September 08, 2014

Families remember lost loved ones at Missing Children's Day

Hilary Sessions quietly placed a yellow rose by the picture of her daughter, Tiffany, who disappeared more than 25 years ago. Her tribute was echoed by other family members who honored the memory of their missing or murdered child during an emotional ceremony held Monday for Florida Missing Children's Day.

In 2013, 35,124 missing children were reported missing, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. But Florida Missing Children's Day focused more on paying tribute to those children and honoring heroes than statistics.

"You take it one day at a time," said Sessions, a Tampa resident and director of the board of the Florida Missing Children's Day Foundation. Her daughter, a University of Florida student, vanished Feb. 9, 1989 while taking a walk near her Gainesville apartment.

Sessions spent much of the rally hugging and comforting parents struggling with their own tragedies. "You can feel the relief of these parents when they talk to someone who's been through this."

Also lending support was Roy Brown, whose 7-year-old daughter Amanda was abducted on Sept. 11, 1998.

Amanda was last seen in her mother's mobile home in Seffner -- Willie Crain Jr., a 52-year-old crabber and convicted child molester who was also in the home the night Amanda disappeared, was charged with kidnapping and murdering Amanda, but he is still on Florida's death row.

Brown said his daughter was never found -- he hates it when people use the term body or remains. "This is my daughter we're talking about," he said.

Continue reading "Families remember lost loved ones at Missing Children's Day " »

Fred Buckine, 75, husband of Justice Quince, has died

Fred Buckine, a former Hillsborough County judge and prosecutor and the husband of Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince for 38 years, died Saturday.

He was 75 and lived in Tallahassee. Peggy Quince, the first black woman to serve on the state Supreme Court, was appointed in December 1998.

Known for his love of the law and for his public speaking ability, Buckine grew up in Bradenton, served in the U.S. Air Force for 13 years including two tours of duty in Vietnam, and received his law degree from the Catholic University law school in Washington, D.C. A family statement noted that he was among the first 100 black lawyers to be licensed to practice law in Florida.

Buckine was a charter member of the George Edgecomb Bar Association of Tampa and was active in the Urban League and the NAACP.

In a statement, Supreme Court Justice Jorge Labarga said of Buckine: “He was not merely an accomplished lawyer, professor, and administrative law judge. He also was a beloved member of the Florida Supreme Court family whose love of education combined with a compelling public speaking voice contributed so much to our own outreach programs as well to the many mentoring programs he espoused. He will be sorely missed.”

A memorial service for Buckine will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, 3005 East Elliott St., in Tampa.


Two guards suspended in new inmate abuse case

As Florida corrections secretary Mike Crews declared a zero tolerance policy on abuse of inmates, he suspended two more correctional officers following new charges of sexual abuse of an inmate at a North Florida prison.

It happened Aug. 7 at the regional medical center at Lake Butler, not far from the sprawling state prisons at Raiford and Starke. An unidentified inmate said he was sexually assaulted. The same inmate had earlier filed a grievance saying he was assaulted on July 30. "I am not going to continue to take this abuse!" the inmate wrote.

Officers Lance Ingram and Phillip Joyner are on paid leave. Both received letters notifying them that they could be fired if charges are upheld.

In response to a Times/Herald public records request, the prison system released a heavily-redacted report that said the incident occurred at 1:45 a.m. on Aug. 7 and that a hand-held video recorder and DVDs from a wall-mounted camera were taken as evidence. The suspension letters to Ingram and Joyner are dated the following day, Aug. 8.

Crews last month fired a warden and two assistants at Dade Correctional Institution south of Miami, complaining that it was taking too long to investigate the 2012 death of inmate Darren Rainey, who died after being placed in a scalding prison shower. Civil rights groups have called for a federal investigation, and in a separate case, the state has still not explained the September 2012 death of inmate Frank Smith at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.

Crews issued an agency-wide memo to employees last Friday saying that any employee who commits a crime would be fired. His memo called it a "uniform standard of dismissal for members who engage in any criminal act, including midsemeanors." 

Prison spokeswoman Jessica Cary confirmed that "there is an active investigation involving an inmate allegedly occurring at RMC (regional medical center) and two officers are on administrative leave as a result. Cary's statement said the original complaint wound its way through the agency's bureaucracy until it reached the prison warden, who alerted the regional director, who alerted Tim Cannon, assistant secretary for institutions.

"The staff allegedly involved in the incident ... will not work around inmates until the investigation is complete," Cary said.


On new list of richest and poorest members of Congress, Florida has reps at both ends


Four Florida members of the U.S. House of Representatives are among the 50 richest members of Congress, according to a new analysis by CQ Roll Call.

Not only that, Florida holds claim to two slots on another list put out by CQ Roll Call: The 10 poorest members of Congress.

CQ Roll Call, a Washington-based political news organization, does the hard work each year of going through financial disclosure reports that members of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate file each year. The reports are maddeningly imprecise: assets are reported in broad ranges – i.e., an investment worth between $500,001 and $1 million – and some aren’t reported at all. The value of a federal retirement savings account is exempt from disclosure, as is the value of a personal residence. However, home mortgages must be reported, meaning “someone could appear quite poor, even if they have a ton of home equity,” CQ Roll Call says.

CQ Roll Call says it determines a “minimum net worth” by subtracting the total minimum value of all liabilities from the total minimum value of all assets.

With those caveats:

At the top of the list, as he was last year, is Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., with a minimum net worth of $357.3 million.

As for the lawmakers from Florida, No. 11 on the national list is Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican from Sarasota, with a net worth calculated at $37.2 million.

No. 17 is Rep. Alan Grayson, a Democrat from Orlando, with a net worth calculated at $26.2 million, up nearly $10 million from the previous year.

No. 29 is Rep. Curt Clawson, a Republican from southwest Florida, with a net worth calculated at $13.5 million.

No. 50 is Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican from in the central part of the state, with a net worth calculated at $7.5 million.

At the other end of the range are two South Florida Democratic representatives: Alcee Hastings, from Miramar, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who is from Weston and also doubles as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee.

They are No. 2 and No. 3 on the 10 poorest members of Congress list; both were calculated to have a negative net worth.

Pam Bondi launches awkward 'Streets' TV ad


Pam Bondi's latest campaign ad touts her efforts to quell prescription drug abuse in dramatic form: suspenseful music, police lights and sirens in the background and stern glances to the camera. But she ends with a grin as the announcer declares:"Pam Bondi, our attorney general."

According to a press release from the campaign, the "Streets" ad will begin running Tuesday in five of Florida's major media markets. You can also see it here and embedded below.

The script:

Continue reading "Pam Bondi launches awkward 'Streets' TV ad" »

Debate over Common Core presents political balancing act for Gov. Rick Scott

It seemed like the commotion over the Common Core had died down in Florida.

But a dust-up last month in the Lee County school system, the state’s ninth-largest district with 85,000 students, reignited the debate over the controversial education benchmarks — and put the issue front and center in the governor’s race.

Observers say it could present a challenge for Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

To win on Nov. 4, Scott must rally an active and vocal part of his base: tea party members who want to eviscerate the new standards. But he’s also vying for votes from moderate Republicans who support the Common Core standards. And he’s keenly aware that former Gov. Jeb Bush has been a powerful driving force behind the standards’ success.

Democratic candidate Charlie Crist has embraced the Common Core, but is less likely to face pushback for his position. Although some Democrats believe the benchmarks will stifle creativity in the classroom, most support the concept.

"Gov. Scott is straddling this issue as best he can," said University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith, adding that the Common Core could make a difference in a close race.

The latest Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll showed Scott leading Crist, 41-36. Other polls show a far tighter contest.

Read more here.

September 07, 2014

Florida's lax regulations allow greyhound operators to avoid penalties for years

GreyhoundsWhen Saul Mays applied for a license to own and train greyhounds in 2002, his rap sheet signaled he was not a model citizen.

Convicted of kidnapping his estranged wife at gunpoint in 1988, after taking her into the woods and sexually assaulting her, he had served three years in prison. The staff at the Florida Division of Parimutuel Wagering recommended Mays application to race dogs be denied, but Mays appealed and was granted a license.

A year later in 2003, investigators found evidence that Mays’ dogs were being abused at the Jefferson County Kennel Club. He was investigated at his Monticello kennel then, again in 2005 and 2010, when inspectors found seven “very thin” dogs and others covered with tick bites. In each case, state regulators concluded there was not enough evidence of abuse and no action was taken.

Mays got his first reprimand in 2012, only after the Washington County Kennel Club in Ebro reported that greyhounds Mays put up for adoption were “covered in ticks” and the dogs “all appeared to be in poor overall shape.”

But the 2012 penalty didn’t come from the state. It came from the National Greyhound Association, which represents owners and trainers. The organization banned Mays for life from “any further involvement with NGA-registered greyhounds.” Florida regulators fined Mays $300 and let him keep his license.

Florida’s law gives the Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering the power to revoke or suspend a license of an dog or horse trainer or owner if he has been convicted of a felony or is found abusing animals. But, based on dozens of cases reviewed by the Miami Herald and Tampa Bay Times, the implementation of the rules are lax, and the penalties are often weak.

In the last year, state regulators have granted 80 occupational licenses to owners and trainers who have been convicted of a host of crimes — from cocaine, heroin and amphetamine possession to assault and battery — and denied 115 requests from people with felony convictions.

Florida law bans anyone convicted of a felony from working in a card room or a casino but allows them to be licensed to race horses and dogs as long as they receive a waiver.

In many other cases — in which state investigators found dogs exposed to cocaine, lacked vaccinations or showed signs of abuse — Florida regulators often took years to impose a penalty, records show. By contrast, regulators in other states, including Texas, Arizona and Arkansas, told the Herald/Times they typically close their cases within a month. Story here. 


Anti-medical marijuana forces use John Morgan's rant in new ad


When United for Care's John Morgan gave a profanity-laced rant after a recent debate, it was only a matter of time before it came to a TV near you.

It looks like that time is now. The Vote No on 2 campaign has posted a 30-second spot that has all the makings of a TV attack ad. 

Rick Scott won't go off-message to go on-message


Rick Scott has spent as much as $3.5 million on TV ads excoriating Charlie Crist over a former donor convicted in a Ponzi scheme.

But Scott doesn't want to talk about it.

“I’m not a pundit,” Scott said last week when asked about his Scott Rothstein-related ads.

“You guys write about this stuff,” Scott said. “You can write about it.”

Reporters are already used to Scott being the most-scripted and least-forthcoming statewide candidate in years. On his campaign bus last week, Scott wanted to talk about tax cuts.

But Scott won’t even go off-message to go on-message about Rothstein.

And that’s what makes Scott’s non-answer so peculiar, the relative silence so deafening. It’s his message. It’s not about other issues he shies away from: gay marriage, the minimum wage, his office’s apparent flouting of public-records laws or the record fraud fine paid by his former hospital company.

Rothstein is a major hallmark of Scott’s reelection. It’s one of his most-advertised talking points. The amount of money Scott has spent on this topic is about 40 percent of all pro-Crist ads run by Democrats.

In politics, as in business, money talks. You put your money where your mouth is. Conservatives closely equate free speech and campaign spending for a reason.

 More here

MA Gov. Deval Patrick to stump with Charlie Crist in South Florida


First it was Bill Clinton. Now it's Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick. And soon it'll be Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The Democratic surrogates coming to Florida for Charlie Crist keeps coming.

From a press release:

TOMORROW: Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick to Join Crist on Campaign Trail to Discuss Education and Attend Field Events in West Palm Beach, Broward and Miami

West Palm Beach, Fla -- Governor Charlie Crist and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will talk with teachers and parents about the importance of education and Rick Scott's education cuts at roundtable discussions in West Palm Beach and South Broward County tomorrow, Monday, September 8th. Governor Crist and Governor Patrick will also attend field events in West Palm Beach and North Miami.

What: Crist and Patrick to Discuss Importance of Education with Teachers and Parents
When: Monday, September 8th, 12:00PM
Where: Youth Empowerment Center at Gaines Park, 1501 N. Australian Avenue, West Palm Beach

What: Crist and Patrick to Attend West Palm Beach Field Office Opening
When: Monday, September 8th, 2:00PM
Where: West Palm Beach Field Office, 1005 17th Street, West Palm Beach

What: Crist and Patrick to Participate in Roundtable discussion with Teachers and Parents
When: Monday, September 8th, 4:00PM
Where: 4900 West Hallandale Beach Blvd, Building A, Pembroke Park

What: Crist and Patrick to Meet with Volunteers and Talk with Voters in North Miami
When: Monday, September 8th, 5:30PM
Where: 949 NE 125 Street, North Miami