April 28, 2016

Three Floridians among Obama nominees to federal district bench

@jamesmartinrose

President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated U.S. magistrate judges in Jacksonville and Ocala and a prominent Tampa lawyer for federal district court seats, adding their names to a backlog of dozens of judicial picks the Republican-controlled Senate has failed to confirm.

Obama named Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale of Jacksonville and Tampa white-collar defense attorney William F. Jung to the Middle District of Florida, and he chose Magistrate Judge Philip R. Lammens for the Northern District of Florida.

"There is a judicial emergency in the Middle District of Florida right now," Sen. Bill Nelson said. "Sen. Rubio and I have conferred on these three nominees, and even in this highly partisan environment, I'm hopeful that we can get them approved quickly."

Aides to Rubio confirmed that the two senators had worked together in recommending the Florida nominees to Obama.

Rubio, however, declined to say whether he would push for his Senate Republican colleagues to confirm them. Republicans are refusing to hold hearings or to vote on Obama's nomination last month of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

With 85 federal district seats unfilled nationwide, Florida has three of 28 vacancies deemed "emergency" by the U.S. Judicial Conference, the policy-making body for federal courts overseen by the Supreme Court.

The emergency designation is based on a combination of the length of vacancy and how many cases are pending before a court.

Both seats that Obama moved to fill Thursday for the Middle District of Florida are among the 28 emergency vacancies, with one seat empty since June 30, 2015, and the second seat unfilled since August 1 of last year.

The Middle District of Florida had 9,401 cases in 2015, which is considered a heavy load. It stretches from south of Naples on the Gulf Coast to the Georgia border and includes Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando.

Obama also nominated five other district judges to seats in Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina and the District of Columbia.

"Throughout their careers, these nominees have displayed unwavering commitment to justice and integrity," Obama said of his eight choices for judicial promotion. "Their records are distinguished and impressive, and I am confident that they will serve the American people well from the United States District Court bench."

The Senate on April 11 unanimously confirmed Waverly Crenshaw Jr., an African-American lawyer from Nashville, Tenn., to a federal district judgeship.

The Senate confirmed just 17 of Obama's judicial nominees last year, the fewest since 1960.

Before becoming a U.S. magistrate judge in 2012, Lammens was a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville, the city's No. 2 attorney and a civil trial lawyer in the torts division of the U.S. Justice Department. He earned his law and undergraduate degrees from the University of Florida.

A U.S. magistrate judge since 2013, Barksdale also previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Jacksonville. She, too, has undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Jung is a founding partner of the Jung & Sisco law firm in Ocala, specializing in white-collar criminal defense. He was a federal prosecutor in Miami in the late 1980s and clerked before that for then-Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist. Jung received his law degree from the University of Illinois and his undergraduate degree from Vanderbilt University

 

 

 

  

April 18, 2016

Florida Supreme Court chief justice to attend White House forum

@ByKristenMClark

Jorge-Labarga-2015Jorge Labarga, the chief justice of Florida's Supreme Court, is participating at an event at the White House on Tuesday to promote ways to help low-income Americans seek justice through the court system.

Labarga is one of six state chief justices invited, the Florida Supreme Court said in a news release this morning.

Speakers at the event include U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, White House Counsel Neil Eggleston and John Levi, the chairman of the Legal Services Corp., which is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans and a co-sponsor of the non-partisan forum. After the forum, a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court will include remarks by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.

It's the second year that Labarga has participated.

“I am eager to once again bring Florida’s perspective to this critically important national conversation,” Labarga said in a statement. “And I look forward to hearing about initiatives and innovations elsewhere that we may very well want to explore here in Florida.”

Access to civil justice has been one of Labarga's top priorities as head of Florida's judicial branch. In 2014, he created the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice -- which is researching ways to bring down barriers that keep poor people from seeking the help of the courts in matters such as child custody and landlord-tenant disputes.

“The lack of meaningful access to civil justice is so critically urgent that I believe it can be fairly described as a crisis," Labarga said.

He praised attorneys and legal groups that work to help people who can't afford a lawyer, but he said, "the simple truth is that the gaps in access to civil justice are bigger than the legal community. We are grappling with a societal problem. And it needs a societal answer.”

The forum will be live-streamed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live.

April 15, 2016

Jacksonville Rep. Reggie Fullwood indicted on federal charges

HousePhotoOriginal5880@ByKristenMClark

A Democratic state representative from Jacksonville has been indicted on more than a dozen federal wire fraud and tax charges and is accused of embezzling campaign funds for personal expenses, ranging from restaurants to jewelry stores.

U.S. Attorney A. Lee Bentley III announced the charges today against Reggie Fullwood -- a three-term state representative who, this past session, was the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee.

Fullwood, 41, faces 10 counts of wire fraud and four counts of failure to file federal income tax returns. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud offense, and a year of imprisonment for each failure to file charge.

Fullwood turned himself into federal authorities on Friday and pleaded not guilty during an initial court appearance in Florida’s Middle District of U.S. District Court in Jacksonville. It lasted 20 minutes.

He was released under a $10,000 bond that he has to pay only if he fails to appear at future hearings, court records show. He was also required to surrender his passport to his attorney.

Continue reading "Jacksonville Rep. Reggie Fullwood indicted on federal charges" »

April 14, 2016

FL Supreme Court rules agencies must pay attorneys fees when violating public records law

From Jim Saunders at The News Service of Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday issued a broadly worded ruling that made clear public agencies are liable for paying attorney's fees if they violate the state's open-records law.

The 5-2 ruling dealt with cases in which people successfully sue agencies for failing to comply with the records law. Justices rejected arguments that agencies should be shielded from paying plaintiffs' legal fees if public-records requests are handled in "good faith."

"In accordance with case law liberally construing the Public Records Act in favor of open access to public records, the reasonable statutory construction of the attorney's fee provision, and the letter and spirit of the constitutional right to inspect or copy public records, we hold that a prevailing party is entitled to statutory attorney's fees under the Public Records Act when the trial court finds that the public agency violated a provision of the Public Records Act in failing to permit a public record to be inspected or copied,'' said the majority opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente and joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and James E.C. Perry. "There is no additional requirement, before awarding attorney's fees under the Public Records Act, that the trial court find that the public agency did not act in good faith, acted in bad faith, or acted unreasonably."

Continue reading "FL Supreme Court rules agencies must pay attorneys fees when violating public records law" »

April 08, 2016

Trial challenging Florida's education framework wraps up in Tallahassee

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@ByKristenMClark

A four-week trial challenging Florida’s public entire education system and its hallmark components — such as standardized testing, school grades and “school choice” options, like charter schools — concluded Friday.

Numerous witnesses, including state Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, testified in Leon County Circuit Court during the trial, which began in mid-March. Judge George Reynolds III isn’t expected to rule in the case for several weeks, as attorneys for both the state and Citizens for Strong Schools have until April 25 to file final written arguments in the case.

Citizens for Strong Schools filed the lawsuit in 2009. The group wants Reynolds to declare that the Florida Department of Education — and by extension, the Florida Legislature — has failed to fulfill its constitutionally mandated “paramount duty” to provide a “high quality” education for all public school students, particularly low-income and minority students.

“This is not an insignificant matter,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Jodi Siegel said during Friday’s closing arguments.

Continue reading "Trial challenging Florida's education framework wraps up in Tallahassee" »

NRA seeks to weigh in on open-carry case before Florida Supreme Court

@ByKristenMClark

UPDATE: 2:55 p.m. -- The Florida Supreme Court this afternoon granted the NRA's request to file an amicus brief in the case.

ORIGINAL STORY: 1:53 p.m. --

The National Rifle Association has filed a motion in the Florida Supreme Court to appear as a "friend of the court" on behalf of a man challenging Florida's law banning the open-carrying of handguns.

The court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in June in the lawsuit filed by Dale Norman, who was arrested and charged with open-carrying in 2012 in St. Lucie County. He was later found guilty of a misdemeanor and sued to challenge the state law.

The 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that regulating the open-carrying of firearms does not violate the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The state's top court will consider Norman's appeal this summer.

In its motion, the National Rifle Association said it has an interest in the case on behalf of its 300,000 members in Florida.

"A decision holding that open and peaceful bearing of arms is not constitutionally protected conduct would expose these NRA members to legal jeopardy and defense costs," wrote the NRA's Tallahassee-based attorney, Jason Gonzalez.

Gonzalez notes that the NRA was "deeply involved" in crafting legislation this past session that would have allowed 1.5 million people with concealed weapons in Florida to openly carry handguns.

The legislation -- sponsored by father-son duo Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach -- passed the House but stalled in the Senate. Judiciary Chairman Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, refused to take it up, calling the measure unnecessary and potentially dangerous.

The NRA's lobbyist, Marion Hammer, said the legislation was necessary to stop what she called the unwarranted prosecution of gun-owners who openly carried by accident, such as when their shirt briefly rode up or when a gun became visible inside a woman's purse. (In Norman's case, he had been carrying his gun in a holster on his hip while walking down a street in Fort Pierce when someone alerted 911.)

Democratic lawmakers in the House sought provisions to ease those concerns about inadvertent open-carry, but Republicans rejected adding them to the proposed bill. Hammer has said the only solution is to allow open carry altogether.

The Florida Supreme Court in January granted "Everytown for Gun Safety" -- which advocates for gun-control laws -- the ability to file a "friend of the court" brief in Norman's case. The NRA says it will provide more detailed evidence to refute that group's claims, if it's allowed to submit a brief of its own.

Read the NRA's request here.

April 06, 2016

Florida state officials agree to settle in Medicaid lawsuit over care of poor children

via @Marbinius

Florida health administrators have agreed to settle a long-simmering lawsuit that claims the state’s Medicaid insurance program for needy children is so poorly funded and managed that impoverished youngsters are consigned to a second-rate healthcare system where long waits for access and substandard care are the norm.

A federal court judge in Miami sided with needy children and their doctors in a 153-page ruling in December 2014, saying state lawmakers had so starved the Florida Medicaid program of funding that it was operating in violation of federal law.

In the ensuing months, health administrators — at the urging of U.S. Circuit Judge Adalberto Jordan, who presided over the trial — mediated the dispute with lawyers for the children and the state Pediatric Society. The negotiations yielded a settlement with the heads of the state Department of Health, the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children & Families, all of whom were parties to the litigation.

Though state leaders had continued the battle even after Jordan’s stunning ruling, healthcare for needy children had become a public relations nightmare for the state. Administrators at the Department of Health last year purged 13,000 children from one of the premier Medicaid plans for youngsters, Children’s Medical Services, and had shuttered CMS offices, including clinics for children with disfigured faces and other disabilities. Public outrage over the cutbacks, and other agency moves, may have cost the health department’s secretary, John Armstrong, Senate confirmation.

April 01, 2016

Federal judge affirms gay marriage ban is unconstitutional after Florida officials resist compliance

@ByKristenMClark

Although gay marriage has been legal in Florida for more than a year and the law nationwide since last summer, a U.S. District Court judge ruled definitively this week that Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

Judge Robert L. Hinkle said that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and the state Legislature need to recognize that and also start treating same-sex couples the same as heterosexual couples in all aspects of law.

Hinkle wrote that he was compelled to grant summary judgment in a long-standing lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s same-sex marriage ban because state officials have shown little, if any, inclination to accept and follow last summer’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling and the implications of it.

“After the United States Supreme Court issued [its ruling], one might have expected immediate, unequivocal acceptance,” Hinkle wrote. “Not so for the State of Florida.”

More here.

March 30, 2016

Florida appeals court to hear arguments in Tax Credit Scholarship suit

From the News Service of Florida:

A state appeals court will hear arguments May 10 in a lawsuit led by the Florida Education Association challenging the state's Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

The 1st District Court of Appeal last week set the hearing date after Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds tossed out the lawsuit in May 2015 because he ruled the plaintiffs did not have legal "standing."

The voucher-like Tax Credit Scholarship program provides tax credits to companies that donate money to non-profit entities that help pay for low-income children to attend private schools.

In a brief filed in August with the appeals court, the plaintiffs argued they have standing to challenge the constitutionality of the program.

"Appellants (the plaintiffs) pled specific injuries resulting from the scholarship program, asserting that the diversion of tax revenues to send students to private schools in Florida intentionally and necessarily results in significant reduced funding to Florida's public schools to the detriment of the students, teachers, and others associated with the schools represented in this lawsuit,'' the brief said.

But attorneys for the state, in a December brief, disputed that the plaintiffs have standing.

"(The) trial court correctly ruled appellants have not identified any special injury stemming from the scholarship program," the state brief said. "Appellants' theory of harm hinges on the conclusory allegations that they 'have been and will continue to be injured by the scholarship program's diversion of resources from the public schools.' But these allegations, and the theories of harm underlying them, are necessarily speculative and wholly insufficient to confer standing."

March 22, 2016

Florida Supreme Court to hear open-carry case in June

From the News Service of Florida:

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments June 8 in a challenge to a state law that bars people from openly carrying firearms.

Justices issued an order Monday scheduling the arguments in the challenge filed by Dale Norman, who was arrested in 2012 in Fort Pierce while openly carrying a gun in a holster. After a jury found Norman guilty of a misdemeanor charge, the 4th District Court of Appeal upheld the state law, ruling it does not violate constitutional rights to bear arms.

Norman then appealed to the Supreme Court, which said in October that it would take up the case.

During the legislative session that ended this month, lawmakers considered proposals that would have allowed people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry guns. But the measures did not pass.