November 24, 2015

Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr. asks Florida Supreme Court to stay execution


A death-row inmate facing execution in January for a murder in Pasco County 30 years ago is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a stay in the case and to grant a hearing so his attorneys can argue "newly discovered evidence," which a circuit court recently rejected.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant for Oscar Ray Bolin, Jr., last month, scheduling his execution for Jan. 7.

Bolin killed three women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. He was sentenced to death for two of them and is serving a life sentence on the third. The scheduled execution is for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, whom he abducted from the Land O' Lakes Post Office in the early morning hours of Dec. 5, 1986.

In a motion to the Supreme Court filed late Monday, Bolin's attorneys argue they have new evidence that needs to be heard, including that an Ohio inmate "confessed to having committed the murder." Download Filed_11-23-2015_Motion_Briefing_Schedule

A circuit court last month denied Bolin's request for an evidentiary hearing on the matter, reasoning that the "confession was not evidence of a magnitude that it would probably produce an acquittal or a sentence other than death if admitted at a retrial."

After Scott signed Bolin's death warrant, Bolin appealed his case once more to the Sixth Circuit Court, and on Friday, the court denied Bolin's motion for rehearing and a request to vacate the death sentence. 

Bolin was convicted of abducting Matthews and then bludgeoning her with a wooden club, spraying her with a water hose and loading her into a truck to dispose of her body. She was found wrapped in the sheet on the side of the road in Pasco County later that day with severe head injuries and stab wounds in her neck and body.

Bolin previously appealed his case to federal court but his petition was denied in 2013, and the 11th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals also denied to review the case.

Bolin has been convicted of two other murders in Hillsborough County. He is currently sentenced to death for the 1986 murder of Stephanie Collins and is serving a life sentence for the 1986 murder of Natalie Holley.

Broward circuit judge charged with ethics violations


A Broward County circuit court judge is accused of multiple ethics violations, because he allegedly offered advice to an assistant public defender last spring and engaged in subsequent "inappropriate conduct" in reaction to that accusation.

The Florida Supreme Court announced this morning the Judicial Qualifications Commission's decision to bring formal charges against Judge John Patrick ContiniDownload Filed_11-23-2015_Notice_Formal_Charges

After learning of Contini's email to the public defender in March, the state attorney's office sought Contini's removal from the related case because they said his advice to the defendant's counsel negated his impartiality.

The state attorney's office appealed to the Fourth District Court of Appeals to have Contini removed, and a stay was placed on hundreds of Contini's criminal cases -- freezing their progress and leaving defendants in jail because Contini couldn't hear their cases.

Contini initially refused to step away. Then, in August, Contini asked for and was granted a transfer to the family court division, following a blow-up over his dispute with the state attorney's office, according to a report by the Sun-Sentinel.

The commission wrote that after Contini first appeared before the JQC's investigative panel, "(he) again breeched the judicial canons by exhibiting discourteous, impatient and undignified conduct" during court discussions of the state attorney's appeal.

For example, the commission said he repeatedly referred to attorneys handling the appeal as "idiots" and their work as "fraudulent," and he also called the Attorney General's position in the case as "a lie from the pit of hell."

"The events of this case have been broadcast in the local and regional news media, further amplifying the negative effect of your actions," the commission wrote.

The JQC said his actions "constitute inappropriate conduct" in violation of five canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Contini has 20 days to offer a written answer to the charges.

November 05, 2015

Florida Supreme Court: Alex Diaz de la Portilla didn't actively flout court in divorce dispute over dogs


The Florida Supreme Court says a former Miami Republican state senator's failure to show up for court hearings related to the custody of family dogs in his bitter divorce four years ago doesn't constitute "direct criminal contempt" of court because there was a lack of evidence that he knowingly failed to attend the hearings.

Rather Alex Diaz de la Portilla's defiance of a court order constituted a more passive act, known as "indirect criminal contempt," the court said in its 18-page ruling, released Thursday.  Download Sc14-1625

During the divorce proceedings, Diaz de la Portilla was ordered to hand over one of two family dogs  -- Elvis and Priscilla -- to his then-wife, lobbyist Claudia Davant, but failed to do so. (Diaz de la Portilla is brother to current Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla.)

In 2011, Alex Diaz de la Portilla didn't show up for two court hearings, where Davant asked a judge to hold her husband into contempt of court for not delivering the couple's dog as ordered. After the second time, the trial court judge issued a warrant for Diaz de la Portilla's arrest and sought to hold him in direct criminal contempt, saying he was "thumbing his nose" at the authority of the court.

But the Florida Supreme Court -- agreeing with the First District Court of Appeals -- said people held in contempt have to be given the opportunity for a hearing before such a finding of guilt is made. The court said there was a lack of evidence that Diaz de la Portilla was notified that he was required to attend the hearings in person.

"When an individual fails to appear, the court is not capable of making the necessary inquiries of the absent individual, and likewise is unable to hear evidence of excusing or mitigating circumstances. The rules of criminal contempt must be strictly followed so as to protect the due process rights of the defendant," Justice Fred Lewis wrote in the 6-1 opinion, with Justice Charles Canady dissenting.

Canady said the court shouldn't have even considered the case, because the Supreme Court was only asked for its advisory opinion on when direct-versus-indirect criminal contempt applies. The First District Court of Appeal had deemed the issue "of great public importance" because there had been conflicting precedent set by Florida's trial courts and district courts of appeal.

"This court should not be in the business of issuing advisory opinions except as specifically authorized by the Florida Constitution," Canady wrote in his dissent.

What does this mean for Diaz de la Portilla? His contempt-of-court charge gets kicked back to the trial court.

November 03, 2015

Term limits proposal for Florida Supreme Court justices, appeals judges advances in the Florida House

John wood


Florida’s Supreme Court justices and District Court of Appeals judges would be limited to two terms in office, under a proposed constitutional amendment that gained initial favor from a House committee Tuesday.

Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said term limits for the state’s seven justices and 64 appellate judges would ensure “diversity of legal philosophy,” “enhance the proper role of the judiciary,” and “create a true balance of power” with the Legislature and the governor, which are already subject to term limits.

Wood is co-sponsoring HJR 197 with Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora.

But some lawmakers, as well as attorneys speaking on behalf of The Florida Bar, fear the proposal could lead to less-experienced judges and high turnover on the bench, among other consequences.

Continue reading "Term limits proposal for Florida Supreme Court justices, appeals judges advances in the Florida House" »

September 18, 2015

Court: Labarga recovering from cancer surgery

Labarga-2015The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday announced that Chief Justice Jorge Labarga had a successful surgery for kidney cancer Monday at Shands Hospital in Gainesville and doctors "predict a quick recovery."

Labarga, 62, the state's first Hispanic chief justice, was diagnosed with the early stages kidney cancer through routine blood tests earlier this year and advised him to have the kidney removed at the University of Florida’s medical school teaching hospital, Shands, the court said. 

Labarga was "resting comfortably amid a room full of Florida ‘Gator gifts and balloons from well-wishers'' and "has resumed some of his duties as Chief Justice using remote equipment from his hospital room,'' the court reported. 

"Doctors found no signs that the cancer had spread and predict a full and quick recovery for Florida’s 56th Chief Justice and its first of Hispanic descent,'' the statement said. 

Doctors had discovered the cancer in its early stages through routine blood tests earlier this year. They advised him to have the kidney removed at the University of Florida’s medical school teaching hospital, Shands.

Photo: Courtesy of the Florida Supreme Court

September 15, 2015

Florida Supreme Court to reprimand Miami-Dade County judge Dec. 9


Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz
Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz, pictured here in her Hialeah courtroom in 2013. ROBERTO KOLTUN / EL NUEVO HERALD

The Florida Supreme Court has set the date for when Miami-Dade County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz will receive her official reprimand for telling a store owner last year to "go f--- yourself."

The court will administer its tongue-lashing at 9 a.m. Dec. 9, the court said in a notice filed Tuesday. Download 09-15-2015_Letter_Scheduling_Reprimand

The reprimand is part of Schwartz's punishment for breaking judicial conduct rules when she insulted a Coconut Grove convenience store owner in June 2014. 

In a 4-3 decision in April, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that a public reprimand and letter of apology to the store owner weren't sufficient enough punishment for Schwartz, whose courtroom is in Hialeah.

Last week, the court fined her $10,000 and imposed a imposed a 30-day unpaid suspension.

She spouted the profanity in a dispute over an oversized campaign sign Schwartz's opponent had put up before last year's primary election. (Schwartz was later reelected.)

June 30, 2015

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler explains why he signed same-sex marriage proclamation

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, who voted against a same-sex resolution last year, signed a proclamation Friday celebrating the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Seiler has tried to stay on the sidelines of the same-sex marriage debate.

A married Catholic who has four children, Seiler told the Miami Herald in 2013 that he had no position on the issue of same-sex marriage but supported civil unions and domestic partner benefits for city employees. In June 2014, Seiler voted against a city resolution in support of same sex marriage. The former state representative and Wilton Manors mayor has been mentioned as a potential future statewide candidate but his position on same-sex marriage could put him at odds with other Democrats.

The proclamation, which says it's in recognition of the "Marriage Equality Landmark Decision," was read in part at a rally Friday at the Fort Lauderdale federal courthouse by City Commissioner Dean Trantalis, the city’s first openly gay commissioner. The proclamation states that Fort Lauderdale has the highest concentration of same-sex households in the nation, according to the 2012 Census.

Continue reading "Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler explains why he signed same-sex marriage proclamation" »

June 29, 2015

Pam Bondi asks court to move forward with execution after Supreme Court ruling

via @MichaelAuslen

Florida’s rapid pace of executions — derailed in February because of a pending U.S. Supreme Court Case — is cleared to start up again. And the state isn’t wasting any time.

Just hours after the high court ruled that a drug used for lethal injections in Florida is allowed under the Constitution, Attorney General Pam Bondi filed to lift a state court order blocking executions.

Specifically, Bondi is asking the Florida Supreme Court to move forward with the execution of convicted quadruple-murderer Jerry Correll, who would be the 22nd person put to death since Rick Scott became governor in 2011.

He would also be the first person executed since January. The six-month break is unusual for Scott, who has signed death warrants at a faster pace than any governor in recent memory. Former Gov. Jeb Bush ordered 21 executions in his eight years in office, and Charlie Crist waited a full year and a half before issuing his first death warrant.

In Florida, executions take the form of lethal injection. The process requires a series of three drugs: one to knock out and numb the inmate, followed by one that causes paralysis and a third to induce cardiac arrest.

More here

Supreme Court rules that independent commissions can draw Congressional districts

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that an independent state commission can draw federal congressional districts.

The Arizona case related to an independent commission set up by a referendum in 2000. The commission was tasked with redrawing new lines and a new map in 2011 resulted in four safe GOP districts, two safe Democratic districts and three swing districts, according to NPR. The GOP-led Arizona Legislature sued.

In Florida, the Legislature draws the maps and has been involved in a series of legal challenges since the latest maps were adopted in 2012. In 2010, voters approved Fair District rules which were an attempt to block  partisan gerrymandering of political boundaries.

The League of Women Voters has an ongoing case before the Florida Supreme Court in which it has argued that the congressional maps should be rejected because they are the product of a shadowy process infiltrated by Republican political operatives in violation of the Fair District rules.

The state Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling over the next several weeks -- possibly as early as Thursday. We asked lawyers on both sides of that case what the Arizona decision means if anything for the Florida case.


Continue reading "Supreme Court rules that independent commissions can draw Congressional districts" »

June 25, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott's stalled promise about fighting for Obamacare repeal

Gov. Rick Scott's promise to fight to repeal the federal health care law was dealt another blow June 25 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold subsidies for consumers who purchase insurance in the federal exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act.

That means that millions of Americans, including 1.3 million in Florida, can keep their subsidies to help them afford insurance. Since Scott and the state Legislature did not want to establish its own insurance exchange under the law, the state is one of 34 that relies on the federally-run marketplace at

Scott, a former health care company executive, began his fight against the Affordable Care Act before he was a candidate in Florida.

In 2009, Scott spent $5 million of his own money to form Conservatives for Patients' Rights, a group that fought Obama's original health care proposal.

In 2010, Scott said he would join efforts to repeal the health care law, including supporting a constitutional amendment that "prohibits the federal government from imposing President Obama's individual mandate, to protect Floridians' freedom to control their health care choices."

At PolitiFact Florida we have been tracking dozens of Scott's promises, including his one to fight the Affordable Care Act, since he won his first campaign in 2010 and was re-elected in 2014. And we have fact-checked many claims by Scott related to the Affordable Care Act.

Turn to PolitiFact Florida for the rest of our promise update.