November 05, 2015

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

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

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

@ByKristenMClark

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 HealthCare.gov.

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.

February 27, 2015

Judge rules taxpayers should cover legal bills for Ray Sansom

From our friends at the Associated Press:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida judge says taxpayers should pay the legal fees of disgraced former House Speaker Ray Sansom.

Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey said Friday that she would side with Sansom.

Dempsey didn't say exactly how much she would award Sansom. He sued the state to recover nearly $1 million stemming from his successful defense of corruption charges.

Sansom was accused of scheming to add $6 million to the state budget for an airplane hangar that would ultimately benefit a political supporter. The charges were dropped by prosecutors after a judge blocked the testimony of a key witness.

His lawyers argued the state should pay his fees because the charges were connected to his actions as a legislator.

In a surprise move Sansom testified on Friday and defended his actions. 

February 23, 2015

Appeals court rejects challenge to blind trust law

From our friends at the News Service of Florida:

An appeals court Monday tossed out a constitutional challenge to a 2013 law that allows public officials to put their assets into blind trusts, pointing to the “speculative nature” of the case.

Jim Apthorp, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Reubin Askew, filed the challenge last year alleging that the blind-trust law violated a constitutional requirement that officials fully disclose their financial interests.

But a three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal found that Apthorp’s case “wholly failed to allege a bona fide, actual, present practical need for a declaration that the qualified blind trust statute is unconstitutional.” In part, it said Apthorp did not allege any public official or candidate had used a blind trust in the most-recent financial disclosures.

“This case presents an important constitutional question, namely whether a public officer who includes a qualified blind trust authorized under (the section of state law) in any financial disclosure required by law complies with the requirement for full and public disclosure found in (the state Constitution),’’ said the ruling, written by Judge Lori Rowe and joined by judges Timothy Osterhaus and Brad Thomas. “However, notwithstanding the substantial interest in this case from the bench and bar, we are constrained to leave for another day the resolution of this constitutional question because this case lacks a justiciable controversy.”

More here.