February 18, 2016

For second time, Florida Supreme Court reverses mother's conviction in 'Baby Lollipops' case

by @DavidOvalle305

For the second time, the Florida Supreme Court has reversed the conviction and death sentence for a Miami mother accused of starving, torturing and beating her toddler son known as “Baby Lollipops.”

The state’s high court — citing repeated “inflammatory” closing arguments by the case’s prosecutors — on Thursday reversed the conviction of Ana Maria Cardona.

“As we have stated for decades, we expect and require prosecutors, as representatives of the state, to refrain from engaging in inflammatory and abusive arguments, to maintain their objectivity, and to behave in a professional manner,” the court ruled in a 6-1 decision.

In 2010, Cardona was convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of 3-year-old Lazaro Cardona.

The boy, badly beaten and weighing just 18 pounds, was discovered dead in the bushes of a Miami Beach bayfront home in November 1990. Unidentified at first, Lazaro was dubbed Baby Lollipops for the design on his T-shirt.

Prosecutors said Cardona physically abused Lazaro over months, eventually dumping his bloodied body before fleeing with her lover to the Orlando area.

In Thursday’s opinion, the Florida Supreme Court wrote that prosecutors “presented sufficient evidence” to support the guilty verdict and the death sentence. Story here. 

February 16, 2016

Alan Grayson wants Obama to make recess appointment to fill Scalia's SCOTUS seat


In keeping with a campaign to brand himself as an anti-establishment candidate in the Democratic primary for Florida's U.S. Senate race, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has his own ideas on how President Barack Obama should fill Antonin Scalia's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in the wake of the justice's death on Saturday.

Most Republicans -- including candidates for Florida's seat -- say either that Obama should not bother nominating someone during his final year in office or, that if Obama does, the Senate should block any attempt to confirm that nominee. Meanwhile, most Democrats argue it's the president's duty to nominate and the Senate's obligation to consider a nominee regardless of how much time is left in Obama's term.

But Grayson, D-Orlando, said in a campaign statement Monday evening he supports what would be an unconventional and highly controversial approach: Bypass the Senate's Republican majority altogether by appointing someone this week while the chamber isn't in session.

And he has a name in mind: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who -- like Grayson -- is a staunch progressive.

“She’s earned it, and she deserves it,” Grayson said. “And she’ll be so, so good at it.”

Obama was already quick to say over the weekend that he had no intention of making a recess appointment to the country's top bench.

But Grayson wrote in a column for The Huffington Post that if Obama took action now, "Justice Warren could take office immediately. The obstructionists in the GOP couldn't do anything about it."

He argued that if Obama delayed and later offered her up as a nominee, Warren might be more easily confirmed by the Senate because she's "one of their own."

"Would obstructionists in the Senate filibuster an Elizabeth Warren appointment, or vote against her? Maybe. But that seems like poor form against one of their own, for a place as clubby as the U.S. Senate," Grayson wrote.

While Grayson says Warren is "eminently qualified" to be a jurist -- because of nearly two decades' experience as a Harvard law professor and her "tireless and effective" work as a U.S. senator -- she's not among any of the short-lists of nominees Obama is said to be considering.

Grayson is in a contentious Democratic primary against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, in the race to replace Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate. Murphy has the backing of the party establishment (including many sitting Democratic U.S. senators), while many progressives support Grayson.

Warren hasn't endorsed either candidate in the race.

February 13, 2016

Justice Antonin Scalia dies

WASHINGTON (AP) — Antonin Scalia, the influential conservative and most provocative member of the Supreme Court, died Saturday. He was 79.

The U.S. Marshals Service in Washington confirmed Scalia's death at a private residence in the Big Bend area of South Texas. Spokeswoman Donna Sellers said Scalia had retired the previous evening and was found dead in the morning after he did not appear for breakfast.

Scalia used his keen intellect and missionary zeal in an unyielding attempt to move the court farther to the right after his 1986 appointment by President Ronald Reagan. He also advocated tirelessly in favor of originalism, the method of constitutional interpretation that looks to the meaning of words and concepts as they were understood by the Founding Fathers.

Scalia's impact on the court was muted by his seeming disregard for moderating his views to help build consensus, although he was held in deep affection by his ideological opposites Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. Scalia and Ginsburg shared a love of opera. He persuaded Kagan to join him on hunting trips.

February 08, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee


Welcome to Week 5 of the 2016 session. Wednesday marks the halfway point! Most lawmakers will be back in town by this afternoon for committee meetings, with a regular schedule of work resuming Tuesday.

Here are some items we're watching today.

* Should future legislative sessions starts in January? The House government operations budget committee will consider a bill to do that for not next year, but in 2018. If enacted, that would mean a full year between the end of this session and the start of the 2017 session next March, but then another short window between 2017 and 2018 sessions. The hearing starts at 3.

* A Senate committee will take up a nondiscrimination bill for LGBT Floridians. It's the first time the legislation has ever had a hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m. will consider the controversial bill, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the state's civil rights protection laws, but it's already garnered opposition from social conservative and religious groups.

* Also before the Senate Judiciary Committee: a non-binding "memorial" urging Congress to repeal the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966, which is often referred to as the "wet foot, dry foot" policy. It's on the agenda but it could get postponed until Tuesday. The House version also is slated to be heard Tuesday.

* This afternoon, the Senate Criminal Justice will consider fixing Florida's death penalty in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that deemed its sentencing procedure unconstitutional. Unlike the House, the Senate is proposing to go all the way and require unanimous jury recommendations. The hearing begins at 4.

* Community leaders from the western part of Tampa Bay will spend the evening at the Capitol, with "Leadership Pinellas" hosting a reception on the 22nd floor.

February 05, 2016

In historic move, Jorge Labarga to remain as Florida Supreme Court chief justice for second term


Jorge-Labarga-2015Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga continues to break historical records.

Two years ago, he became the first Hispanic person to lead the state's judicial system. On July 1, he'll begin his second term in that role -- becoming the first chief justice to succeed himself since the end of the Civil War and the first in four decades to serve more than one term.

The court announced this morning that the six other justices chose Labarga to serve for another two-year term as chief justice.

The Supreme Court has long followed a custom of rotating the chief justiceship to the next most senior member who has not yet held the post.

But in this case, Justice James E.C. Perry normally would have received the rotation in 2016, and he will be forced to retire due to age only a few months later. He chose not to stand for election, the court said.

As chief justice, Labarga leads the state's top bench and also serves as the administrative head of the state's judiciary.

“It is a privilege to serve the people of Florida,” Labarga said in a statement. “My second term will continue the work started during the first -– especially the efforts of the Access to Civil Justice Commission and implementation of both our new long-range plan and the first comprehensive statewide communications plan developed for the state courts system.”

Labarga, 63, was the second Cuban-American appointed to Florida’s high court. He came to Florida at 11 years old after the Cuban revolution. He graduated high school in West Palm Beach and then went to the University of Florida, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. Before becoming a Supreme Court justice seven years ago, he was a trial judge in Palm Beach County.

The court said the last chief justice to succeed himself was Charles H. Dupont, who was elected in 1860, served during the Civil War and then succeed himself in 1865.

Labarga also will become the first person to serve more than a single term as chief justice since the late Justice B.K. Roberts. He held the post for three non-consecutive terms, the last of which was in the early 1970s, the court said.

February 02, 2016

Capitol Buzz: Five things to watch today in Tallahassee

Both the House and Senate are in session today, and they'll have plenty of old and familiar faces on hand as their special guests for the morning. Here's what we're watching:

* Current and former lawmakers will come together in each chamber, as part of a weeklong legislative reunion in Tallahassee. The House is set to honor former members during a special "reunion" session from 9:15-10 a.m., and then the Senate plans to do the same from 11 a.m. to noon, after an hour of regular floor work.
* The House convenes again for its regular session at 4 p.m. Daily business is set to include debate on sanctuary cities, revisions to the state's 10-20-Life law and two high-profile guns bills -- open carry and campus carry.
* The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee will consider a proposal to address Florida's death penalty procedures in the wake of the Hurst v. Florida U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this month. A Senate panel held a similar hearing last week. Along that same vein, the Florida Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this morning on whether Hurst applies to the case of death-row inmate Michael Lambrix, who has been denied a stay for his execution set for Feb. 11.
* The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee will debate two controversial ideas: Making both the commissioner of education and the secretary of state elected positions.
* A contingent of current and former NFL players will join Democratic lawmakers for a press conference urging the Legislature to sign off on a settlement deal reached in the wrongful death suit of Florida State University freshman linebacker Devaughn Darling. Darling collapsed and died in 2001 while participating in a series of intense conditioning drills at FSU.

January 13, 2016

In light of SCOTUS ruling, Florida inmate set to die next wants answers


Within hours of the U.S. Supreme Court handing down a ruling invalidating Florida's process for sentencing criminals to death, the next death-row inmate scheduled to be executed filed a petition seeking to test the ramifications of the ruling.

The execution of convicted double-murderer Michael Lambrix is set for Feb. 11. An order issued by the Supreme Court Tuesday (and announced today) orders attorneys for the state to answer how Hurst v. Florida -- the case which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on this week -- applies to Lambrix's case.

The court’s 8-1 opinion in Hurst states that a jury must impose a death sentence. Under current law, judges make that decision based on the jury’s recommendation, a procedure unique to Florida. Both Lambrix and Mark James Asay, who is scheduled to be executed in March, were sentenced to death under the now-unconstitutional rules system, as were an unknown number among Florida's 390 death-row inmates.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered the state to respond by Jan. 20 with answers to: "the retroactivity of Hurst, the effect of Hurst in light of the aggravating factors found by the trial court in Lambrix’s case, and whether any error in Lambrix’s case is harmless."

Florida's Supreme Court justices haven't addressed the Hurst ruling and don't plan to, except in open court where appropriate for the cases before them, a court spokesman said. Ethics rules prohibit the justices from commenting on pending matters.

December 14, 2015

Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Leander Shaw dies

Leander Shaw-Chief Justice_1990


Former Florida Chief Justice Leander J. Shaw, Jr. -- the state's first African-American chief justice -- died early Monday morning after a lengthy illness, according a statement from the Florida Supreme Court.

He was 85.

Shaw was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in 1983 by then-Gov. Bob Graham. He was the second African-American to serve on the state's top bench and the first chosen after Supreme Court elections were eliminated in the wake of corruption scandals during the 1970s.

In 1990, he became chief justice, serving in that role until 1992. He left the bench in 2003 after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

“Justice Shaw served Florida with dedication and distinction, first as a lawyer and then as a member of Florida’s highest court for two decades,” Chief Justice Jorge Labarga said in a statement. "Leander Shaw was one of a handful of judges, who helped restore the public’s faith in the Supreme Court and who transformed it into one of the most respected courts in the nation. This was no small feat after the scandals of the 1970s."

Continue reading "Former Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Leander Shaw dies" »

December 09, 2015

Miami-Dade judge who swore at store clerk scolded by Supreme Court



The Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday scolded a Miami-Dade County judge, who last year told a store owner to “go f--- yourself” in the midst of a heated re-election campaign.

As part of the punishment for her judicial misconduct, Jacqueline Schwartz appeared before the justices for a formal reprimand — the last of several disciplinary measures taken against her.

Reading from prepared remarks, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga admonished Schwartz for her use of “one of the worst profanities known to the English language,” which he said violated the public’s trust in her.

In June 2014, Schwartz cussed at a convenience store owner in a dispute over an oversized campaign sign Schwartz’s opponent had put up at a Coconut Grove Kwik Stop before the primary election.

Schwartz lost her temper and also threatened to sue store owner Firas Hussein after he refused to let Schwartz put up her campaign sign as well. Schwartz, whose courtroom is in Hialeah, was later reelected.

She was also chastised for violating judicial codes by interfering with the official court record in a separate case. She made notes in the margins of original court documents, then later asked her bailiff to erase them when an attorney requested certified copies of the documents with her notations.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade judge who swore at store clerk scolded by Supreme Court" »

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.