September 04, 2014

Appeals court won't put Miami Beach publicist on the ballot

An appeals court won't let Republican Laura Rivero Levey continue her bid for Florida House District 113.

Levey, a Miami Beach publicist, was disqualified from the race after a check she submitted to the state bounced.

Levey's bank said it had mistakenly placed a hold on the account, and she immediately sent a cashier's check to the state. But because she missed the deadline for qualifying, the Division of Elections refused to put her name on the ballot.

Incumbent state Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, was declared the winner.

Levey sued in hopes of having her candidacy reinstated. A circuit court judge ruled against her last month.

The First District Court of Appeal upheld the lower court's decision in a 2-1 ruling Wednesday.

 "Although we agree with the trial court that this result is harsh, it is mandated by the clear language of the statute," Chief Judge Joseph Lewis, Jr. wrote in the majority opinion. "If a candidate's qualifying check is returned for any reason, the candidate must pay the qualifying fee by cashier's check before the end of the qualifying period. Levey’s check was returned, the reason for that occurring is immaterial, and she failed to cure the deficiency within the time allotted by the statute."

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Robert T. Benton, II said there was never any need for Levey to send a "cure check."

"The check Mrs. Levey originally tendered, which the Secretary of State accepted, has never been returned to her," Benton said. "The state needs only to see that it is presented anew to the now apologetic bank and direct the Supervisor of Elections in Miami-Dade County to let the voters choose between Mrs. Levey and Mr. Richardson."

Richardson said he was pleased with the outcome.

"It is unfortunate Ms. Levey will not be a candidate during this election cycle since she seems eager to challenge me on the campaign trail," he said in a statement. "However, the law is the law. If any citizen believes a Florida election law should be changed, they have every right to lobby the legislature, but the courts cannot and should not re-write a clear, unambiguous and constitutional law."

Read the opinion below.

Download Levey

First Joe Garcia reelection ad hits Spanish-language radio airwaves


In a bit of serendipitous timing, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia will debut his first reelection ad on Spanish-language radio Thursday -- the morning after news broke that federal authorities have intensified their investigation into his 2010 campaign manager.

The 60-second ad, titled Valentía (Courage), refers to Garcia's grandmother Eulalia's "courage to confront the communists to protect her family." (The courageous act in question is not detailed.)

"She taught her grandson, Joe Garcia, love and great values, such as how to always do the right thing, no matter the consequence," the ad says. In an appeal to older Hispanics, the ad also refers to Garcia "protecting" Medicare.

And it makes a jab at Republican challenger Carlos Curbelo, accusing him of "doing things only for his own benefit" and noting that he won't disclose the clients of his government and public relations firm, Capitol Gains, which is registered to his wife.

"Mr. Curbelo supports the tea party and wants to end the Medicare guarantee, hurting our retirees. And now we learn that Carlos Curbelo has a lobbying firm and is hiding the client list."

It's likely only a matter of time before Curbelo, who has already been bashing Garcia over the ongoing federal investigation, to unveil his own ads for the 26th congressional district, which extends from Westchester to Key West.

September 03, 2014

Race stirs raw talk on Miami-Dade commission


Miami-Dade’s four black commissioners led colleagues through a personal tour of the local racial divide, sharing concerns about police, economic disparity in a Spanish-speaking community and simmering resentment from black residents.

The extraordinary discussion unfolded under the heading of “What can be learned from the unrest of Ferguson, Missouri,” the official title of an agenda item requested by Commissioner Dennis Moss, the senior African American on the 13-member panel.

What followed touched on one hot-button issue after another, from police body cameras, tension between the Hispanic and black communities, the recent intrusion by teenagers into former Heat star Ray Allen’s ritzy Coral Gables home, and the general feeling that black residents experience Miami-Dade in a way that white and Hispanic residents do not.

“I’m telling you, there is something going on out there,” said Moss, now in his fifth term as a commissioner representing southern Miami-Dade. “People feel hopeless.”

Read the full story by clicking here


Subpoenas fly, feds intensify probe of Miami Rep. Joe Garcia's former campaign manager

@MarcACaputo @PatriciaMazzei

Federal prosecutors are intensifying their criminal investigation of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia’s former campaign manager and chief of staff who’s suspected of helping fund a phony tea-party candidate to siphon votes from a Republican rival in 2010.

Prosecutors and a grand jury have issued at least four subpoenas in the case — two this year — and at least one witness has testified that Jeffrey Garcia was behind the alleged scheme to secretly prop up the shadow candidate, a former friend and business partner named Roly Arrojo.

Jeffrey Garcia, who is no relation to the Miami Democratic congressman, has long denied wrongdoing but declined to comment Wednesday through his attorney. Arrojo, too, had denied wrongdoing and couldn’t be reached for comment.

“Congressman Garcia has done nothing wrong. We’ve never been told that he’s the target of any investigation,” David O. Markus, Garcia’s campaign attorney said in a written statement. “This is old news.”

Not to prosecutors, who this week sat down with the congressman’s former spokesman, Giancarlo Sopo, the Herald has learned.

More here.

Legislative lawyer slams state's medical pot rule, raising doubts about its fate

The first set of rules for medical marijuana in Florida got hit with a whammy of a complaint last week when the top lawyer for the legislature’s oversight committee suggested  the proposed rule failed to follow the law legislators passed this spring. 

The 19-page critique, drafted by Marjorie Holladay, chief attorney for the Joint Administrative Procedures Committee and sent to Department of Health to General Counsel Jennifer Tschetter corrected everything from typos and grammar to the agency's interpretation of the law.  Download JAPC DOH request for revisions

The most significant criticism: that the state has failed to establish sufficient standards in nearly a dozen areas as it writes the rules by which applicants will be chosen to be eligible for a lottery. The lottery will then select five companies to be medical marijuana dispensaries that will be licensed to sell low-THC cannabis for medical purposes.

After two hearings on the draft proposal, the Department of Health published a final rule and will hold a hearing on it on Friday. Holladay's critique could make it difficult to finish the rule quickly. 

Among Holladay’s complaints: the department “has no statutory authority” to limit nursery ownership to 25 percent. Legislators decided that only nurseries that have been in business in Florida for 30 continuous years and who have at least 400,000 plants are eligible to apply.

Continue reading "Legislative lawyer slams state's medical pot rule, raising doubts about its fate" »

Miami-Dade voters will get ballot questions on courthouse funding, FIU expansion

@PatriciaMazzei @doug_hanks

Miami-Dade County voters will decide in November whether to raise their property taxes to pay nearly $400 million for a replacement courthouse, and whether to allow Florida International University to expand into county parkland occupied by the youth fairgrounds.

The County Commission voted Wednesday to put both items on the Nov. 4 ballot after both issues drew lengthy debate, with Miami-Dade’s legal industry pushing hard for voters to take up the courthouse question and FIU busing in students to pack the chambers in support of the park question. In the end, neither vote was close, with commissioners overwhelmingly backing referendums on both items.

If the courthouse question passes, it would give commissioners the authority to increase property taxes enough to borrow $393 million for a replacement to the county’s aging civil courthouse. If the FIU question passes, the state school would win the waiver needed to expand into the youth fair’s current home in Tamiami Park, though Miami-Dade still needs to find replacement fairgrounds — and FIU must find a way to pay for the move.

“Miami-Dade County certainly will not be spending any money on the expansion of FIU,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.

More here.

Sen. Latvala reaches out to teachers union on voucher lawsuit

Sen. Jack Latvala, of Clearwater, isn't the first Republican lawmaker to disagree with the union-backed lawsuit challenging the school voucher program.

But he may be among the first offering to work with union leaders on the issue.

On Wednesday, Latvala sent a letter to Florida Education Association President Andy Ford expressing his concerns about the legal challenge.

"If the Tax Credit Scholarship Program were to be eliminated, there are nearly 70,000 students who now stand to receive scholarships under the program who would be deprived of their opportunity to attend institutions that are better suited to meet their learning needs," Latvala said.

But he also said he shares the union's concerns "about the potential for the unbridled expansion of this program."

"As someone who has supported the FEA on most issues for many years, I would like to offer myself to you as a bridge, if desired, to try to ensure that the current success of the program does not exceed the tipping point of what is constitutional or responsible," he said. 

FEA Vice President Joanne McCall said her organization "[looks] forward to working with Sen. Latvala to stop the shame and blame game, fund public schools appropriately, stop toxic testing and do what's right for all schools so all students can have a high quality public education."

"But until then, we're moving forward with our lawsuit," she said.

Read Latvala's letter below.

Download Latvalaletter

Movers & Shakers

Fort Lauderdale judge added to adult offender council

Raag Singhal, a judge with the 17th Judicial Circuit Court in Broward County, has been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to the State Council for Interstate Adult Offender Supervision.

Singhal, 50, of Fort Lauderdale, succeeds Elisabeth Goodner and is appointed for a term that ends June 30, 2015.

Former House general counsel joins Tallahassee law firm

Daniel Nordby, who was general counsel to the Florida House of Representatives under Speaker Will Weatherford, has joined Shutts & Bowen as a partner in the firm's Tallahassee office.

In his new job, Nordby, 36, will "litigate and advise on governmental affairs," according to the firm's press release on the appointment.

Nordby is the chairman of The Florida Bar's Administrative Law Section and is a member of the Florida Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. He has also served as general counsel to Florida's Secretary of State and, in private practice, as outside general counsel to the Republican Party of Florida.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

No surprise, but Broward's low primary turnout was even lower for GOP voters

Overall turnout in Broward for the primary election was all-around lousy, but it was slightly higher among Democrats than Republicans.

Broward Supervisor of Elections summary data shows turnout was 14.4 percent for Democrats, 10.91 percent for Republicans and 3.65 percent for non-party affiliated voters. Overall turnout was 10.77 percent -- the second lowest turnout in the state and only ahead of Glades County.

It’s not a surprise that Democratic turnout would be slightly higher in the left-leaning county. Heading into the primary Democrat Charlie Crist and Republican Gov. Rick Scott were assured easy victories. But Crist had a more interesting race for Broward in that he faced former state Sen. Nan Rich of Weston while Scott faced a couple of unknown challengers. The Democratic primary for Attorney General also included a Broward legislator -- Perry Thurston -- who lost to George Sheldon.

One part of Crist's strategy is to drive up turnout in South Florida but that could prove a challenge in Broward where voters have turned up in low numbers in recent non-presidential years.

Other races on the Broward primary ballot including county commission, school board and judicial races failed to excite voters. During the general election, a couple of races in eastern Broward could drive up turnout in that slice of the county including the race between Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach and former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, in a Palm Beach/Broward district. The county commission’s lone GOPer, Chip LaMarca, faces a rematch against Democrat Ken Keechl.


Florida senators, reps weigh in on murder of journalist Steven Sotloff


Florida lawmakers continued to weigh in on the beheading of Steven Sotloff, a South Florida journalist who had been reporting in Syria until he was taken hostage in 2013.

Sen. Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said: “Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Steven Sotloff. Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.” Nelson has also said he would offer legislation to allow the Obama administration to take air strikes against the group responsible.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican, noted in a statement that, “Steven’s balanced and earnest approach to journalism was met with love by many in the Middle East, but with brutal disdain by those whose tactics stood in such clear contrast to his own.” The group responsible – variously called ISIS or ISIL – “represents a threat to the American people, our allies, and the principles of freedom and human rights that we cherish,” Rubio said.

Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat from Miami, said in statement that, “The killing of Steven Sotloff by ISIS and the continued targeting of journalists is simply unacceptable and sickening. This is a brutal crime that shocks the conscience and its perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Miami, said in her statement that, “This atrocious and brutal act shows that ISIL’s cruelty knows no bounds and that it has no respect for human life.”

UPDATE: Rep. Frederica Wilson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, added her comment Wednesday: “The brutal murder of journalist Steven Sotloff was an act beyond evil. His death is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. It is my hope that his loved ones find some peace in the knowledge that he was on a mission to enlighten us and shine a light on issues which the world might not have otherwise known.”