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April 19, 2016

Florida Supreme Court suspends Miami-Dade judge who appeared drunk on bench

via @ChuckRabin

The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday suspended a Miami-Dade judge who had been removed from the bench three weeks ago after appearing drunk on the bench — an incident that came on the heels of an expletive-laced outburst at a restaurant.

In a one-paragraph statement, the state high court said County Judge Jacqueline Schwartz has until May 9 to respond to the decision and argue her case against the ruling. She will continue to be paid during the suspension.

Chief Judge Bertila Soto pulled Schwartz from the bench of her Miami-Dade courtroom on March 28 after Schwartz appeared to be drunk. She has been on paid medical leave since.

Ten days prior to that incident, the judge created a ruckus at a Coconut Grove restaurant.Schwartz was at the Ergon Greek Deli and Cuisine on Grand Avenue on March 18 when she got upset at a waiter and berated him for refusing to serve her more alcohol. State investigators who recommended the suspension to the Supreme Court said Schwartz yelled at the waiter, “you’re a f---ing idiot, you don’t know who I am.”

Police were called. When they showed up, the judge called them “pigs,” an investigation by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission claimed. Investigators also said Schwartz was spilling wine and slurring. The commission did its own investigation and interviewed the officer who confronted Schwartz.

More here.

Patrick Murphy is a shareholder in family business that gave $300K to pro-Murphy super PAC



Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy consistently expresses disdain for super PACs — even while being a shareholder in a family business that recently dumped $300,000 into a super PAC supporting his bid for higher office.

The Jupiter congressman owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of stock in his father’s company, Miami-based Coastal Construction Group, according to financial disclosures Murphy has filed with the U.S. House of Representatives since his first election in 2012.

Coastal gave a $300,000 donation to the pro-Murphy super PAC, “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” at the end of March. That was on top of a $200,000 donation that Murphy’s father and Coastal’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Murphy Jr., gave in December.

Thomas Murphy’s and Coastal’s donations account for more than half of the super PAC’s reported income to date, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But “I hate super PACs,” Patrick Murphy told the Palm Beach Post on Monday after a campaign event in West Palm Beach. “ I think Citizens United was one of the biggest mistakes in our country’s history.”

Super PACs are not bound by campaign contribution limits, but they are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.

Murphy’s campaign said there was no coordination with “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” but his primary opponent U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, questions whether there was.

“I think it’s hard to explain how this isn’t an illegal coordination,” Grayson said. “He’s a shareholder in the company and the company turns around and gives a huge donation to his super PAC. It smacks of utter desperation on his part.”

More here.

Photo credit: Walter Michot / Miami Herald

Teamsters say they will file unfair labor practices charge against Department of Corrections

Teamsters Local 2011, which represents an estimated 1,000 of the more than 16,000 corrections and probations officers, said Tuesday it is in the process of filing an unfair labor practice charge against the Florida Department of Corrections to protest a policy that allows the agency to fire prison guards and probation officers without cause. 

The union, which is under fire from the rival union the Police Benevolent Association, has been at an impasse in negotiations with the agency over a new labor contract, which expires on June 30. The Teamsters say the Florida Legislature rejected their request to exempt them from a state law that allows newly-hired or newly promoted employees who are on a one-year probationary status from being fired. The Teamsters argue the rule allowed the agency to "fire an officer without cause" without access to the grievance or mediation process.  

The department would not comment on the pending dispute, said spokesman McKinley Lewis.

Matt Puckett of the PBA confirmed Tuesday that his union is aggressively pursuing the labor contract to replace the Teamsters in representing the FDC officers. The PBA previously had the contract but lost it. Last year, it notified the agency that it is seeking petitions and has conducted a survey of officers gauging their interest on switching unions. 

"We're going to run a campaign,'' Puckett said. 

Meanwhile, as the fate of the state's corrections officers has been the focus of numerous news reports and critical audits in the last year, the Teamsters have been all but silent.

The Miami Herald's series "Cruel and Unusual" and "Beyond Punishment" uncovered inmate abuse, increases in use of force by officers against inmates, and cover-ups of abusive behavior by prison officials. Three independent audits, including one financed by the Florida Legislature, described dangerously low staffing levels at all state prisons, 12- and 16-hour work shifts, unsafe working conditions, and a culture that conditioned officers to augment their pay with overtime and illegal smuggling of contraband into prison facilities. 

Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones has said that the agency loses about 1,400 officers a year because of poor working conditions and low pay. She acknowledged that, as a result, violent incidents involving inmates and staff have escalated, and contraband is at an all time high. In the last year, Jones also fired or forced 1,080 corrections officers or staff to resign, 279 more than the year before.

During the session, Jones asked lawmakers to finance the addition of 734 additional officers to allow the agency to transition from 12-hour shifts to eight-hour shifts. The Legislature rejected that request but did give Jones $12.5 million to hire 215 additional officers. Jones now says that -- through some accounting shifts including filling jobs she kept vacant to pay for overtime -- she will be able to fill 4,000 positions, including those lost because of attrition. 

Throughout the debate, the Teamsters negotiated its contract but never publicly called for a change in working conditions or salaries. On Tuesday, the Teamsters said they will protest the contract imposed by the Legislature as it relates to firing officers.

The language that the state of Florida has forced into the contract penalizes correctional and probation officers by taking away their union protection should they be unable to perform new duties after a job promotion, and allows the FDOC to fire an officer without reason and without the ability to challenge the termination through the grievance and arbitration process,” said Ken Wood, Teamsters International Vice President in a statement.

“This discourages officers from applying for a promotion – thinking that if they are promoted, they are at risk of losing their entire careers for up to one year without any reason,” Wood said. “Our men and women, who work hard every day, deserve to maintain their union representation and protections. Therefore, it is essential for the Teamsters Local 2011 to consider filing an unfair labor practice with the Florida Public Employees Commission to protect officers and their rights under Chapter 447 of the Florida statutes.”

Donald Trump sides with Bob Graham on release of 9/11 docs

via @learyreports

Donald Trump said Tuesday that the public should see classified 9/11 documents on the role played by Saudi Arabia, echoing calls by former Sen. Bob Graham.

"I think we should’ve seen it a long time ago but you know, I think I know what it’s gonna say," the GOP front-runner said on Fox & Friends. "It’s gonna be very profound having to do with Saudi Arabia and Saudi Arabia’s role on the World Trade Center and the attack and that’s very serious stuff.

"That’s very serious stuff. It’s sort of nice to know who your friends are, and perhaps who your enemies are. You’re going to see some very revealing things released in those papers. You’re gonna see some very revealing things in those papers and I look forward to reading them.”

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Carlos Beruff launches new TV ad attacking politicians


Republican Senate candidate Carlos Beruff is adding to his arsenal of statewide TV ads.

A new 30-second spot -- called "Teleprompter" -- continues a familiar message from the Bradenton homebuilder's campaign: That he is an "outsider," not a politician.

"The experts want me to read a bunch of political crap off this teleprompter," he says. "Here’s what I have to say. Obama’s a disaster and Washington politicians are worthless."

The ad also echoes Donald Trump's basic argument: "How about we take our country back and put America first?" Beruff asks.

It's the third statewide TV ad he's launched this month.

He's running against U.S. Reps. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, and Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox in this August's Republican primary to replace Sen. Marco Rubio.

You can watch it in full here:

First debate scheduled between Alan Grayson and David Jolly


Two of the Florida candidates running for U.S. Senate, a Republican and a Democrat, are scheduled to participate next week in their first one-on-one debate -- online.

The debate between Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Republican Rep. David Jolly of Indian Shores is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 25 at It's organized by the Open Debate Coalition, which includes Adam Green and Stephanie Taylor of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Progressive Change Institute; Grover Norquist of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform, and Silicon Valley-types, such as the founders of Wikipedia and Craigslist.

Online users will be able to submit questions, and vote questions up or down. The top 30 vote-getting questions will get asked. Only votes from Florida users will count when selecting the final questions.

Debate moderators include The Young Turks (of YouTube fame) and Independent Journal Review (of Vine fame). Anyone with a website or TV station will be able to broadcast the debate, live or as a rerun, without worrying about copyright infringement, as part of the debate's "open video feed." 

"This debate represents a new high-water mark when it comes to debates that represent the will of the people," Lilia Tamm, the coalition's program director, said in a statement. "Bottom-up Open Debates unite people across the political spectrum because they are not about right versus left, but new versus old. With modern technology, we can utilize the wisdom of crowds at and bypass silly questions, gotcha questions, and questions about the news of the week -- and focus on issues voters care about most."

The Open Debate Coalition asked Jolly and Grayson to participate after the two candidates said last month they'd be willing to debate each other. Both are running in the Aug. 30 primary for their respective parties. The only other candidate to meet the coalition's criteria -- averaging 15 percent or more in public, 2016 polls -- was Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter. The coalition said he declined to participate.

"This is a debate over the future of Florida, officiated by the voters, and intended to present two contrasting visions for the future of the country," Jolly said in a statement.

Said Grayson: "Rep. Jolly agreed to join me in debating the issues that matter most to those who will pick Florida's next Senator. Using the Open Debate Coalition model helps ensure we actually respond to the will of the people -- and not just answer to the whims and wishes of the Establishment and special interest agendas."

April 18, 2016

Another Florida Senate candidate weighs in on Carnival's Cuba trip


Last week, we polled Florida Senate candidates to find out where they stood on Carnival Corp.'s plan to sail to Cuba even if Cuban-born Americans couldn't go. We found rare, bipartisan agreement against the company's decision. 

But we didn't hear back from Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy of Jupiter until Monday, after Carnival reversed course and said it would accept bookings from Cuban-born Americans and postpone the May 1 cruise if Cuba doesn't change its decree.

Here's what his spokeswoman had to say:

Congressman Murphy would not support Carnival or any company discriminating against individuals based on their ethnicity or country of origin. He is glad that Carnival appears to be reversing their policy today.

The Cuban government needs to modernize its policy, or risk losing American tourism dollars.

Will there be any other issue in the campaign that will draw agreement among all the Republican and Democratic candidates?

Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU



The disparities between Tallahassee's two public state universities were on sharp display on Monday, during the first day of Joe Negron's whirlwind four-day tour of the State University System.

Negron, the incoming Florida Senate president, wants to assess the needs of each of Florida's 12 public universities and look for ways to boost higher education funding, resources and facilities -- a top priority for the Stuart Republican who is due to take over the Legislature's upper chamber in November.

As history has shown and as Negron's tour highlighted, the needs of both Florida State University and Florida A&M University are vastly different.

At FSU, Negron and the four other senators who joined him in Tallahassee heard from several star students: Dual majors, Bright Futures scholars, doctoral standouts. None of whom said they or their classmates worried about paying for college or feared having to drop out because they couldn't afford it.

FSU President John Thrasher and university administrators ended the visit, set in a polished, modern-style conference room, by laying out a request for $113 million in capital aid that they want from the state to finish off three signature projects.

Barely a mile away at FAMU -- one of the state's historically black colleges and universities -- senators were taken on a 45-minute walking tour that included an example of a decades-old classroom they want to upgrade that sits just down the hall from a new computer lab, of which administrators say they are in dire need of more.

President Elmira Magnum emphasized that many of her university's students come from households that earn $40,000 or less. Her request for lawmakers: Expand need-based funding and open grant and scholarship programs to include summer enrollment, which can help students graduate faster while saving money. She also asked for more funding for faculty salaries and to modernize dorms and other aging facilities.

The FAMU students who spoke to the senators -- a mix of both scholars and more average students -- were in full agreement: The main reason their peers don't finish at FAMU is because they can't afford it. Several said they have to work, sometimes full-time, in order to pay for school or to help their families at home.

Environmental services sophomore Demarcus Robinson said he might have to go back his home in Atlanta to complete school, because he has an outstanding balance for this semester and doesn't know how he'd pay for next year.

The contrast between the two universities resonated with the senators.

Continue reading "Joe Negron begins statewide university tour with contrasting visits at FSU, FAMU" »

It's Miami-Dade vs. Hendry in aftermath of GOP delegate selection


The scuttlebutt among Miami Republicans after the GOP selected local delegates for July's presidential convention centered around a single congressional district: What had happened in Florida's 25th?

The district spans four counties: Miami-Dade, Broward, Collier and Hendry. But only one of its three delegates, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo, hails from Miami-Dade, home to the bulk of the district's population. The other two, Steve Nesbit and Margie Nelson, come from Hendry -- which means the county with only 2 percent of district voters took 67 percent of its delegates, said Miami-Dade state committeewoman Liliana Ros, who sat on Saturday's selection board.

"Obviously Hendry was smarter than the rest of us," she said Monday.

She suggested the three counties outside Dade had joined forces to ensure representation among the delegates -- an opinion shared privately by a number of local Republicans. 

"The bottom line is, the Broward people turned their back on us, and the Collier people also, and that's what happened," she said. "They talked it over, and they divided up the pie."

Delegates for each district are chosen by the three GOP leaders -- chairman, committeeman and committeewoman -- for each county. Because FL-25 covers four counties, all 12 county Republicans had a hand in the selection.

But they didn't collude to limit Dade's influence, said Republicans from Broward, Collier and Hendry.

Continue reading "It's Miami-Dade vs. Hendry in aftermath of GOP delegate selection" »

Mazel Tov! Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera had Bar Mitzvah at western wall in Israel

Nothing clears up the ambiguity of Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera’s religion like having a Bar Mitzvah.

Yep, at the not-so-tender age of 42, Lopez-Cantera -- who once described himself in his house biography as Catholic -- had a Bar Mitzvah at the western wall in Jerusalem last week while traveling with the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. The Jewish rite of passage into adulthood typically occurs at age 13, but it’s not unheard of for adults to have the ceremony if they didn’t have one as a teenager.

Lopez-Cantera’s wife, Renee, and mother are Jewish, while his father is Catholic.

Lopez-Cantera brought up his Bar Mitzvah with the Miami Herald during a brief interview Monday after an event at the Jewish Community Center in Davie, where Gov. Rick Scott held a ceremonial bill signing to create a Holocaust Memorial in Tallahassee.

Lopez-Cantera told the crowd at the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie that he had recently visited Israel including Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial.

After the event, the Herald asked Lopez-Cantera about how he identifies religiously.

“I’m Jewish,” he replied, and then said that he had a Bar Mitzvah while in Jerusalem.

“It definitely wasn’t planned” in advance, he said. He noted that his family wasn’t on the tour of Israel with him.

But he said the opportunity “presented itself” while he was in Israel so he had the Bar Mitzvah with a Chabad rabbi. Typically those preparing for their Bar Mitzvah study for months with a tutor and a rabbi to learn how to chant a portion in Hebrew from the Torah and lead a service. But this was more of a quickie Bar Mitzvah.

We asked Lopez-Cantera what his Torah passage was and he said he didn’t read from the Torah but did recite a prayer.

“It was a moving experience,” he said.

It’s not surprising that a Chabad rabbi would perform a spontaneous Bar Mitzvah for Lopez-Cantera. Chabad, or Chabad-Lubavitch, is an Orthodox Jewish movement and is known for outreach to Jews who express interest but may be unaffiliated or didn’t always have a strong Jewish identity.

A Chabad news service wrote that in 2014, Tallahassee Shliach Rabbi Schneor Oirechman “has been visiting Lopez-Cantera for years, having helped him put on Tefillin during his term as Republican Majority Leader.” (That refers to the pair of black leather boxes containing Hebrew parchment scrolls that men wear.)

But the politician didn’t always wear his Judaism on his sleeve. Lopez-Cantera’s religion has been a bit of a mystery over the years.

In his official state House biography in 2010, Lopez-Cantera listed himself as Catholic. In a clerk's manual in 2012, he listed no religious affiliation.

In 2014 when he was named lieutenant governor, the Herald asked Lopez-Cantera about his religion. His reply: "I'd rather not be defined that way ... We're very spiritual." (According to Jewish law, he is a Jew because his mother is Jewish.)

But he has talked more openly about being Jewish this year.

"Now, you may not have known this from my name, Lopez-Cantera, but I'm Jewish," he said in Boca Raton earlier this month at a ceremonial signing of a bill that prohibits the state from doing business with companies that favor a boycott of Israel. "My father came from Cuba but he married a nice Jewish girl in Miami, and I followed suit and married a nice Jewish girl in Miami as well ... We keep a Jewish household and are raising our daughters Jewish."

Shoring up his Jewish cred may not get Lopez-Cantera very far at the ballot box because the vast majority of Jewish voters are Democrats (although the Orthodox lean right). But it does give him one way to differentiate himself in a crowded GOP primary that includes U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis and David Jolly, wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff and entrepreneur Todd Wilcox. (Jolly also recently visited Israel where he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.)

On the Democratic side, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, who is Jewish, faces U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy.

About 3 percent of Floridians are Jewish, but they tend to vote in higher concentrations than other groups so the percent of primary voters who are Jewish could be in the ballpark of five to seven percent.

The Senate primary is Aug. 30, but some will start voting by mail in July.