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70 posts from December 2006

December 20, 2006

Judge: Rubio isn’t my tool in inquiry

Though newly released emails (as well as friends and family) tie him closely to House Speaker Marco Rubio’s office, First District Court of Appeal Judge Paul Hawkes said he had nothing to do with the Miami lawmaker’s decision to open an inquiry into fellow 1st DCA Judge Charles Kahn.

Hawkes’ son, House Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes, emailed a draft of Rubio’s letter Dec. 4 requesting that the Judicial Qualifications Commission share its investigative files on Kahn, who is the target of an as-yet private complaint. The email was sent to an assistant of Rubio’s staff chief, Richard Corcoran, Paul Hawkes’ former legislative aide and consulting partner.

“There’s this perception out there that I’m Chuck’s nemesis and I’m not,” Hawkes said. “I know Chuck. I like Chuck. He’s one of the more conservative members on the court.”

Rubio has said that, as leader of the legislative chamber in charge of impeaching unfit judges, he launched the “fact-finding mission” after reading a newspaper article concerning Kahn, who stepped down as chief justice of the capitol-based court in October. The last speaker to make a request of information on a judge: Allan Bense on Feb. 22, 2005, the speaker’s office said.

Kahn stepped down as chief justice in October after a meeting that fellow Judge Edward Barfield called to discuss "concerns within the court over leadership and personal relationships within the court," according to an email.

Though the phrase “relationships within the court” could likely point to a some type of problematic office matter, some have speculated that Kahn’s troubles stem from the time his fellow justices overruled him when he sought to throw out the pot-of-money bribery conviction of former Senate President W.D. Childers.

A fellow Escambia County commissioner and witness against Childers apparently recanted testimony but then committed suicide by drinking antifreeze. Kahn is a former law partner with Childers buddy, tobacco-suing trial lawyer Fred Levin.

About the time Kahn stepped down from the bench, Judge Hawkes had a few email exchanges with House attorney Don Rubottom concerning general judicial matters on Nov. 14, an article mentioning judges and recusal cases. Another 1st DCA judge, Brad Thomas, is also in the loop on at least one email exchange. None mentions Kahn.

A few other emails concerning the court were sent by House Judicial staffer David de la Paz, who’s seeking a spot on the bench. De la Paz, a finalist after his interview with the Judicial Nominating Commission, thanked Corcoran in a Dec. 1 email “for your help with the commission members.”

Butterworth supports gay adoption

Bob Butterworth, the former Democratic attorney general tapped by incoming Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to be Florida's child-welfare chief, said today on Jim Defede's radio show that he's a supporter of limited adoptions by gay couples.

Butterworth, reiterating the comments with the Miami Herald later, said a judge should decide the fitness adoptive parents. He said he has not discussed the matter with Crist, who has said he supports the current law in Florida, one of the only states to ban gay adoption. Crist had previously said that he had no opinion on the matter.

"This is just my personal belief," Butterworth later told the Herald. "I'm not going to testify about this to a committee, I'm not pushing to overturn the law."

Butterworth, saying family-court judges are some of the best and most dedicated people, said he held this opinion opposing gay adoption while he was attorney general, a post he held until term limits forced him out in 2002.

Jennings filing election challenge

Democrat Christine Jennings is heading to Washington D.C. today to file an elections protest in Florida's District 13 congressional race. Today's the deadline for the congressional challenge, which comes as teams of lawyers for Jennings, Republican Vern Buchanan, Election Systems & Software, Sarasota County Elections Supervisor and the state grill experts in a Tallahassee court over whether a judge should force ES&S to give up its secret source codes that drive the iVotronic touch-screen voting machines.

Randy Johnson campaign treasuer in hot water

Larry Herring, a certified public accountant from Winter Park, is in deep trouble with the Florida Elections Commission. He is facing at least $12,000 worth of fines for his handling of Citizens for Florida's Future, a defunct committee of continuous existence set up by former Rep. Randy Johnson, who is now on the transition team for Governor-elect Charlie Crist.

Herring has gotten into trouble because he paid thousands of dollars worth of credit card bills racked up by Johnson and which were paid from funds contributed to the CCE. The expenses covered everything from car and RV repairs, to a trip to Washington D.C. where Johnson bought tie pins from the U.S. Senate gift shop. Also included was a check to the Orlando Volleyball Academy, which had purchased airline tickets for Johnson that the CCE reimbursed. Investigators were able to delve into the CCE's affairs even though hurricanes had destroyed many records, opting to subpoena bank records. Click here to read the investigative report: Download herring_recommendation.doc

The elections commission at its meeting in late November found probable cause that Herring had broken several election laws, included one that limits $500 contributions to candidates, a violation which can garner severe penalties. The argument used by the elections commission is that the expenses aided Johnson's 2004 re-election campaign. Click here to view the order:Download herring_probable_cause_order.doc

By taking this action the elections commission is insisting that there are in fact limits on what CCE's can do _ which is different in how others have viewed them. Mark Herron, an attorney for Herring, says his client will fight the charges, including asserting that the commission went outside its jurisdiction to charge his client with charges not raised in the initial complaint. Herron also maintains that there is no proof that expenses paid by the CCE aided Johnson's re-election campaign.

December 19, 2006

Butterworth to head DCF

Bob Butterworth, former Democratic Florida attorney general and St. Thomas University's law school dean, has been tapped to head the state's troubled child-welfare agency by the incoming Republican governor.

Story here

December 18, 2006

High-octane Bush creates ethanol board

Gov. Jeb Bush, with family ties to oil and state ties to agribusiness, made one of his final policy announcements Monday when he promoted the use of alternative fuels by establishing the Interamerican Ethanol Commission.

Joining Bush: Roberto Rodrigues, a former Brazilian agriculture minister and head of the nation's agribusiness council, and Luis Alberto Moreno, head of the Interamerican Development Bank.

Crist taps Miami-Dade fireman for Emergency Management post

Gov.-elect Charlie Crist created a new deputy director spot at the Division of Emergency Management to hire Ruben Almaguer, Miami-Dade Fire Rescue's administrative operations chief. Crist also reappointed Craig Fugate to lead the department.

Other appointments: former Crist AG staffer Monesia Brown will head the Agency for Workforce Innovation and Jacksonville City Councilman Kevin Hyde will head the Department of Management Services, where he promised he'd "review" the troubled Convergys human-resources outsourcing contract.

A press release just issued by Crist's team, though, doesn't have what he said he'd give out: Salary information.

From spinning for Jeb to Spinning for Sachs

Alia Faraj, Gov. Jeb Bush's communications director since 2004, is heading to Ron Sachs Communications after Bush leaves office next month.

Voucher guru peeved by story

A letter from venture capitalist turned schools reformer John Kirtley:

Marc Caputo's article on 12/17 stated that school choice programs in Florida have no "scrutiny" because students using the programs don't have to take the FCAT. What he failed to mention is that students in the tax credit scholarship program for low income children must take a nationally recognized standardized test approved by the state, such as the Stanford 10. The tests must be comparable to the FCAT and the scores reported every year to a research group chosen by the state, so that the progress of the students can be measured--including against similar public school students. Of course the schools educating these children face the additional "scrutiny" of empowered parents, who can take the scholarships to a different school if they are unsatisfied--a scrutiny underperforming public schools do not face.

When Caputo stated that "every lower court" found the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional, he did not mention that the Appeals Court unanimously rejected the grounds used by the Florida Supreme Court to kill the program---that it violated the mandate for a "uniform system of public schools". Your readers should know that the Wall Street Journal called this verdict "the worst by any state court in decades" due to its tortured legal argument and its damage to school reform.

Jeb's furniture store epiphany

Even standing in a furniture store, Jeb Bush couldn't help but think he could
do a better job running the place.

"I found myself in the midst of reorganizing the logistics of a probably pretty successful company," said Bush, who was shopping to furnish the Coral Gables apartment where he will move after leaving office Jan. 2.

Then the truth hit Florida's most powerful governor as he thought of fixing the way the store delivers goods to customers.

"I realized they probably don't give two hoots about my opinion," Bush said chuckling. "So there's going to be a little bit of a learning experience to kind of not try to solve problems for everyone. It may take a little bit of getting used to."   

That's especially true after spending eight years as Florida's self-fashioned policy-wonk in chief, a macro- and micromanager with poll numbers that are the envy of other chief executives -- including his brother, the president.

Now, this extraordinary calm voice in Florida's storms, a conservative icon and luminary of one of the nation's greatest family dynasties, must become more ordinary as he fiddles with his Ipod or gets annoyed in shops and the Post Office.

Story here.

Click the links for pieces on Jeb and the judiciary, schools, outsourcing, One Florida, and his unmet goals.