 2016 financial disclosure filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Her net worth now has risen from the $1.4 million reported in 2015 and from the almost $781,000 she reported for 2012, the earliest disclosure still publicly available on the commission’s website.

Her net worth jumped significantly in 2013 after she inherited from the estate of her father, 

Among assets, her disclosure for 2016 shows roughly $540,000 in “household goods and personal effects” and her “personal residence” now valued at $1.06 million. Her home’s value rose from $825,000 in 2015—a 28.5 percent increase.

She also lists a one-third share in a condominium worth $342,000.

Her liabilities consist of two loans from Tampa’s Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union totaling almost $255,000.

Bondi also lists her yearly attorney general’s salary from the state—$128,871.

The latest financial disclosures for Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Commissioner and GOP candidate for governor Adam Putnam, and departing Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater are not yet filed, according to the website. Atwater is stepping down June 30 to become chief financial officer for Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. 

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