July 28, 2017

Florida's legal losses up to $19M and counting under Gov. Rick Scott

State_of_State_Florida(3)

From Gary Fineout of the Associated Press:

Florida's price tag for losing legal battles — which has included courtroom fights over drug testing, voting rights and gay marriage — continues to grow under Gov. Rick Scott.

Scott recently agreed to pay $1.1 million to cover the legal bills of physicians and medical organizations in their successful challenge of a law that restricted doctors' ability to talk to patients about guns. The law had been pushed through the Florida Legislature at the urging of the National Rifle Association.

In early July, the state also agreed to a $2 million payment that will go to lawyers who sued on behalf of disabled inmates.

A review of records by The Associated Press shows that since Scott took office in 2011 the state has paid at least $19 million to cover expenses and fees for lawyers who have sued the state. Many of those lawsuits took aim at policies put in place by Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature.

The Scott administration has defended the legal expenses in the past, saying the governor will "vigorously defend" Florida's laws.

In February a federal appeals court ruled that Florida doctors can talk to patients about gun safety, declaring a law aimed at restricting such discussions a violation of the First Amendment's right to free speech. The state did not appeal the decision and in late June reached a settlement to pay $1.1 million for attorney fees and costs.

One of the firms involved in the lawsuit — Ropes & Gray — announced it would donate $100,000 of its fee award to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"This award is a message to states to think twice before enacting or defending laws that put lives at risk just to boost the gun industry's bottom line," said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in a statement.

John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, defended the state's fight over the law. He said the governor was a "strong supporter" of the 2nd Amendment and that he signed the bill "after it was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature."

Earlier this month, the state agreed to pay $2 million to cover the fees and costs for groups that sued the state in 2016 over its treatment of inmates with hearing, vision and mobility disabilities.

Randall Berg with the Florida Justice Institute said the money will go to reimbursing the institute, Disability Rights Florida, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the well-known personal injury law firm Morgan & Morgan. John Morgan is a frequent Democratic donor and has been speculating about running for governor next year.

In the last six years, the state has agreed to pay attorney fees of lawyers who have sued the state over everything from employee discrimination to drug testing of welfare recipients.

The total includes $12 million paid to attorneys who represented pediatricians in a more than 10-year legal battle over whether Florida violated federal mandates by failing to deliver critical health services to 2 million children on Medicaid.

The state also paid more than $800,000 to lawyers working for the American Civil Liberties Union and nearly $513,000 to lawyers who defeated a state law targeting businesses doing business in Cuba.

An AP review found that between 2011 and early 2017 that Florida had spent more than $237 million on outside lawyers hired to defend the state.

July 24, 2017

Florida taxpayers will shoulder $1.1M in legal fees in state's defense of 'Docs vs. Glocks'

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From Jim Saunders at the News Service of Florida:

Florida will pay $1.1 million in legal fees to attorneys who challenged a controversial state law that sought to prevent doctors from asking patients about guns, a group representing opponents said Monday.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence announced the legal-fees agreement more than five months after a federal appeals court sided with doctors and medical groups in striking down key parts of the 2011 law --- which became known as the “docs vs. glocks” law. The state did not appeal the Feb. 16decision by the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A copy of the legal-fees agreement had not been posted in an online court file Monday morning. But documents indicate the state and the law's opponents had been in mediation on the fees.

The law, which was backed by groups such as the National Rifle Association, included a series of restrictions on doctors and health providers. For example, it sought to prevent physicians from entering information about gun ownership into medical records if the physicians knew the information was not "relevant" to patients' medical care or safety or to the safety of other people.

Also, the law said doctors should refrain from asking about gun ownership by patients or family members unless the doctors believed in "good faith" that the information was relevant to medical care or safety. Also, the law sought to prevent doctors from discriminating against patients or "harassing" them because of owning firearms.

Opponents argued, in part, that the law violated free-speech rights. The full appeals court found that the record-keeping, inquiry and anti-harassment parts of the law were unconstitutional, but upheld the portion of the law that bars doctors from discriminating against patients who have guns.

“Legislators across the country should learn from Florida's example that if you side with the corporate gun lobby instead of your constituents, you endanger the safety of children and families, impinge upon First Amendment rights of doctors, and force taxpayers to pay millions to unsuccessfully defend unconstitutional laws,” Jonathan Lowy, director of the Brady Center's Legal Action Project and an attorney in the case, said in a prepared statement Monday. “Thankfully, in this case justice prevailed and the court recognized that doctors have a First Amendment right to tell the truth about guns, and the risks they can pose to children and families.”

When asked for comment Monday about the legal fees, John Tupps, a spokesman for Gov. Rick Scott, said in an email that Scott signed the 2011 law after it “was approved by a large, bipartisan majority in the Florida Legislature.”

“Governor Scott is a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” Tupps said. “Much of this law was either never challenged or upheld in court. This (legal fees) settlement is in accordance with Florida law and a recommendation from the Department of Financial Services.”

The challenge to the law was filed in June 2011 and played out over nearly six years. A U.S. District Court judge blocked the law from taking effect, but a three-judge panel of the appeals court upheld the law in three rulings before the full appeals court agreed to take up the case.

Supporters of the law said it was necessary to prevent doctors, such as pediatricians, from harassing and discriminating against patients and parents about gun ownership. The also described the law, formally known as the Firearm Owners' Privacy Act, as a Second Amendment issue.

But Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, an attorney with the firm Ropes & Gray, who argued the case for the plaintiffs, said in a prepared statement Monday that the case allows doctors to “go back to giving their best advice to patients when it comes to gun safety.”

“From day one in bringing this case, our commitment has been to protect doctors' First Amendment rights to ensure the safety of individuals, families and communities in Florida,” Hallward-Driemeier said. “The successful resolution of the litigation and subsequent fees and costs award are both critical to furthering that goal.”

July 19, 2017

Judge: State gets 60 more days to prove need for 24-hour abortion waiting period

Julia kaye

@ByKristenMClark

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office has 60 more days to gather evidence and testimony to defend a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for abortions, which lawmakers enacted in 2015 but which has been blocked from taking effect amid a two-year legal battle.

In granting the state extra time, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Wednesday also chided Deputy Solicitor General Denise Harle for not already being prepared to make her case.

It’s been five months since the Florida Supreme Court upheld a lower-court decision that stopped the waiting period from going into effect while the lawsuit over constitutionality went ahead.

“I’m very skeptical in terms of the state’s suggestion that they need more time,” Lewis said during an hourlong hearing in Tallahassee. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be ready a long time ago to answer what the challenges were.”

Full story here.

Photo credit: Julia Kaye, attorney for the ACLU. Kristen M. Clark / Herald/Times

July 18, 2017

Appeals court considers lawsuit over Florida's public education system

1st dca - June 7  2016

@ByKristenMClark

The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools” — but is that general standard something that can be measured?

That’s what an appeals court in Tallahassee will decide in the latest round of a long-standing battle over whether the Legislature, state Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education are fulfilling their constitutional obligations for 2.8 million children in the state’s public schools.

After a five-week trial last year, a Leon County Circuit Court judge tossed out the lawsuit that was filed in 2009. While the plaintiffs — led by two advocacy organizations, Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now — argued the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty, Judge George S. Reynolds III found they hadn’t met the burden to prove that was the case.

Now the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether Reynolds erred in that ruling. Central to that decision is whether the constitutional standard — adopted by voters in the late 1990s — is one that can be definitively measured.

Focused on that theme, the three-judge appeals panel peppered attorneys for the state and for the plaintiffs with questions during an hourlong hearing Tuesday.

Read more here.

July 07, 2017

Lawsuit alleges Florida's colleges, universities owed $1B from state

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via @harrisalexc

In the 1970s, Florida joined a wave of states that encouraged private philanthropy to public universities by matching donations. Following the housing market crash and economic downturn, the Legislature put the matching rules on hold “temporarily” in 2011.

Temporarily has turned into six years. Now, a state lawsuit has been filed against lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to pay out the money — all $1 billion of it. That’s $600 million in backlogged matches and the rest in estimated potential donations if the automatic match is reinstated.

Grace Mead, a Miami attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit under the name of two recent University of Florida graduates, argues that the Legislature’s continued hold on donations matches violates Florida’s constitution and harms students’ education. The two students named as lead plaintiffs are Alexis Geffin, a Wisconsin sports reporter, and her brother Ryan Geffin, an incoming medical student at Florida International University.

“We’re not seeking damages,” Mead said, “we’re seeking allocation of funds.”

 

Full story here.

July 03, 2017

UPDATED: Lawmakers react to Miami judge's ruling deeming Stand Your Ground change unconstitutional

Florida Legislature (21)

@ByKristenMClark

Several lawmakers took to Twitter on Monday to weigh in on a Miami judge's ruling that new changes the Legislature made to Florida's Stand Your Ground law were unconstitutional and beyond the purview of their law-making duties.

The Miami Herald's David Ovalle has more on the ruling here.

SB 128 passed the Legislature along partylines with Democrats opposed, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law last month. Scott's office had no immediate reaction to Monday's news other than acknowledging they were "reviewing the ruling."

Here's what some lawmakers had to say: 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes:

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who, for two years, sponsored the legislation to change Florida's Stand Your Ground law:

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford...

... with a responses from Reps. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, and David Richardson, D-Miami Beach:

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice:

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando:

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Jacksonville Beach...

... with agreement from Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa:

 Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami...

 ... which drew this brief exchange with Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville:

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser / AP

June 15, 2017

Rubio: 'Tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Thursday morning he will join President Donald Trump in Miami on Friday to unveil “strategic and targeted” changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“The goal of these polices is very simple: We want to power and we want to strengthen the Cuban people without strengthening the Cuban military, which controls a significant  percentage of their economy," Rubio said in a Facebook live chat from his Senate office.

“I’m very proud of what the president will be announcing tomorrow. It’s up to them to lay out the specifics, but suffice it to say that tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people, a better deal for the Cuban people, which is who new are trying to help by empowering them and doing so in a way that does not empower their oppressors.”

The change Rubio alludes to would seek to restrict business between private U.S. companies and Cuban companies controlled by the military, the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or GAESA.

Trump is also considering other changes, including possible limits on travel. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at Manuel Artime Theater in Miami at 1 p.m. He'll also be joined by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who like Rubio has criticized the ways in which President Barack Obama's opening relations with Cuba.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

April 10, 2017

Parents ask Supreme Court to review 'opt-out' testing case

From the News Service of Florida:

Several parents who oppose standardized-testing requirements in public schools are taking their battle to the Florida Supreme Court.

The parents last week filed a notice that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal in a case related to what is known as the "opt out" movement.

Parents who brought the case against the Department of Education and several school boards told their third-grade students to put their names on a standardized test, then refuse to answer questions. When the students were barred from moving to fourth grade under state law, the parents sued, saying they wanted their children to be evaluated using a portfolio allowed in the case of "good cause exemptions."

A three-judge panel of the appeals court on March 7 ruled that Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers erred on procedural grounds in allowing the case to go forward and also disagreed with portions of her opinion that could have allowed some students to avoid answering questions on state exams. The appeals court ruled, in part, that the state has an interest in preventing social promotion, the reason given for the testing requirement.

The parents' notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, as is common, did not provide detailed arguments.

March 15, 2017

Lawmaker: House should 'put Florida Supreme Court in position of telling us that we're wrong'

Florida Legislature (4)


@ByKristenMClark

Some Florida House Republicans have issued a challenge to the state’s top court — saying if the Legislature moves forward and enacts a constitutionally questionable measure seeking to impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants, then the Florida Supreme Court should prove them wrong.

HB 83, which passed its first House committee Wednesday, is rife with questions about its constitutionality because it subjects undocumented immigrants convicted of severe crimes to enhanced charges — and potentially longer prison sentences — solely on the basis of their immigration status.

But some House Republicans said a bill’s potential unconstitutionality shouldn’t be a factor in whether lawmakers approve it.

“I would submit to you that perhaps we sit in here one day and the Florida Supreme Court has told us this vote is wrong,” Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant said, but “I would encourage all of us to put the Florida Supreme Court in the position of telling us that we are wrong.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. Florida House.

March 09, 2017

Is Sen. Bill Nelson a filibuster flip flopper?

BillNelsonatdeskKristenClark

@amysherman1

A conservative group misfired in its attack on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for being inconsistent on the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

America Rising Squared, the policy arm of the conservative America Rising PAC, said in an online post that Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, committed a "filibuster flip-flop" on President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"In 2006, Nelson opposed the use of a filibuster for the nomination of Justice (Samuel) Alito, but now has adopted a different stance," said America Rising Squared, a group advocating for senators to support Gorsuch.

We decided to look at whether Nelson flip-flopped on using the filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee on our Flip-O-Meter, which examines whether a politician has been consistent on an issue.

Experts told us America Rising mischaracterized Nelson’s record.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.