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Supreme Court to rule on judge, Facebook friend

With potential ramifications in courthouses across the state, the Florida Supreme Court on Monday said it will take up a dispute about whether a judge should be disqualified from a case because she is a Facebook friend with a lawyer.

Justices issued an order saying they will consider an appeal of an August ruling by the 3rd District Court of Appeal that rejected a request to disqualify Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko. The dispute stems from Butchko being a Facebook friend of attorney Israel Reyes, who was hired to represent an insurance-company executive in a case before her.

The Herssein Law Group, which had sued a former client, United Services Automobile Association, for alleged breach of contract and fraud, is seeking the disqualification. In a Supreme Court brief filed in October, the Herssein Law Group said the 3rd District Court of Appeal ruling conflicted with an earlier decision of the 4th District Court of Appeal that said a judge should be disqualified from a criminal case because of being Facebook friends with a prosecutor.

“The Third District Court of Appeal’s opinion, therefore, creates completely different standards for judges in Florida, depending on which district the judge sits in, to determine when and whether they are violating the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct,” the brief said. “This is untenable for both judges and the public perception of the judiciary. The application and interpretation of the Code of Judicial Conduct must be uniform for all judges in the state of Florida.”

Attorneys for the insurance company, however, filed a brief urging the Supreme Court to turn down the case. They argued, in part, that the Herssein case has different circumstances from the earlier case involving a prosecutor.

“Further, petitioners (the Herssein Law Group) are sophisticated litigators who have practiced in Miami-Dade County for many years,” the insurance-company brief said. “It is highly questionable whether any reasonably prudent person in petitioners’ situation would have a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial simply because the trial judge and Reyes are Facebook `friends.’ “

The Supreme Court, as is standard, did not explain its reasons for deciding to take up the case. It said it would schedule oral arguments in a separate order.

In its ruling in August, the 3rd District Court of Appeal concluded that “a `friend’ on a social networking website is not necessarily a friend in the traditional sense of the word.”

“To be sure, some of a member’s Facebook `friends’ are undoubtedly friends in the classic sense of person for whom the member feels particular affection and loyalty,” the decision said. “The point is, however, many are not. A random name drawn from a list of Facebook `friends’ probably belongs to casual friend; an acquaintance; an old classmate; a person with whom the member shares a common hobby; a `friend of a friend;’ or even a local celebrity like a coach. An assumption that all Facebook `friends’ rise to the level of a close relationship that warrants disqualification simply does not reflect the current nature of this type of electronic social networking.”

American Bridge takes aim at Adam Putnam

A Democrat-aligned super PAC is taking aim at Adam Putnam with a new website called ProblemPutnam.com.

American Bridge, launched by David Brock in 2010, says it intends on informing Floridians over the next year about what it contends has been Putnam’s priorities in public office since first being elected more than 20 years ago:

“Sweet deals for big business and his own bank accounts, while squarely ignoring the needs and concerns of Florida families.”

Putnam is considered a leading contender to become the next Republican nominee for Governor in 2018. In addition to his prodigious fundraising totals (he has over $15 million cash-on-hand), the only other establishment Republican considered to have any shot at him – Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala – has had his campaign upended by allegations of sexual harassment that could lead to his expulsion from the Legislature.

Two other men considered to be contenders, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, have yet to enter the race.

“Adam Putnam is truly the problem child for Florida Republicans—he’s been cozying up to and making sweet deals on behalf of the lobbyists and donors that keep him in office for decades, all at the expense of Florida families,” American Bridge spokesperson Lizzy Price says.

“Putnam is right in line with Republicans in Congress under the leadership of Donald Trump who give handouts to the rich at the expense of the middle class,” Price adds.

“This will be a long, difficult campaign for Problem Putnam and in the end, Floridians will know that his problems aren’t endearing. They’re dangerous and wrong for Florida.”

The Putnam campaign slammed the site, and American Bridge.

“No surprise to see a super PAC funded by Hollywood liberals George Soros and Michael Moore is terrified to see a strong conservative with a positive vision for our state in the race for Governor,” said Putnam campaign spokeswoman Amanda Bevis. “This website is a poor-quality, Hollywood production that aims to fool voters into reversing the progress our state has made.”

Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager, has been a major contributor to American Bridge over the years, including $80,000 earlier this year, according to Open Secrets.

Governor’s office weighs how to replace Public Service Commission seat

Gov. Rick Scott‘s staff has not determined how to fill a Public Service Commission seat after the withdrawal of an appointee who was accused by an influential senator of sexually inappropriate behavior.

Scott said Monday it remains unclear if the Public Service Commission Nominating Council will have to restart the search process or if a name can be selected from among other finalists proposed by the council in August.

“I’ve been talking to our general counsel’s office to understand exactly how it’s going to work,” Scott said after a meeting with community leaders in Gadsden County.

Ritch Workman, a former state House member who was supposed to join the Public Service Commission on Jan. 2, walked away this month from the appointment, which would have required Senate confirmation.

His decision came after Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, said she would not put Workman’s appointment on her committee’s agenda because of his “abhorrent” behavior to her last year.

Workman, a Melbourne Republican, had been selected by Scott in September to replace Commissioner Ronald Brise on the five-member commission. Members are paid $131,000-a-year. Brise, who was on the short list of candidates from the nominating council, has been on the utility-regulatory board since 2010.

Richard Corcoran’s political committee tops $750K in November

House Speaker and likely gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran’s political committee had a healthy stint in November, raising $753,700 – the fourth-highest monthly total since the committee’s inception last June.

From law firms and attorneys alone, Watchdog raised $208,000 last month. The Land O’ Lakes Republican’s committee also received a combined $35,000 from Swisher International and Dosal tobacco companies.

Also dumped into the Speaker’s committee: $100,000 from Voice of Florida Business PAC, $95,000 from Citizens Alliance for Florida and $20,000 from Missouri-based Isle of Capri Casinos.

While Corcoran hasn’t announced a bid for the governor’s mansion, his committee’s expenditures reflect spending indicative of a campaign ahead.

Watchdog spent $106,320 in November, nearly $25,000 of which going to Rapid Loop Consulting and almost $15,000 to Jacksonville-based fundraising consultants Political Capital. The committee also paid out more than $30,000 to Go Big Media, which advertises on its site that it delivers “big wins.”

To date, Watchdog has raised $5.4 million and has $4.6 million banked. November spending saw a dip from the two preceding months.

Corcoran’s fundraising numbers are good enough to put him in the fourth-place spot among declared candidates if he throws his name in the mix for governor.

Far out in front is fellow Republican and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who added nearly $1 million in contributions between his campaign and committee accounts in November and has about $15.35 million on hand.

Next in line is former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, a Democrat, who also raised $1 million in November, putting his total fundraising at around the $7 million mark.

Embroiled Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala, the only other major Republican who has declared, has seen his contributions slow to a halt since six women accused of sexual harassment in early November, but he still about $4.8 million on hand between his campaign and committee account.

Poll: Gwen Graham leads Democratic gubernatorial primary

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham is improving her standing in the early stages of the 2018 gubernatorial race, leading the three other Democratic candidates, according to a new poll out Monday.

She holds a seven-point lead over second place over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The poll, released by Associated Industries of Florida, a GOP-leaning business lobby, shows Graham with 24 percent, while Gillum is at 17 percent.

While the poll points to a Graham-Gillum race at the moment, the money does not favor the Gillum team, which has struggled to raise cash. By the end of October, he had raised $1.6 million total for his campaign.

“Always would like to have more, but it’s far from the whole story,” Geoff Burgan, a spokesperson for the campaign, said. “Florida history has borne that out.”

In that same time period, Graham’s raised $4 million and Chris King, a newcomer in Florida politics, pulled in $2.7 million for his campaign. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, though, has raised the most: somewhere in the ballpark of $7 million.

King and Levine each have 4 percent of the vote in the four-way race, according to the poll. Both trailing rumored Democratic gubernatorial candidate, prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has 6 percent of Floridians’ support in the poll.

Levine’s deep pockets are not to be underestimated, though. Money could soon boost Levine’s statewide name recognition in the race, and he is already working to do so by paying for bilingual TV advertisements.

To keep the momentum, Gillum is betting on the vote of African-Americans, a demographic with which he is leading, according to the new numbers. But as the 38-year-old runs on an “unapologetic progressive” platform, very liberal voters are narrowly favoring Graham (25-23) — not him.

“Name ID is higher for her, for now. Gillum is building real momentum on issues and clearly growing in his race,” Burgan said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King wants to reform committee week meetings

If Chris King becomes governor, he wants committee weeks to be held throughout the state — and not exclusively at the Capitol.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate says he will champion legislation that would mandate committee weeks be held in “as many regions as possible” across the state to give constituents better access to state government.

“The location of our legislative process benefits individuals and organizations with the financial means and time to travel,” King said in a statement.

Historically, committee weeks have always been held at the Capitol, making this change a departure from the norm. But King said the “remoteness” of the Legislature is one of the reasons unethical behavior continues to occur in state government.

King envisions committee weeks being hosted at Florida public schools or universities ahead of Session, and once they are done, lawmakers will once again flock to the state Capitol to begin Session.

The Orlando entrepreneur also wants to push policies that support and protect victims of sexual misconduct. He wants to make sure any settlement made in a sexual misconduct case against an elected official is subject to a public record request, but the names of victims are confidential.

He also wants to have an eight-year lobbying ban for former members.

King is trailing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the four-way 2018 Democratic primary. His campaign said Friday it raised $100,000 in November and that it has more than $1.6 million on hand.

Jimmy Patronis to host CFO campaign fundraiser Tuesday in Tallahassee

Sitting CFO Jimmy Patronis is holding a fundraiser in Tallahassee Tuesday for his bid to take over the CFO position for a four-year term.

The Dec. 12 fundraiser – not an interim committee week for those wondering – will be at the Governor’s Club, 202 S. Adams Street.

The event kicks off at 5 p.m. and runs until 7 p.m., and the invitation lists Joe Harper as the host. Those looking to attend can RSVP with Paige Davis by sending an email to paigejdavis@gmail.com or giving her a call at 904-219-7322.

Patronis, a Republican, got the CFO job in June when Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to fill the unexpired term of former CFO Jeff Atwater, who left to become a vice president of Florida Atlantic University.

The former lawmaker and member of the Public Service Commission announced at the beginning of the month that he would seek election to the Cabinet seat.

Before officially announcing his campaign, Patronis opened up a political committee, Treasure Florida, and has so far raised $653,850, with $642,639 of that money on hand. That total puts him leagues ahead of Margate’s Jeremy Ring, who is currently his only Democratic opponent for the job. Also in the race is Republican Antoanet Iotova of Hollywood.

Brandon Republican Sen. Tom Lee has said he’ll run for the job as well, though he is in no rush to file, which could set up a tough primary battle. He has more than $2 million in a political committee ready to go when he makes the call.

The invitation to Patronis’ fundraiser is below.

Official Florida House photo

Frank White touts raising $195K in November for AG campaign

The big-money, high-stakes race for Attorney General isn’t slowing down in December — at least not for Republican hopeful Frank White.

White, per a campaign press release, has accumulated $1,956,000 since announcing his candidacy in October. Of that sum, the candidate fronted $1.5 million.

In November, White raised over $195,000: $143,000 into his campaign account, and $52,000 into his political committee, United Conservatives.

The political committee received donations from the Florida Jobs PAC (a committee affiliated with the Florida Chamberthe GEO Group, and Pensacola’s Gulf Power company.

“Our message of consistent, principled conservatism is resonating with the voters of Florida,” said White. “I am humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support I have received throughout the state. Our fundraising numbers are a direct manifestation of support for an Attorney General with a clear and consistent conservative record and vision. We look forward to the months ahead.”

Campaign account numbers for White and his Republican opponents — retired Hillsborough Judge Ashley Moody and fellow State Reps. Jay Fant and Ross Spano — are unavailable as of this writing Monday morning.

Political committee numbers for Moody were underwhelming in November, however.

Moody brought in $10,000 total, via a check from Florida Jobs PAC. Moody closed October with just over $1.1 million on hand between her campaign account and that of her political committee, “Friends of Ashley Moody.”

In what some observers think indicate a slower month than usual, Moody rolled out her finance committee on Monday. The group includes lobbyists Brian Ballard and Michael Corcoran, the brother of the Speaker of the House.

The filing deadline is Monday at midnight, so there should be a clearer sense of where the other candidates are at in the next few hours — but barring some developments, Frank White is winning the money race.

Heavy hitters in Ashley Moody’s finance team

A former U.S. Senator, a former U.S. Attorney, several former state lawmakers and a host of other Republican insiders are on the 34-member state financing team for Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody.

The team’s membership was released Monday.

The 42-year-old former Hillsborough County circuit judge is one of four Republicans vying for the nomination to succeed Pam Bondi as the state’s chief legal officer.

Bondi is term-limited from running again and has already endorsed Moody.

Former lawmakers serving on her finance team include George LeMieux, who served as an interim U.S. Senator from 2009-2011 and is now the chairman of the board of the Gunster law firm; former House Speaker Dean Cannon, former Jacksonville state Sen. Jim Horne, Panhandle state Sen. George Gainer and former Hillsborough County state Rep. Trey Traviesa.

Other notables include former U.S. Attorney Paul Perez, St. Petersburg businessman Bill Edwards, and lobbyist Michael Corcoran, brother of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“It’s humbling to have the support of so many business, civic and legal leaders from around Florida,” Moody said in a press release. “Each and every individual on our finance team is not just accomplished professionally, but well-respected in their community.”

“Our team also recognizes and understands the importance of having an Attorney General who can lead the office on day one and keep Florida safe,” Moody added.

“The security of our state depends on having an Attorney General who understands what it takes to put criminals behind bars and strengthen our criminal justice system. With the help of our finance team, grassroots leaders, and campaign supporters we’ll continue sharing our conservative message with every voter throughout the state.”

Moody is running against state Reps. Jay Fant of Jacksonville, Frank White of Pensacola and Ross Spano of Dover for the GOP nomination. Tampa’s Ryan Torrens is the lone Democrat in the race.

Here’s the entire list of those on Moody’s finance team:

Carlos Alfonso, Brian Ballard, Rodney Barreto, Bennett Barrow, Glen Blauch, Dean Cannon, Doug Cone, Mike Corcoran, Bill Edwards, Elizabeth Marie Fago, Blake Fletcher, George Gainer, Robert Gidel, David Heekin, Jim Holton, Bill Horne, Jim Horne, Justin Kaplan, Cody Khan, Frank Kruppenbacher, Ron LaFace, Rhea Law, George LeMieux, Roberto Martinez, Randall McElheney, Paul Mitchell, Paul Perez, Ed Pozzuoli, Wayne Rosen, Domingo Sanchez, William Merrill Stainton, Trey Traviesa, Dr. Peter A. Wish, Jordan Zimmerman.

Chris King adds $100K to governor campaign in November

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Winter Park businessman Chris King announced Friday that his campaign raised $100,000 in November and has more than $1.6 million on hand.

The November money brings King’s total fundraising to $2.77 million and gives him the third-place spot among the Democratic candidates vying to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine announced last week that he had raised another $1 million in November, for a total of more than $7 million raised to date, while former congresswoman Gwen Graham surpassed the $4 million mark in October and has not yet announced her November numbers.

The fourth major Democrat in the race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, had $1.6 million in total fundraising at the end of October.

According to documents on his committee website King raised $45,250 last month through his committee, “Rise and Lead Florida.”

The largest donation to the committee came from one of the properties owned by King’s business, Serenity Towers on the St. Johns.

King’s campaign has not yet uploaded his November campaign finance report to the Florida Division of Elections, though through the end of October, King had raised $1.76 million through his campaign account and had about $1.15 million of that money on hand.

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