Pointing to a need to "move ahead quickly on this issue," Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labargaon Monday announced the creation of a panel to study local courthouse security.
The Trial Courthouse Security Workgroup will look at issues such as evaluating security practices at courthouses, reviewing national courthouse security procedures and developing standards for training, according to the announcement.
"Every day in Florida's courthouses, people are living through heartbreaking dilemmas in both criminal and civil cases," Labarga said in a prepared statement. "We must do everything in our power to make sure that these buildings remain safe and secure and that the troubles we hope to resolve are not compounded by acts of violence in the very place reserved for justice. It is key to our freedoms as Americans."
The panel will be chaired by Margaret Steinbeck, a judge in Southwest Florida's 20th Judicial Circuit. It also will include the chief judges from eight judicial circuits, two attorneys and a staff member from the Office of State Courts Administrator.
Amid all the talk lately about Donald Trump flailing and falling way behind Hillary Clinton in key battleground states, it's worth reminding everybody that, Florida being Florida, we should expect another close presidential election in the America's biggest battleground state.
In the last six presidential elections, after all, Florida has produced three Democratic victories and three Republican victories (one of those, the tied race of 2000). The average margin of victory over those six races was 2.7 percentage points, with the most lopsided result being Bill Clinton's 5.7 point win over Bob Dole and Ross Perot in 1996.
That said, Trump has lost ground in recent weeks in must-win Florida.
With 80 days before election day and less than 50 days before mail voting starts, Hillary Clinton leads Trump by 4.5 percentage points in the average of recent polls compiled by RealClearPolitics.com.
Prior to the conventions, Florida was a dead heat, but the six polls conducted since then show the Democratic nominee leading by as much as 9 percentage points and as little as 1.
These numbers are not predictive, especially with the first debate still more than a month off. But for what it's worth, RealClear showed Mitt Romney leading by 1 percentage point at this point in 2012 and John McCain leading Barack Obama by nearly 3 at this point in 2008.
I haven't found an average for 2004, but a late August St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll showed George W. Bush leading John Kerry 48 percent to 46 percent in Florida.
Gun violence victims from Miami and other cities rallied outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday and demanded that Congress act on pending legislation to limit firearms sales in the wake of the Orlando massacre last month.
Wearing orange T-shirts to commemorate the 49 people murdered in Orlando and others shot to death, the activists heard rousing remarks from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. John Lewis trying to continue the momentum for gun controls sparked by an unusual overnight sit-in the civil rights icon led on the House floor two weeks ago.
â€œThe American public deserves so much more from our nationâ€™s leaders than constant arguing,â€ Antwan Reeves, a Miami-Dade Schools employee who survived an automatic-rifle attack on him and his cousin in Miami Gardens last November, told reporters and spectators at the rally.
Saying â€œitâ€™s a miracle that Iâ€™m here today,â€ Reeves told a riveting story of how he and his cousin, St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey, were sprayed with gunfire Nov. 24 while they sat in a car at Northwest 199th Street and 38th Place. Another vehicle pulled up alongside them, and an occupant opened fire as Reeves shielded two of his children in the backseat of their car.
Reeves took 11 bullets while Bailey was shot twice in the head, but both men survived after Reeves somehow drove to Aventura Hospital and Medical Center and each underwent emergency surgery.
â€œThe weapons used during that night of madness left behind 40 shell casings,â€ Reeves said at Wednesdayâ€™s demonstration. â€œThese types of weapons should not be in possession of ordinary citizens.â€
Rep. Frederica Wilson, Reevesâ€™ representative in the House, also attended the protest.
â€œWeâ€™re going to need the American public and pressure from the people of this nation to help us in this battle,â€ Wilson told reporters after the rally.
She added: â€œI am tired of burying little black boys (in my community), and I even have a foundation set aside to pay for their funerals. So weâ€™re going to fight. Iâ€™ve been in this battle for a long time, and I do not intend to give up now.â€
Since the June 12 tragedy in Orlando, Republicans who control the Senate and the House have blocked mainly Democratic efforts to pass â€œNo Fly, No Buyâ€ legislation that would make it more difficult for people on FBI terror watch lists to purchase guns.
Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Miami-Dade and David Jolly of Indian Shores, Fla., are among a small number of Republicans who have broken with their party and pushed for those limited controls.
With Marco Rubio announcing today that he'll seek re-election to his U.S. Senate seat after all, Democrats were quick to fire off statements this morning blasting the incumbent for going back on his word -- offering a glimpse at the critical attacks they're likely to lob at Rubio in the months ahead.
"Marco Rubio abandoned his constituents, and now he's treating them like a consolation prize," Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy said in a statement. "Unlike Marco Rubio, I love working hard every single day for the people of Florida. From missing the most votes of any Florida senator in nearly 50 years, to seeking to ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest, to repeatedly voting against closing the terrorist gun loophole, Rubio is proving he is only out for himself."
Minutes after the news of Rubio's decision broke, Murphy's campaign also sent out an urgent fundraising email -- capping off days of pitches for campaign cash that Murphy has made in the build up to Rubio's decision.
News of Rubio's decision came just a few hours after a new Quinnipiac University poll came out, showing that Rubio is Republicans' best hope by a wide margin of beating either Murphy or fellow Democratic U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee -- which endorsed Murphy in the Democratic primary -- similarly blasted Rubio today for his attendance and voting record, his poor showing in Florida's presidential primary in March and his support for Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
"Now, he is cravenly using the deadliest mass shooting in American history as the springboard to go back on his word and further his political career," DSCC spokeswoman Sadie Weiner said in a statement. "They said it couldn't be done, but Marco Rubio's actions, words and votes reveal one of the more self-serving Washington politicians who has always put his political career above the people he represents."
On Tuesday in Tallahassee, Grayson told reporters it would be "delightful" to take Rubio on, and in a Facebook post after Rubio's announcement this morning, he added: "Oh, yes, please. Bring it on."
Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alan Grayson blasted his potential opponent and current Republican Sen. Marco Rubio as "incompetent" and someone who has "no flare" for the elected office he's in.
"I think it's a delightful situation," the Orlando congressman said Tuesday afternoon of the prospect of facing Rubio, who has yet to decide whether he'll change his mind this week and seek re-election. (The deadline to qualify is noon Friday.)
Grayson -- one of five Democrats now seeking Rubio's seat -- slammed the Miami Republican for his lack of productivity in the Senate, saying Rubio has produced only one bill in his five years there. Grayson, who calls himself the "congressman with guts," touted his own record of passing bills and amendments through the U.S. House.
"I think it's shocking that anybody who is that incompetent -- if I may use that term -- as a legislator would be considered for an extension on his contract, much less a promotion to the presidency," Grayson said. "I was genuinely puzzled why anybody thought he was a plausible candidate for the president because, frankly, he's so bad as a senator."
"Maybe if he showed up more often he could get more things done," Grayson said, referencing Rubio's poor attendance record for which he's been relentlessly criticized. "I don't know why he wants to continue in the job. He doesn't seem to show any interest for it, and for God's sakes, certainly no flare. Maybe he should let somebody else do it for a while who has some ability to get good things done for the people of Florida."
"There's a reason why he's called 'No Show Rubio,' and I'm called the 'most effective member of Congress,' " Grayson added, citing praise he quotes often from Slate magazine in an article that was published three years ago.
Spokespeople for Rubio did not immediately return an email seeking comment this evening.
Grayson is running against U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter, Miami labor attorney Pam Keith, Jacksonville attorney Reginald Luster and Orlando businessman "Rocky" Roque De La Fuente in the Aug. 30 Democratic primary.
Gov. Rick Scott says it doesn't make sense to release only partial 911 transcripts of the Orlando shooter.
Appearing today on Fox News:
On Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s comments regarding releasing the partial transcripts of the Orlando terrorist’s 911 call:
“Bill, I do not know, but I’ve talked to families and have been down here since the terrorist attack. I’ve talked to families who have lost their loved ones, I met with families that are in the hospital with loved ones in the hospital. We are all looking for answers. Why wouldn’t she release everything? We all need to know, but especially these families. They need to know exactly what happened to try and understand why this happened. It doesn’t make any sense to me why you wouldn’t release the entire transcript.”
On whether he disagrees with Lynch only releasing partial transcripts:
“Absolutely. This seems like it is another example of not focusing on the evil here. This is evil. It’s ISIS. It’s radical Islam. At some point – we lost 49 lives here, we lost Steven Sotloff in 2014 that was beheaded by ISIS. At some point, we’re going to get a president that’s going to say I care about destroying ISIS. I want it for everybody that was impacted by this. I want a focus on how we get rid of ISIS. How do we stop this, how do we stop radical Islam. This is wrong. It’s hurting our country. This was an attack on our gay community, our Hispanic community, our entire country.”
On Lynch’s comments that she is only releasing partial transcript because she doesn’t want to ‘re-victimize the victims’:
“I have no idea what she means, but I’ll tell you what. I’ve gone to funerals, I’ve sat down and cried with the parents. I’ve gone and visited individuals in the hospitals, they’re grieving. They want answers. If it was my family, I’d want answers, she would too. We all would like answers. She should release everything that doesn’t impact the investigation. I could understand if it was something that impacted that investigation until this is finished, I get that. She’s not saying that. It doesn’t make any sense to me. We’ve got to get serious about destroying ISIS. Destroy ISIS, stop radical Islam.”
On what he thinks the administration’s motive behind not releasing the full transcript is:
“I have no idea, but it sure appears that they don’t want to talk about that ISIS was involved. This is clearly ISIS-inspired. It’s clearly a result of evil, radical Islam. We’ve got to call this what it is. We’ve got to defend our country. We’ve got to stop saying ISIS is not the problem, they are the problem. They want to destroy us. There’s people that want to kill us, they are killing us. 49 people in my state massacred because of radical Islam, because of the evil of ISIS.”
Less than a week after the massacre at a gay club in Orlando, hundreds of Florida Democratic activists are gathering at The Diplomat in Hallandale Beach today for the state party's fundraiser gala. Emotions remain raw, and at an LGBT caucus meeting today sprinkled with cheers, tears, and jeers, Democrats made clear they had no sympathy for those arguing that politics should be put aside in the aftermath of such a tragedy.
"It's only not a good time for politics, if your on the other side of these issues," said Bob Poe, former state Democratic Chairman and now a congressional candidate in Orlando. "They use that like Kryptonite -- 'Oh, don't raise that now because it's not the time. It's tawdry to do that now.' Well, when is time? When the emotions die down and people start to forget?" I'd like to ask (Attorney General) Pam Bondi, if not now, when?"
At a state party LGBT Caucus meeting Saturday, people sounded as angry as they did sad.
"Across the country the same politicians who've offered thoughts and prayers for the Orlando victims are pushing anti-transgender bathroom bills and so-called religious freedom laws.These actions not only disparage people, they fuel anti LGBT sentiment and serve as an inspiration for someone like Omar Mateen to go into a gay club and kill people," said Terry Fleming of Gainesville, president of the Florida Democratic Party's LGBT Caucus, who said the caucus also stands with "Our Muslim brothers and sisters" and will speak out against effort to paint an entire religion as dangerous.
Alan Clendein, vice chairman of the state party and candidate for Hillsborough School Board, singled out several Florida politicians who converged in Orlando after the shooting,
"I'm angry when I turn on the TV and see Gov. Rick Scott hogging the camera. I'm angry at Pam Bondi going on TV pretending to be a friend to our community. I am angry when I saw Marco Rubio hogging that camera and doing the same thing," shouted Clendenin, who is gay. "We cannot give them a pass for the rhetoric and the hatefulness that they have spread though our state for years, They cannot do that for years and come in on Sunday and pretend that they're our friends. Because they are not. Never forget how you felt Sunday morning."
Florida Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant tried to hold back tears. "This has been an attack on part of my family," said Tant, likening it to the Charleston church shooter killing African-Americans -- another loyal Democratic constituency.
"I will stand with you, I will be with you until the last day," she said, recalling that her uncle committed suicide after being outed as gay.
Two contenders for governor in 2018, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Tallahassee U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, also paid their respects, with Graham breaking into tears as she urged everybody simply to love one another.
Buckhorn said any community in Florida could have had to endure what Orlando has, and that Florida and individual community progress when they embrace diversity.
"As a community we are so much better, we are so much stronger, we are so much more competitive when we value the worth of everybody. I'm my community we don't ever demonize anybody for any reason," Buckhorn said. "I don't care if it's the color of your skin, the origin of your birth, the language that you speak, the god that you worship, or who you love. We're not doing it. Not on my watch. Not ever."
Two other Democratic gubernatorial prospects, State Sen. Jeremy Ring and Miami Beach Philip Levine, also are expected to attend, and Levine is hosting a reception for city officials.
The feud between Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi and CNN host Anderson Cooper continues to escalate, with Bondi taking advantage of favorable media to criticize Cooper for his scrutinizing interview of her two days ago.
One of the plaintiffs in Florida’s previous same-sex marriage fight is calling out Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi for her answers to CNN's Anderson Cooper in a now-viral interview that aired live Tuesday.
Christian Ulvert wrote in a letter to Bondi that he was "dismayed by the response you offered to Mr. Cooper regarding your efforts in your relentless fight against the LGBT community."
Bondi had told Cooper she was doing what her job required her to do: "Uphold the Constitution of the state of Florida," she said.
"Instead of following the lead of other attorneys general, you decided to fight the case," wrote Ulvert, who is also a Democratic political consultant in South Florida. "You had the opportunity, as Governor Lawton Chiles once did, in saying the state is on the wrong side of history and unable to defend the discriminatory measure in our constitution. Worse, as the Attorney General of Florida, you declared that gay Floridians like my husband and me posed great harm. Those aren’t my words, those are yours because it was done under your control and supervision. You cannot deflect responsibility to one of your lawyers as you said in the interview."
"I can only believe that your heart is guided by love, but your acts and words show a different voice," Ulvert added, calling on Bondi to now use her position to fight against discrimination of LGBT people going forward.
Bondi said in a statement to the Herald/Times Thursday afternoon: “I know Christian, and I am happy to sit down with him and my legislative team prior to the start of the 2017 legislative session.”
In the wake of Tuesday's interview, a rift between Bondi and Cooper grew Wednesday as the two exchanged responses over the true purpose of the CNN interview.
Bondi claimed she was supposed to talk about the potential for donation scams after the Orlando shooting, and she said afterward that Cooper "completely flipped" by bringing up her record on LGBT issues. Cooper countered that Bondi was "either mistaken or she’s not telling the truth" about why she was booked for the live interview.
Bondi's office has not responded to a request for comment about Cooper's response to her claims.
State Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, the House speaker-designate, is urging his constituents to attend a vigil Thursday in memory of the victims of the Orlando massacre. Sponsored by the city of New Port Richey, the event will be from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Sims Park. Participants are urged to bring a single flower to place in a wreath.
"We will be standing together as one to show that we will not be defeated but instead grow stronger," Corcoran said in announcing the event.
In the past few days, some of Corcoran's constituents received a different message from him: a re-election campaign mailer that shows pictures of bullets as well as two photos of guns, including one in which Corcoran is holding a firearm.
Corcoran acknowledged the terrible timing of the mailing and said it was sent last Wednesday, June 8, four days before the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The piece, sent to about 3,200 voters identified as past supporters of the Second Amendment, reflects the majority party's opposition to gun restrictions.
In a statement to the Herald/Times, Corcoran said: "The information sent in the mail was created and sent prior to the tragic events in Orlando. The unfortunate timing of a piece of mail, however, should not shift attention from the tragic and heinous attack by a radical Islamic terrorist. No matter how much some want to use this event to divide us, I remain steadfast in my belief that law abiding Americans must have a Second Amendment right to defend themselves and that we must not give in to the politically correct voices of division."