April 23, 2012

Florida Senate-race drama exposes GOP jitters

Jeff Atwater’s just-ended flirtation with a U.S. Senate bid speaks volumes about the nervousness of Florida Republicans these days.

The GOP’s best hope, Congressman Connie Mack, hasn’t been running the type of campaign many Republicans want to unseat a beatable Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson. Some wanted Atwater, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, to run. Others approached House Speaker Dean Cannon, who declined as did a wealthy no-name.

But the drama is about more than just Mack or the Senate race.

It’s about a Republican Party grappling with ebbing fortunes compared to the red-wave of an election year in 2010. It’s about a movement nagged by a sense of perpetual disappointment that stretches to the top of the ticket.

And it’s about the potentially colliding political agendas of Atwater, Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Column here

February 10, 2012

Florida gets $8.4 billion chunk of $25 billion mortgage settlement

A landmark mortgage settlement over the mishandling of millions of foreclosures nationwide could bring in billions of dollars in new housing aid for Florida homeowners, but critics of the long-awaited deal say the money isn’t nearly enough to help the millions of homeowners in hard-hit markets like South Florida.

“We’re looking at over 1 million [troubled] properties in Florida, and how many of them are going to be saved with these principal write-downs?” said Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach, shortly after the national deal was announced Thursday. “I think that’s a precious few, maybe 20 percent.”

The $25 billion agreement was reached following 16 months of complex negotiations between 50 attorneys general and five major banks amid allegations of robo-signing and other abuses during the foreclosure crisis. Florida’s share: $8.4 billion, second only behind California.

Under terms of the settlement, Floridians who have lost their homes or have fallen underwater on their loans could receive a $2,000 check, a $20,000 mortgage reduction or a lower interest rate.

Read the rest of the story here.

@ToluseO

September 02, 2011

Federal court delays Manuel Valle execution

A federal court has delayed the execution of Manuel Valle, who shot and killed Coral Gables Police Officer Louis Pena after a routine traffic stop in 1978.

Valle’s execution was scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta temporarily stayed the execution until at least 7 p.m. Thursday.

In that time, the appeals court asked Valle’s lawyers and the Florida attorney general’s office to submit written arguments regarding Valle’s claim that he was improperly denied a clemency hearing.

This is the second delay in Valle’s execution since Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant earlier this summer. The first time, the execution was pushed back for a month while the courts examined if the new use of a drug in Florida’s lethal injections is safe and effective.

The Florida Supreme Court signed off on using the drug, pentobarbital. The governor rescheduled the execution — originally set for Aug. 2 — for Tuesday.

Valle’s lawyers filed at least two separate appeals in federal court and another with the U.S. Supreme Court. One of those appeals resulted in the second stay of execution. The others are pending.

June 11, 2011

Kriseman urges Bondi to prosecute travel companies based on new documents

Armed with fresh documents (links below) that show online travel companies may have conspired to avoid paying more than $440 million in taxes in Florida, a state legislator is urging Attorney General Pam Bondi to force the travel giants to pay up.

The issue has been the focus of legal and political fights for years as counties and hotel companies have fought the online companies that sell unused hotel rooms to travelers looking for deals. Counties argue that the companies should pay tourist development taxes on the total cost of the room charged to customers. The online travel companies say they should only pay taxes on the negotiated rate they pay the hotels — not on what they keep in profit.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum sued Expedia and Orbitz in 2009 for unfair trade practices. But Bondi, who succeeded him in January, put the lawsuit on hold during the legislative session as lawmakers attempted to exempt the travel companies from paying the additional taxes, said Bondi spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis.

The bill died, but Bondi has neither revived the stalled lawsuit nor started her own investigation.Download Fla+Atty+General+Bill+McCollum+lawsuit+vs+dot+coms[2]

In a May 17 letter to Bondi, Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, urged her to prosecute the companies based on newly-discovered company documents. The documents show that lawyers for the companies advised their clients since 2003 to “make it as difficult as possible for any state to require us to collect occupancy tax” until they could change the laws to exempt them from paying it. Download Kriseman_letter_to_Atty_Gen_Bondi_-_online_travel_resellers[1] 

Full story here.

Internal company documents and special masters reports here: Download 2003 01 28 Memo to USA Interactive; Download 2003 01 31 Memo to Expedia[1]; Download 2003 07 28 MSB Occupancy Tax Analysis; Download 2006 03 30 Pennsylvania DOR response to John Allan; Download 2008 10 02 Georgia DOR letter; Download 2008 12 03 Columbus GA (Orbitz) Report of Special Master crime fraud order; Download 2009 08 21 EXPEDIA - Report of Special Master.

January 18, 2011

Six more states join Florida's health care lawsuit

Six more states joined Florida's lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation on Tuesday, bringing the total number of states suing over the statute to 26. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a motion in federal court in Pensacola adding Iowa, Ohio, Kansas, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Maine to the list of plaintiffs.

"It sends a strong message that more than half of the states consider the health care law unconstitutional and are willing to fight it in court," Bondi said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to continuing to defend Florida's families and businesses against this unconstitutional law and upholding the Constitution."

Carol S.Weissert, a political science professor at Florida State University and editor of a scholarly journal on federalism and intergovernmental relations, called the lawsuit one of the most significant instances of states fighting the federal government since Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, the landmark case that deemed it unconstitutional for states to segregate schools.

"Certainly in the last few decades, this case is the most important one in terms of federalism," he said. "It has such strong state support and we’ve been trying to deal with national health insurance for half a century. And then it really has some potential in terms of the federal/state balance."

January 03, 2011

Greta Van Susteren delivers message of bi-partisanship at inaugural event

Gov. Rick Scott kicked off two days of inaugural events this morning at a Women in Leadership breakfast at the FSU Alumni Center.

"We are the state that's going to change this country. It's up to us to do what we ran on," Scott said.

Guests of honor at the event that drew about 300 people were were Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, the state's first black lieutenant governor in recent history, and Attorney General Pam Bondi, the state's first female attorney general.

"This is the beginning. We are going to turn this state around," Scott said. "We are also going to make this a place where it doesn't matter if you are male or female, if you are black or white, you have every opportunity to do what you want to do."

In her remarks, Fox news personality Greta Van Susteren urged the Florida Republicans who control Tallahassee need to work with Democrats to accomplish their goals.  

"You can roll over the Democrats and get whatever you want, but you know that you aren't going to achieve what you want," she said. "You can either mimic Washington and this ridiculous gridlock we've had, or you can show up Washington." Already, she said, Florida is "raising hell" with Washington with the law suit challenging the constitutionality of the federal health care legislation. Now, she said, Florida needs to do what Washington can't and get Democrats and Republicans working as a team to help Florida. She singled out unemployment, saying lawmakers of all political stripes need to work together to bring those numbers down. "You all get bragging rights no matter what party you are," she said, adding that running for office is an individual sport. "Being in office is a team sport. And that's the big difference."

December 31, 2010

AG-elect Pam Bondi taps Dave Aronberg to newly created position of special counsel for her pill mill initiative

Republican Attorney General-elect Pam Bondi today named former state Sen. Dave Aronberg, a Democrat from Green Acres, to a newly created post in her office focusing on prescription pill abuse. "He’s very familiar with this issue. He cares very deeply about this issue," Bondi, a Republican, said of Aronberg, who made a failed bid to become attorney general, losing the Democratic primary.The fact that he’s a Democrat, she said, doesn’t matter."What I want to do is bring people together on all sides who all care about the issue," she said.

Aronberg will be based in south Florida and earn $92,000 a year as special counsel for the pill mill initiative. Shortly after her election, Bondi signalled she planned to make pain clinics that excessively dole out prescription drugs — so-called pill mills — a focus of her office. She set up a transition team that included Aronberg to examine the problem. "We’re at a critical point in our state regarding the number of pill mills. The numbers are staggering. We’ve got to do something to stop it," Bondi said. "Just the other day I had someone say that a friend’s child overdosed. I said, ‘It was Oxycontin, wasn’t it?’ They said, ‘How did you know?’ It’s so widespread in our state. That’s something we don’t want to be known for."

Bondi’s move is likely to come as good news to people concerned that Gov.-elect Rick Scott opted to cut the Office of Drug Control from his administration. Bondi said she will likely push for legislation to tighten Florida’s rules regulating pain clinics.

Aronberg served in the Florida Senate from 2002 until 2010 where he was advocated for legislation to establish a prescription drug database and to more strictly regulate the ownership and operation of pain clinics.

"After getting to know Dave last year, I quickly learned that we share a strong commitment to shutting down pill mills. I have complete trust in Dave's ability to take on this very important fight with me," Bondi said in a prepared statement, "It is unacceptable that Florida has become the nation's pill mill capital and that multiple Floridians are dying every day from illegal prescription drug abuse. In cooperation with federal, state and local law enforcement, we will use all the powers and resources of the Attorney General's Office in a comprehensive effort to eradicate pill mills from our state."

November 13, 2010

AG-elect Pam Bondi partied in Vegas with mega-trial lawyer Jim Wilkes

Four days after being elected Florida's next attorney general, Pam Bondi and her fiancé flew to Las Vegas to party with one of the state's most influential trial lawyers, Tampa's Jim Wilkes.

It was Wilkes' 60th birthday and, while Bondi and her fiancé, Greg Henderson, say they paid for their hotel room and airfare to Las Vegas, they relied on the Republican Party of Florida to charter a plane to get them from Las Vegas to New Orleans, where she attended a meeting of the Republican Attorneys General Association the next day.

Wilkes, who has made a living suing nursing homes on behalf of Medicaid and Medicare clients who have died or been injured because of negligent care, said he has known Bondi since she first began as a prosecutor in Hillsborough County. He sees no conflict with his close association with her.

Bondi, who defeated Democrat Dan Gelber in the attorney general's race on Nov. 2, generally supports the efforts of her Republican colleagues in the Legislature to limit lawsuits against Medicaid providers in an effort to curb costs.

Wilkes said, however, if legislators go too far in curbing access to the courts, the issue will be challenged. The office that must defend against that challenge is the attorney general.

``Am I nervous, yes,'' Wilkes said. ``Am I nervous that we have a Republican governor and a House and Senate who want to strip people's rights? Yes. More here.

 

 

October 27, 2010

October 21, 2010

GOP issues landslide alert: We're beating Dems in early vote

Florida Democrats had been proudly touting the fact that they were doing better in absentee voting requests then they had in 2006, but the Republican Party of Florida has its own stats that could spell doom for every Democrat on a statewide ballot this year.

RPOF says that, for the first time ever, they've won the first two days of early voting. And compared to 2008 (the year of Obama, when Dems outperformed Reps), Republicans are doing far better in absentee voting requests and returns. If true and the trend continues, Democrats have a dim future. Maybe governor candidate Alex Sink could squeak by Republican Rick Scott, in large part because she'd not running as a Democrat and she's at times running away from President Obama. But the numbers suggest the Obama millstone will weigh her down as the red wave swamps Florida.

From RPOF:

Requested absentee ballots: Republicans lead by 228,930 – a 13.21% lead over Democrats. In 2008, Republicans had an 8.89% lead by Election Day. Then, President Obama only won by 2.8 percentage points after a massive ad blitz.

Voted absentee ballots: Republicans lead by 112,534 absentee votes – a 21.88% lead. In 2008, Republicans had a 10.8% lead on Election Day.

Early Voted: Republicans lead by 15,281 votes – a 11.32% lead (Monday and Tuesday). In 2008, Republicans were losing by 73,384 votes at this point in 2008. By Election Day, Republicans had lost the Early Vote by 23.97%.

"We don’t expect to win early voting, but any lead at all is shocking at this point and a testament to the incredible enthusiasm amongst Republicans," RPOF spokesman Dan Conston said.