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319 posts from March 2012

March 28, 2012

Supreme Court primed to take on 3-percent pension case, starting in September

The Florida Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case of state workers who sued the Legislature over its decision to require them to contribute 3 percent of their salaries to their requirement.

Earlier this month, a circuit court judge ruled that the state’s 3-percent contribution plan was unconstitutional, potentially causing a $2 billion budget fiasco.

Gov. Rick Scott  responded that he was sure the decision would be found Constitutional on appeal. 

The First District Court of Appeals referred the case was directly to the Supreme Court, which accepted jurisdiction on Wednesday.

Oral arguments are expected to begin in September.

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Judge dismisses Florida Retail Federation lawsuit against Miami-Dade over wage-theft program

A Miami-Dade circuit court judge has thrown out a lawsuit against the county over a popular wage-theft law intended to give workers a way to recover wages owed by employers.

Judge Lester Langer ruled Friday that it "was a responsible and reasonable exercise of governmental authority" for the county to set up quasi-judicial hearings to determine whether employers had improperly underpaid or withheld wages from workers. The Florida Retail Federation, a business group, had argued the system was unconstitutional and denied employers due process.

But Florida's Constitution allows for quasi-judicial hearings, the judge noted in his nine-page ruling, and Miami-Dade's unique Home Rule Charter gives it the power to enact a law to prevent wage theft.

The Retail Federation had led a charge during this year's legislative session to ban Miami-Dade's wage-theft ordinance, but the program survived after state Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, ran interference in the Senate Judiciary Committee she chairs.

FAMU president says dismissal possible for faculty involved in hazing

 In a response to a Tallahassee Police Department report released Wednesday that said Florida A&M University faculty were involved in a hazing incident in 2010, university President James H. Ammons said FAMU would review the allegations and determine "appropriate action."

"It is extremely disturbing that this incident is alleged to have taken place. Although the Tallahassee Police Department report is dated March 20, 2012, the University was made aware of this report today. The allegations of hazing, which appear to have occurred off-campus in 2010, are currently under further administrative and legal review. The University will take appropriate action against faculty members or students, up to and including dismissals."


After overtime work of special session, some lawmakers get straight to the business of fundraising

Rep. Scott Plakon wants his supporters to know he’s been working overtime.

Campaign staffers for the Longwood Republican sent out a fundraising note Wednesday, lauding the Legislature for its hard work during an elongated session, and asking for donations to make up for lost time.

By law, state lawmakers are not allowed to raise funds while the Legislature is in session, and 15 extra days of duty has hurt the coffers of some who are facing elections in a few months.

Reads the missive: “Representative Plakon just returned from Tallahassee late last night. Their work in producing a balanced budget and fair legislative districts as our constitution requires has required him and other legislators to be in session far more than normal this year. In fact, they have been in session for all but 3 business days since January 9th.”

But the overtime work (if you can call 90 minutes in the Chamber overtime) was basically self-inflicted.

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Florida Sen. Chris Smith to Gov. Rick Scott: delay of 'Stand Your Ground' review 'disappointing,' 'puzzling'

State Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale, the incoming Democratic leader, has sent Gov. Rick Scott a letter calling the governor's delay to review Florida's controversial Stand Your Ground law "disappointing." Scott had proposed that a special task force examine the law following the death of Trayvon Martin, the Miami Gardens 17-year-old shot and killed last month in Sanford. 

Smith and other lawmakers had requested that Scott speed up convening the task force. The governor's office told him expediting the task force's work before more details of the Trayvon case become available would be "premature."

"Apparently you or your spokesman misunderstood the intention of my letter," Smith wrote Scott.

"Governor, my request to expedite the task force is not just about Trayvon Martin or skittles and iced tea. It is about the ambiguity of a highly contentious law that since 2005 has left a string of killings throughout Florida and the invocation of 'stand your ground' as a shield of immunity from prosecution. It is about the confusion on the part of the public, law enforcement and our judicial system, and the haphazard interpretation and application of the law. And it is about your puzzling willingness to delay for up to a year a critical review of Stand Your Ground by a task force you proposed, despite a wealth of existing data and cases already available for dissection."

Scott was asked at a news conference Wednesday whether he would accelerate the task force and he said he didn't see a need to do that. The task force should meet "once the investigation is over," he said.

"If we determine that we're not treating citizens in the state properly every official up here would agree to the same thing -- we'll make the change. But the right thing to do is let's first get through this investigation. Let's find out what happened here. Let's make sure justice prevails. Then, we will have this task force."

Click after the jump for the full text of Smith's letter.

Continue reading "Florida Sen. Chris Smith to Gov. Rick Scott: delay of 'Stand Your Ground' review 'disappointing,' 'puzzling'" »

Scott expands role of DCF secretary to be head of 'state operations'

As if being head of the Department of Children and Families weren't enough, Gov. Rick Scott today appointed David Wilkins to a new role as Florida’s Chief Operating Officer for Government Operations. 

According to a statement from the governor's office, Wilkins "will serve in this role in addition to his role as Secretary of the Department of Children and Families.''

The goal, Scott said, is to take "an enterprise-wide approach to improving agency productivity and reducing government bureaucracy. David is uniquely qualified for this new role and I have asked him to replicate many of the operations, improvements and cost-cutting initiatives he has implemented as Secretary of DCF."

Other agencies will be asked to "participate in this state productivity and efficiency initiative.”

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The nanny diaries: Obama fundraiser's squabble with au pair like Miami soap opera

When trial lawyer Jeremy Alters hosts an April 10 fundraiser for President Barack Obama at his Golden Beach home, it'll be like walking on to the set of a South Florida telenovela.

There's a spurned nanny. A hint of poison and betrayal. A multi-million case against a bank. Allegations of financial impropriety. Cut-throat lawyers. A bar complaint. An ongoing lawsuit. A lie-dector test. The forced sale of tony Colorado homes, and a $2.2 million loan made with a handshake.

This has been Alters' life for the past few years.

"Ever since I took on the banks, this all happened," said Alters, 41, who initiatied a suit against Bank of America that resulted in an initial $410 million settlement.

Alters, who initiated the major national lawsuit into overdraft fees, was so busy with the case and a $1 billion action against Chinese drywall makers that he needed a partner to take over the leadership of his firm, Kimberly Boldt, who appeared to make potentially inappropriate money transfers from trust accounts to the firms operating accounts as times got tough.  One transfer was allegedly needed when another lawyer appeared ready to leave with $1.6 million in fees the cash-strapped firm was counting on after Alters was forced to repay Bank of Miami a $3 million line of credit

In all, $1.1 million was potentially improperly transferred, apparently without Alters knowledge. When he found out about it, he sold his two homes in Colorado, brought co-counsels in to help parlay his drywall and bank cases into short-term cash and borrowed money, including a $2.2 million handshake loan from Miami super lawyer Bruce Rogow.

At the same time, Alters fell sick. So sick, he says, that he could have been a victim of "poisoning." He wouldn't say by whom -- but noted he fell suspiciously and gravely ill.

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New state attorney on Trayvon Martin case known as tough-minded, hard-nosed

JACKSONVILLE -- The prosecutor at the center of the national firestorm over whether the man who killed Trayvon Martin should be charged in his death said Tuesday she’s not likely to need a grand jury to make the decision for her.

More probable, she said, is that she’ll be the one to decide.

“I always lean towards moving forward without needing the grand jury in a case like this,” Angela Corey, the state attorney assigned to the case by Gov. Rick Scott, told The Herald/Times. “I foresee us being able to make a decision, and move on it on our own.”

Corey has built a reputation over the past three years as state attorney for Duval, Nassau and Clay counties as a hard-nosed, tough-minded and strong-willed prosecutor, and a move to decide on her own whether or not to charge George Zimmerman appears to be right in character.

Read the story here

Report details 2010 faculty-involved FAMU hazing, while Scott calls on task force to meet in public

A Tallahassee Police report on hazing made public today, detailing a 2010 Florida A&M University band fraternity incident involving two faculty members, sheds light on the difficulty of bringing such cases to prosecution.

Stalled reporting, lack of cooperation, insistence on anonymity, hesitation to press charges: those are just a few of the hurdles that plagued this investigation, eventually leading to its closure as the statute of limitations ran out (see Download Hazing_FAMU CASE 03-22-12).

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott is now urging a FAMU task force charged with reviewing campus hazing policies to reverse a decision it made last week that would allow it to operate in private, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The 2010 incident described in Wednesday’s report predated a hazing ritual that police said killed FAMU drum major Robert Champion last year, but was only reported to police after Champion’s death made headlines, according to the TPD report.

It happened in the spring of 2010, at a spaghetti dinner hosted by FAMU music professor Diron Holloway, the report says. Pledges for FAMU’s honorary band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi were subjected to “prepping” and “necking” -- slaps or beatings on the back, buttocks and neck with paddles. Police said another professor, Anthony Simons, was there, too.

FAMU Police were notified about the incident by Julian White, FAMU’s now embattled band director, two days after Champion died. White said he heard about it from a student. Because it happened off campus, FAMU’s report said its investigators would refer the incident to Tallahassee Police, according to the TPD report. But they never did.

TPD learned about the incident -- and the missing referral -- from a newspaper story two months later.

That was the first problem.

Next, TPD investigators had to pin the allegations down. But the only victim that was willing to talk, the student who approached White, insisted on remaining anonymous and did not want to press charges. Even his mother got involved at one point, telling police she was “very upset” at the prospect of her son’s name appearing in any reports.

Police then met with Holloway, the music professor, at his campus office. Holloway acknowledged that the gathering happened at his house, and that recruits were made to line up and recite information, and that if they didn’t know information “someone rubs them up a little bit.” Holloway said he told the students, “don’t hit nobody in the face, and don’t paddle.” If something went further than that, it probably happened outside or in the garage, he told police.

Why did he not step in and stop it?

“Actually,” Holloway told police, “I should have said enough of that, the party is over.” He added that nobody was hurt.

Police then tried to track down Simons, the other faculty member, who deferred to his attorney. The TPD report does not detail any further conversations.

Over the next two months, investigators reached out to students who were said to have been there and Kappa Kappa Psi’s national representatives. Several students “couldn’t remember” what happened that night. The national chapter initially said it would conduct an investigation, then backed off after learning of FAMU’s own.

In the end, police determined that hazing did occur at Holloway’s residence that was, in Holloway’s words, “aggressive in manner.. but as far as bodily harm, no.” The case would have warranted misdemeanor charges, the report says, but because the two-year statute of limitations ran out, it was cleared.

FAMU has not yet responded to a Times request for Holloway and Simon’s current employment status.

Times/Herald Staff Writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report.

Gov. Scott signs economic development package, billion-dollar savings for businesses

Flanked by leaders of Florida's top economic trade groups and agencies, Gov. Rick Scott signed a number of business tax cuts he says will accelerate economic development in the state.

“The passage of my jobs passage is a great example of all of us working together to make Florida the best state to live and do business,” he said Wednesday.

The economic development package includes more than $1 billion in tax cuts for businesses over the next three years. It features broad cuts of the unemployment tax and the corporate income tax, and targeted reductions for manufacturers, private plane repairers, and fruit and meat packers.

Scott said it’s difficult to say definitively how certain targeted tax cuts will lead to job creation, but noted that the package helps make Florida a more competitive state for business expansion.

“If we want employers to hire more people, we’ve got to think like they do,” said Scott, a former CEO. “We’ve got to keep their costs as low as they can. We’ve got to make sure that we’re more competitive than any jurisdiction in the world.”

The public signing is the latest in a public relations push by Scott to shape the discussion about the job he's done as jobs governor.

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