Pam bondi – Page 5 – Florida Politics

Rick Scott, Cabinet eye land conservation projects

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet are expected next month to consider whether to spend nearly $11 million to help limit future development on four ranches and farms in four counties.

The proposals would add 8,388 acres to the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, which through the use of “conservation easements” restricts future development but allows owners to continue using land for such things as agricultural operations.

Scott and the Cabinet had been expected to take up the proposals during a meeting next week, but the meeting was canceled because Scott plans to attend the funeral of Highlands County Deputy William Gentry, who was shot to death while on duty. McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Scott, said the agenda for the scheduled Tuesday meeting would be rolled to a June 13 meeting.

The proposals are a 4,476-acre project in Highlands County known as Goolsby Ranch, with a cost of $7.63 million; a 929-acre project in Manatee County known as Howze Ranch, with a cost of $1.5 million; a 1,400-acre project in Madison County known as Sampala Lake Ranch, with a cost of $1.26 million; and a 1,583-acre project in Putnam County known as Rodman Plantation, with a cost of $540,000.

State staff members have recommended approval of all four projects. The Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, has been used 41 times to secure 42,276 acres across the state.

Attorney General candidates split on felons’ rights

Republicans running to replace term-limited Attorney General Pam Bondi would continue with the state’s legal approach to defending a controversial process for restoring felons’ voting rights.

But Democrats seeking the state Cabinet post oppose Bondi’s handling of the legal battle and support a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters in November, would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences.

The Republican primary for attorney general, pitting state House members Frank White and Jay Fant and former Hillsborough County Judge Ashley Moody, has been more contentious than the Democratic contest. But White and Moody agree on supporting an effort led by Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott to fend off a federal lawsuit that would require an overhaul of Florida’s process to restore felons’ voting rights.

Fant’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

White said Bondi, who has been a key supporter of policies that have made it harder to restore felons’ rights, should be “commended for defending our Constitution.”

“The 14th Amendment gives the Governor broad discretion to grant and deny clemency,” White said. “Liberal activists and their lawyers are playing election-year politics with a process that is expressly defined in our Constitution.”

The lawsuit, filed last year by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on behalf of nine felons, contends the state’s vote-restoration system is unconstitutional and discriminatory.

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ordered Scott, Bondi and the two other members of the Cabinet — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis — who serve as the clemency board to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring felons’ voting rights. But the state has appealed the case, and a panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals blocked an order by Walker that would have required the state to quickly change the process last month.

In supporting Bondi, Moody echoed White, calling the lawsuit “another example of activists inappropriately attempting to use our judicial system to overturn decisions by our elected officials.”

“If one believes that a different system should be utilized, the answer is not to claim the current system is unconstitutional,” Moody said. “The answer is to discuss the issue in the elections and let the voters decide.”

Moody and White oppose the proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 4.

“I cannot in good conscience support Amendment 4 as it will allow violent offenders the automatic restoration of rights without a case-by-case determination of when restoration is appropriate,” Moody said. “Although, I do believe we should consider a less cumbersome procedure for restoration of rights for nonviolent felons.”

A political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy collected enough petitions to put the proposed amendment on the ballot. If approved, it would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded.

The Democratic candidates for attorney general, state Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa and Hillsborough County attorney Ryan Torrens, support the proposed constitutional amendment and agree with critics of the current process who argue Scott and the Cabinet use clemency in a discriminatory manner.

Torrens said his intention, if elected, would be to seek withdrawal of the state’s appeal in the vote-restoration case.

“I believe that our citizens who have paid their debt to society should be able to participate in our democracy again by exercising the right to vote,” Torrens said.

Shaw’s campaign said the state should not continue to waste taxpayer dollars defending a flawed and discriminatory system.

“Our society is one that believes in second chances, and a single mistake should not define an individual for the rest of their life,” Shaw’s campaign said.

Bondi and Scott led efforts to tighten the rights-restoration process after taking office in 2011.

Since the changes went into effect, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s a backlog of more than 10,000 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

State objects to woman’s anonymity in NRA case

Dismissing the potential danger feared by a 19-year-old who wants to join a legal challenge filed by the National Rifle Association, lawyers for Attorney General Pam Bondi asked a federal judge to deny a request to keep the young woman’s identity private because they said her desire for anonymity was not justified.

Lawyers for the NRA late last month asked U.S. District Judge Mark Walker to keep the identity of “Jane Doe” secret, based in large part on a declaration filed by the gun-rights group’s Florida lobbyist Marion Hammer, who detailed threatening emails she had received featuring derogatory words for parts of the female anatomy.

But attorneys for Bondi, a defendant in the lawsuit who also represents the state, asked Walker on Friday to reject the NRA’s motion to use the Jane Doe pseudonym for the 19-year-old, portrayed in court documents as an Alachua county woman seeking to remain anonymous due to fear that public exposure could result in “harassment, intimidation, and potentially even physical violence.”

While those concerns warrant “careful consideration,” the plaintiffs’ argument “does not provide a sufficient basis for overcoming the strong presumption in favor of open judicial proceedings,” Florida Solicitor General Amit Agarwal wrote in Friday’s 22-page response.

The spat over the potential plaintiff’s pseudonym comes in a lawsuit filed on March 9 by the NRA, just hours after Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping school-safety measure that included new gun-related restrictions. The legislation was a rapid response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 students and faculty members dead and 17 others wounded.

The law raised from 18 to 21 the minimum age to purchase rifles and other long guns. It also imposed a three-day waiting period on the sale of long guns, such as the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz last year legally purchased — without any waiting period — and is accused of using in the Valentine’s Day massacre at his former school in Parkland.

In late April, the NRA filed a motion to add “Jane Doe” as a plaintiff to the lawsuit, which contends the age restriction in the new law “violates the fundamental rights of thousands of responsible, law-abiding adult Florida citizens and is thus invalid under the Second and Fourteenth Amendments.”

But in Friday’s response, the state’s lawyers argued in favor of a “constitutionally-embedded presumption of openness in judicial proceedings.”

Courts have permitted plaintiffs to remain anonymous in cases involving “mental illness, homosexuality and transsexuality,” as well as birth control, abortion and the welfare rights of illegitimate children or abandoned families, wrote the state’s lawyers, relying on previous case law.

But “the courts have rejected anonymity in other kinds of cases, like this one, not involving ‘information of the utmost intimacy,’ “ the state argued.

“In short, plaintiffs have not pointed to any ‘substantial privacy interest’ that would be served” by keeping Jane Doe’s identity secret, the state’s lawyers wrote. “That consideration, standing alone, compels the conclusion that the motion to proceed under pseudonyms should be denied.”

In an interview with The News Service of Florida on Monday, Hammer condemned the state’s move.

“The attorney general has absolutely nothing to gain by insisting that the identity of this young woman be made public. It has nothing to do with facing an accuser. It’s about being able to stand up for your constitutional rights without fear of vicious hate-mongering. To oppose a motion to shield and protect a 19-year-old young woman from bullying harassment, death threats and intimidation, I view as an act of bullying itself,” the 79-year-old great-grandmother said.

The NRA last month also sought to add “John Doe,” a 19-year-old member of the group, as an “associational member” of the lawsuit.

In a document filed Monday, lawyers for the NRA said the state failed to show “that the circumstances of this case warrant exposing the 19-year-old private citizens who wish to participate in this case to the harassment and threats that, plaintiffs have shown, would almost certainly be inflicted upon them if they are publicly identified with this highly controversial litigation in the current political environment.”

According to the NRA’s filing, “the context of this case cannot be understood apart from the tragic” shooting at the Parkland high school “and its aftermath.”

“That event not only led to the enactment of the ban challenged in this case; it was the catalyst for a nationwide effort to restrict the possession and use of firearms,” the NRA lawyers wrote.

The brief said a “group of well-heeled anti-gun organizations” funded activists who “have barnstormed the country” to push gun-rights restrictions.

“Anti-gun forces have also pushed coordinated secondary boycotts not only of the NRA but of any business that does not take a sufficiently hard line against firearms,” the NRA’s lawyers wrote. “In the current environment, it is difficult to think of a topic as controversial and contentious as Second Amendment rights.”

But in Friday’s filing, Bondi’s lawyers discounted the legal arguments posed by the national gun lobby.

“A litigant’s status as a plaintiff is not ‘highly sensitive and personal information;’ the strong presumption in favor of openness in judicial proceedings may not be discarded to avoid ‘unwanted pubic attention and censure;’ this case is no more ‘controversial’ than countless others — including others involving substantially similar claims — that have been filed by plaintiffs in their own names; and plaintiffs do not cite a single case in which a court has allowed claims of this kind to be brought under pseudonym,” the attorney general’s lawyers wrote.

“Lawsuits are public events,” which must be hashed out in the public forum, Bondi’s lawyers wrote.

Hammer, who was the recipient of epithets too explicit to reprint in newspapers, disagreed.

“The reality is that when the attorney general says lawsuits are ‘public events’ so that everybody must be identified, apparently she has forgotten about Roe v. Wade and many other events where the courts protected identities from public exposure,” she said.

Hammer also blasted Bondi for not representing crime victims.

“Our attorney general advocates for victims. Why on earth would she stand by and allow a 19-year-old young woman to be victimized, if she can stop it?” Hammer said.

Fundraising from attorneys may be easier for Jay Fant, if he didn’t bash trial lawyers first

As the 2018 election cycle heats up, there’s no shortage of easy targets for campaigns and candidates.

Attorney General hopeful Jay Fant has been quick to bash his opponent for taking campaign contributions from trial attorneys.

Fant — himself an attorney — took former Hillsborough judge Ashley Moody to task in a recent email fundraising plea: “Moody, who has won the backing of trial lawyers nationally and in Florida, has now surpassed the $100,000 mark in contributions from 90 trial lawyers and firms.”

He continues: “Trial lawyers want a revolving door for class action suit against successful businesses and it’s clear their candidate in the Attorney General’s race is Ashley Moody.”

It would make for a valid talking point, except that Fant does just what he blasts Moody for — vying for campaign cash from “trial lawyers.”

A couple of weeks after his email against Moody, Fant held a Fort Lauderdale $1,000-per-person fundraiser April 25 in his bid to succeed Pam Bondi — at the offices of DiPierto Partners, a law firm that proudly declares they are “trial lawyers who will stand by you.”

“What distinguishes Di Pietro Partners LLP is that our lawyers have tried more than 100 jury trials,” the firm’s website proclaims. “While not every case needs to be tried, it’s important to retain a lawyer who regularly tries cases. Only then will the other side in a legal dispute take your case seriously.”

Last year, lead partner David Di Pietro announced his firm would be filing suit against Delta on behalf of one of the victims of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting Jan. 6, 2017.

Or, in other words, trial lawyers at Di Pietro are doing what they do best — being trial lawyers. Exactly what Fant is keen to decry.

Richard Corcoran

Who will have the ‘come to Jesus’ talk with Richard Corcoran?

Richard Corcoran promises to make a big announcement this week, but, at this point in the election cycle, what it will be is anyone’s guess.

By now, the Pasco Republican was supposed to have made the GOP primary for Florida governor a three horse race, but, for a variety of reasons, Corcoran is still on the outside looking in.

Florida’s political media, including, most notably, the Tampa Bay Times’ Adam Smith has feasted on Corcoran’s failure to launch.

“What became of Richard Corcoran’s allegedly brilliant political mind?” Smith asked in a recently column. “Maybe it never actually extended beyond the Capitol.”

Corcoran’s relationship with the media has always been a double-edged sword. He’s probably given more access to more reporters than any other House Speaker of the modern Republican era. He seems to genuinely enjoy talking with and, on some occasions, sparring with individual reporters.

Of course, too much of the legislative process is now conducted behind closed doors, but Corcoran has certainly been the most accessible state leader within the triumvirate of the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker. Yet, as Joe Negron prepares to exit early from the Legislature, it’s the Stuart Republican who is being lauded by the press.

“Can’t wait to see what’s next for @joenegronfl,” tweeted Lawrence Reisman of the TC Palm. “He’s grown a lot as a legislator in the dozen or so years I’ve covered him. I’ve admired his conservative pragmatism.”

It would be quite surprising if any member of the Capitol Press Corps gushes about ‘what’s next’ for Corcoran, despite him and his chamber being significantly more transparent than Negron and most of the rest of the Senate.

No matter how accessible Corcoran was, his politics were never going to endear him with the reporters, columnists, and editorial writers who follow the legislative process. Corcoran probably should have known better — or at least remembered the axiom that if you live by the press, you will die by the press.

And that’s the question facing Corcoran this week: Does his political career live on, or is it over? And if it’s really over, who will have the come to Jesus talk with him?

Who is going to tell the man who for the last two years has been the second most powerful politician in the state that his dream of becoming Florida governor is just not going to happen. It may have been within his grasp six months ago, but he overplayed his hand by spending millions of dollars on a controversial television ad that, at the end of the day, scared the crap out of people. He would have been better served putting all of that money behind the cute spot he cut ahead of the Super Bowl.

Even if that ad had resonated and Corcoran had broken through the noise, it probably still would not have mattered. Adam Putnam and Ron DeSantis have not left enough room for Corcoran to operate. It’s just impossible to get to the right of DeSantis and Putnam has a lock on the establishment support. There just isn’t a third lane in the Republican primary. Not for a candidate who can’t self-fund.

I write this as if Corcoran doesn’t know this already. He does. His pollster, Tony Fabrizio does. But he still may run, just to deny DeSantis the nomination.

Or Corcoran may run for Attorney General. That’s what former Rick Scott spokesman Brian Burgess has been saying all along. That’s what I tweeted a week ago. There seems to be momentum for Corcoran in that direction. One rumor is that he’s talked with his brother, powerful lobbyist Michael Corcoran, about him stepping down as the finance chair of Ashley Moody‘s campaign so as to avoid any awkward moments if Corcoran enters the race.

It’s not a given that Corcoran wins the A.G. race, by the way. Maybe Frank White drops out if Corcoran enters the race, maybe he doesn’t. Jay Fant certainly won’t step aside for Corcoran. But its Moody, a telegenic former circuit judge backed by Pam Bondi, who would be Corcoran’s toughest opponent. Meanwhile, Democrat Sean Shaw will be waiting for him in the general election.

So what’s Corcoran going to do … not run for Governor or Attorney General? Could his pride handle such stillness?

What if there was a third way for Richard Corcoran?

No it does not involve redecorating the Governor’s Mansion (although it would be fun to see Corcoran’s wife, Anne, bring their brood to Tallahassee). In fact, it doesn’t involve taking over any office space on the plaza level of the Capitol.

What Corcoran could do — should do if he truly wishes to secure his legacy — is call a press conference this week and announce …

… that he’s running a campaign this November, not for his own election, but to persuade voters to pass the constitutional amendments he most cares about. These include Amendment 1, an expansion of the homestead property-tax exemption, and Amendment 3, a requirement for two-thirds votes by future legislatures when raising taxes or fees. He could also campaign for Amendment 8, which would allow an alternative process for approving public schools, including charter schools, rather than by local school boards, and Amendment 12, which would impose a six-year lobbying ban on former state elected officials, state agencies heads and local elected officials.

(While he’s at it Corcoran could also push for Amendment 3, which would allow voters to decide on future expansions of casino gambling — something the Speaker did not allow to happen on his watch.)

Each of these are issues Corcoran has fought for and wants to see permanently enshrined. If they are approved by 60 percent of voters, they would do almost as much to change the course of state government as whatever any individual politician attempts to accomplish.

Corcoran could take the money he raised thinking it would get him at least four years as Florida governor and, instead, spend it on an effort that would secure his legacy for decades.

Instead of campaigning to be Florida’s Governor or Attorney General, he could fight for ‘Corcoran’s Constitution.’

Richard Corcoran once said, “If you are just going to capitulate to the special interests and the mainstream media and all the powers that be because you are afraid that somehow it is not worth the fight on something that you know fits that definition, there is nothing honorable about that.”

There is no dishonor, Mr. Speaker, in recognizing the futility of proceeding down one path when there is a fight worth taking on down another.

In other words, live to fight another day.

Blake Dowling: Backpage and the fight against human trafficking

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has been a vocal advocate and champion for the victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Last year in our state, a Coral Cables man was arrested for human trafficking.

The headlines are all over the state — from Miami, to Boca to Tallahassee

One common element in many of these stories is

Backpage began as a classified advertising website in 2004. It offered very traditional services, job listings, real estate, and so forth. They also had an “escort” section, which was later removed, and changed to “personals” — an attempt to keep the law at bay.

A couple of weeks ago, after a massive effort by Bondi (as well as every other AG in the nation), the FBI and public won a huge battle as the Department of Justice seized the site on April 6. The company’s CEO then pleaded guilty to “charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.”

Backpage was certainly not the first page with adult-themed ads and listings. However, what caused the entire country to hunt them down was the fact that they have been accused that the site “encourage[s] dissemination of child sex trafficking content on its website” (as per the National Center for Missing And Exploited Children).

According to the NCMEC, the majority of child sex trafficking cases referred to the organization involved ads found on Backpage.

Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin — two of the accused.

What’s next? Five members are the team have a trial date for Jan. 15, 2020. Some argue that Backpage was not responsible for the consequences of its ads; others say it gave workers in the escort industry a safe place to operate.

Newsweek has a very dramatic (spare us the drama, guys) headline about that: “‘People are going to die’: Sex workers devastated after Backpage shutdown.

Nevertheless, even the appearance of turning a blind eye to the exploitation of children — in both Florida and nationwide — is worthy of the full wrath of our nation’s law enforcement (unless proven innocent, of course).

But it would appear that Backpage’s Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin are going away for a long, long while.

A shout out to Bondi and her team for fighting the good fight.

Have a great weekend.


Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. He can be reached at

ashley moody

Joe Negron endorses Ashley Moody for Attorney General

Senate President Joe Negron waded into the Republican Primary for Attorney General Tuesday, announcing his support for former circuit court judge Ashley Moody.

“The next Attorney General of Florida should possess a keen legal mind, understand the rich history of Florida and protect the rights of all citizens of our State,” the Stuart Republican said in a press release.

“The best predictor of future success is past performance. Ashley Moody has excelled as a commercial litigator in private practice, a federal prosecutor and a state circuit court judge.

“I am enthusiastically endorsing Ashley Moody because I believe she has the background, experience and temperament to be an exceptional Attorney General.”

The Negron nod is another arrow in Moody’s quiver as she competes against state Reps. Jay Fant and Frank White to be the GOP nominee in the race to replace term-limited AG Pam Bondi.

The Hillsborough County native has already landed support from more than half of Florida’s sheriffs,  11 state attorneys and Bondi, who is a longtime friend.

Moody thanked Negron for the endorsement, adding that as the only candidate in the attorney general’s race having served as a prosecutor and judge, she would “continue to uphold the law by protecting the constitution and prosecuting criminals for a stronger, safer Florida on day one.”

In addition to the broad support among Republican elected officials, Moody has had plenty of success on the fundraising trail.

Through the end of March, she had more than $1.5 million on hand. White leads, however, with about $2 million banked for his campaign, including $1.5 million from himself, while Fant is in the No. 3 spot with about $863,000, including a $750,000 loan.

Rally calls for restoring rights after court defeat

A day after a stinging defeat handed down by an appeals court, ministers and civil rights leaders — including national talk-show host Al Sharpton — rallied Thursday at the state Capitol to rev up support for a proposed constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would automatically restore voting rights for most Florida felons.

A march from Bethel Missionary Baptist Church to the steps of the Old Capitol, planned weeks ago, followed a late-night ruling Wednesday from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a bitterly fought challenge to the state’s vote-restoration system.

The appellate court handed Gov. Rick Scott and the other members of the Board of Executive Clemency a decisive victory by blocking a federal judge’s order that would have required the state to overhaul Florida’s process of restoring the right to vote to felons by Thursday.

In a series of rulings, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and Fourteenth Amendment equal-protection rights of felons. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to revamp what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Attorney General Pam Bondi to put his order on hold.

But in its 2-1 decision Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based appellate court not only granted the state’s request to put Walker’s decision on hold but also indicated the district judge’s invalidation of the vote-restoration process likely would not stand.

Thursday’s march and rally, featuring Sharpton and civil-rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, were organized around what was expected to be the release of the state’s new vote-restoration process as ordered by Walker.

Instead, the 11th Circuit’s decision stirred up already impassioned supporters of the proposed constitutional amendment as they gathered on the steps of the Old Capitol.

“I think that we are absolutely fired up. I intend to spend a lot of time here, and I know that others with national prominence will. More importantly, local citizens are energized. Many would have felt that there was hope if the appellate court had not ruled. But by ruling on the eve of this rally, they gave us the impetus to really build a movement,” Sharpton told The News Service of Florida and other reporters following the noon rally.

The proposed amendment, backed by the political committee “Floridians for a Fair Democracy” and largely bankrolled by the American Civil Liberties Union, would automatically restore the right to vote for felons who have served their sentences, completed probation and paid restitution. Murderers and sex offenders would not be eligible.

Home to an estimated 1.6 million convicted felons, Florida is one of a handful of states that do not automatically restore voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences. An estimated 600,000 felons could have their voting rights restored if voters approve the measure, which will appear on the November ballot as Amendment 4.

Although a majority of the convicted felons in Florida who have lost their right to vote are white, blacks are disproportionately represented among the felon population.

So it’s no surprise that felon disenfranchisement sparks intensely emotional responses from African-Americans like those who gathered in downtown Tallahassee under sunny skies Thursday. Many people at the rally began weathering civil-rights storms decades ago.

For some, Florida’s labyrinthine vote-restoration process is viewed as a modern form of lynching and is a vestige of Jim Crow-era laws designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.

And disenfranchisement also prevents felons who’ve completed their sentences from serving on juries, said Crump, a lawyer who represented the family of Trayvon Martin, a black teen whose shooting death in 2012 in Seminole County drew international attention.

Drawing cheers from the crowd of more 150, Crump said he discovered early in his career that in many courthouses, “the only thing black is you, your client and the judge’s robe.”

The “legalization of discrimination is real, and it’s affecting us in ways we cannot even imagine,” he said.

Felons who are unable to vote are effectively shut out of society, the lawyer added.

“They’re like the walking dead. They just ain’t got the death certificate,” he said.

Florida’s current vote-restoration process began early in 2011, shortly after Scott and Bondi took office. The Republican officials played key roles in changing the process to effectively make it harder for felons to get their rights restored.

Scott’s office has adamantly backed the process, saying the governor is standing with crime victims.

Under the process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents.

Florida will be “ground zero” to “turn around this affront on voting rights” for felons during the 2018 election season, Sharpton predicted.

“We are going to turn on the light in the Sunshine State,” he said. “There is no more critical issue in this land.”

Mark McMillan, a convicted felon who leads the Tallahassee-based Divine Revelations Ministries with his wife, told the News Service he had his rights restored automatically in New York and Texas for his decades-old out-of-state convictions.

But the restoration didn’t apply in Florida, McMillan, 49, learned.

“I moved back here about six years ago, and my rights were gone,” said McMillan, whose community-based outreach includes a focus on felons.

He applied to have his rights restored four years ago but was told by the clemency board that it would be up to 10 years before he would get a hearing.

“I can’t vote, and my charges are from almost 20 years ago,” McMillan said.

State requests more time in felons’ rights battle

Just hours before Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet were scheduled to meet late Wednesday, attorneys for the state filed an emergency motion with a federal appeals court to try to delay a deadline for revamping the process of restoring felons’ voting rights.

The motion, filed Wednesday in the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also raised the possibility that the state could take the dispute to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The 11th-hour maneuvering came as Scott and Cabinet members, who act as the state Board of Executive Clemency, prepared to meet by phone at 9:30 p.m. to address an order by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker that they overhaul the vote-restoration process by Thursday.

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office on April 6 asked the appeals court for a stay of Walker’s order. But as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, the appeals court had not issued a ruling on that stay request.

With time dwindling, Bondi’s office filed an emergency motion seeking a “temporary and limited stay of the part of the district court’s order requiring appellants (Scott and the Cabinet) to ‘promulgate’ and ‘file’ new rules of executive clemency by April 26, 2018” while the April 6 stay request remains pending.

Also, the emergency motion asked for 10 additional days to allow the state to go to the U.S. Supreme Court if the appeals court denies the stay.

“This (appeals court) should have a fair chance to assess the stay-related arguments submitted by the parties, and appellants should have a fair chance to seek relief from this court and the Supreme Court before promulgating new rules of executive clemency,” the emergency motion said. “Absent a temporary and limited stay of the April 26 deadline, the Board (of Executive Clemency) will be required to act within the next day — before this court or the Supreme Court has had an opportunity to decide whether that part of the injunction should be stayed pending appeal.”

The appeals court did not immediately rule on the emergency motion, which was opposed by attorneys for the plaintiffs in the case, the state filing said.

The arguments at the appeals court came after Walker, in a series of harshly worded rulings, found the state’s vote-restoration process violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights of felons. Last month, he gave Scott and the board until Thursday to overhaul what the judge called a “fatally flawed” process and rejected a request by Bondi to put his order on hold.

Scott and the board immediately appealed Walker’s decision and asked the appellate court to put a stay on what the governor’s office branded a “haphazard clemency ruling.”

Scott’s highly unusual move Tuesday night to set a clemency meeting for 9:30 p.m. Wednesday was designed to comply with a Florida law requiring a 24-hour notice for clemency board meetings. Details about what the board might consider as a replacement for the current system had not been made available by Scott’s office.

The board members planned to meet by telephone, but the public “will have an opportunity to provide input at the beginning of the meeting” in the Cabinet room in the Capitol, according to an email from Scott’s office.

The restoration of felons’ rights has long been a controversial legal and political issue in Florida, with critics of the state’s process comparing it to post-Civil War Jim Crow policies designed to keep blacks from casting ballots.

Florida, with about 1.6 million felons, is considered an outlier in a nation where more than three dozen other states automatically restore the right to vote for most felons who have completed their sentences.

After taking office in 2011, Scott and Bondi played key roles in changing the process to effectively make it harder for felons to get their rights restored.

Under the current process, felons must wait five or seven years after their sentences are complete to apply to have rights restored. After applications are filed, the process can take years to complete.

Since the changes went into effect in 2011, Scott — whose support is required for any type of clemency to be granted — and the board have restored the rights of 3,005 of the more than 30,000 convicted felons who’ve applied, according to the Florida Commission on Offender Review. There’s currently a backlog of 10,085 pending applications, according to the commission.

In contrast, more than 155,000 ex-felons had their right to vote automatically restored during the four years of former Gov. Charlie Crist’s tenure, according to court documents in the lawsuit filed by the Fair Elections Legal Network and the law firm Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC on behalf of nine felons.

Siding with the plaintiffs, Walker in a March 27 ruling chastised Scott and other state officials and ordered the clemency board to devise a constitutionally sound program with “specific, neutral criteria that excise the risk — and, of course, the actual practice of — any impermissible discrimination, such as race, gender, religion or viewpoint.”

Walker scalded state officials for threatening to do away with the rights-restoration process all together and gave the clemency board until Thursday to “promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria” to replace the current “nebulous criteria, such as the governor’s comfort level.”

Walker also cautioned that there is a risk that the clemency board “may engage in viewpoint discrimination through seemingly neutral rationales” or a “perceived lack of remorse” that “serve as impermissible” masks for censorship.

“Therefore, the board must promulgate specific standards and neutral criteria to direct its decision-making,” Walker ordered in March. The judge did not specify a particular process but ordered that “Florida’s corrected scheme cannot be byzantine or burdensome.”

Arguing that they needed more time to craft new regulations, the state’s lawyers asked Walker to put his decision on hold, again drawing a rebuke from the judge.

“Rather than comply with the requirements of the United States Constitution, defendants continue to insist they can do whatever they want with hundreds of thousands of Floridians’ voting rights and absolutely zero standards,” Walker wrote in a six-page decision April 4. “They ask this court to stay its prior orders. No.”

Scott has steadfastly defended the state’s process, saying it is founded on a 150-year old system enshrined in the state Constitution.

A Scott spokesman, John Tupps, lashed out at the judge after Walker refused to put his order on hold.

“Judge Walker haphazardly ordered elected officials to change decades of practice in a matter of weeks. This is completely reckless and does not give the victims of crimes the voice they deserve,” Tupps said in a statement this month. “The governor will always stand with victims of crimes, not the criminals that commit heinous acts. Let’s remember, these criminals include those convicted of crimes like murder, violence against children and domestic violence. The court of appeals should issue a stay immediately.”

In seeking a stay from the 11th Circuit, Bondi’s lawyers reiterated that the state needs more time to answer a slew of questions regarding the vote-restoration process.

“The issue is not whether the board could unilaterally prescribe new rules in a short span of time … but whether the state’s policymakers and citizenry — including but not limited to the board — should be afforded sufficient time to carefully consider the important issues at hand,” the lawyers wrote.

The legal tangle involving Scott, the federal judge and the felons in the case comes months before Floridians will decide whether felons should automatically have their voting rights restored. A political committee known as Floridians for a Fair Democracy collected enough petitions to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would automatically restore voting rights to felons who have served their sentences, completed parole and paid restitution.

Murderers and sex offenders would be excluded. The amendment, if approved by 60 percent of voters, could have an impact on about 600,000 Florida felons, according to supporters of the measure.

Frank White’s cash position an advantage in AG race

There’s four months left before Republicans pick their nominee in to replace Attorney General Pam Bondi, and Pensacola Rep. Frank White’s advantage could be a deciding factor in how the race shakes out.

White has a little over $2 million banked for his campaign, including $1.5 million from himself, while his chief rival, former circuit judge Ashley Moody has more than $1.5 million on hand.

Moody’s campaign often makes the argument that she’s the fundraising leader – emphasis on “raising” – but there’s no skirting around the fact that White’s campaign account has a $616,205 advantage over Moody’s.

The gulf is more pronounced for the third Republican in the race, Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant. He had $742,590 in his campaign account at the end of March, less than two-fifths of White’s hard money total.

White and Moody also have political committees, of course.

Moody has brought in about $440,000 for hers and White about $240,000 for his, and when those totals are added to the campaign hauls the gulf between White and Moody shrinks to about $475,000.

But campaign money, often called hard money, carries some benefits that the soft money in committee accounts simply can’t match. Likely the most impactful difference is how far those dollars can stretch when it comes to TV and radio ad buys.

Ad pricing can vary wildly based on factors such as the time of day the buyer wants it to run and whether or not it can be pre-empted. There’s also the vastly different landscapes of Florida’s media markets to consider.

Still, once the “lowest unit rate” rule kicks in, no candidate can be charged more for an ad than the lowest-paying commercial advertiser purchasing ad time in the same class. Political committees, even the ones sponsoring ballot initiatives, aren’t given the same deal.

LUR starts 45 days prior to a primary race and 60 days prior to a general, so come July 14 White’s advantage in campaign cash, if he still has it, could prove doubly effective in the final stretch before the Aug. 28 primary.

That’s not to say White’s running ahead of Moody. If anything, he has a little bit of catching up to do considering she’s locked in support from more than half of Florida’s sheriffs and 11 state attorneys as well as Bondi.

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