November 17, 2014

Miami-Dade judge apologizes for saying she defeated 'nondescript Hispanic'


Miami-Dade Judge Jacqueline Schwartz is apologizing after rankling Cuban-American lawyers with her election-night comments about beating a "nondescript Hispanic."

"I fully understand my comments could readily been seen as offensive to the community, something I never intended and that pains me greatly," Schwartz wrote Saturday in a letter to the Cuban American Bar Association (CABA).

"I should have never issued the post-election statement that has, understandably, caused do much concern. I retract the statement completely."

The judge also said she will ask the courts to "participate" in judicial diversity training.

Earlier this month, the 12-year county court judge easily won reelection over lawyer Frank Bocanegra. Through her campaign manager, she told the Miami Herald that voters had "gone past the days when any nondescript Hispanic could go on the ballot and defeat any Anglo sitting judge."

Campaign strategists have long believed that candidates with Spanish surnames have an advantage in Hispanic majority Miami-Dade, particularly in judicial elections where campaigning is limited.

Afterward, CABA penned her a letter saying the "troubling" comment suggested that Hispanic judges are not elected on merit. Her words were "incompatible with your duties as a judge and with the dignity of judicial office."

Schwartz, who is assigned to the court in heavily Hispanic Hialeah, also met with CABA's board last week to apologize in person.


With Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading the way, GOP pres contenders could make Tripp Scott law firm an early pit stop

Texas Gov. Rick Perry kicked off a new “Politics in Sunshine” speaking series at the politically-connected Tripp Scott law firm in Fort Lauderdale this morning.

Expect Perry to potentially be the first of GOP presidential contenders to speak at the law firm. Perry is in South Florida to attend the Republican Governors Association meeting in Boca Raton later this week where other speakers include Gov. Rick Scott, Texas Gov. elect Greg Abbott, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Ed Pozzuoli, a partner at the firm and former Broward GOP chair, said that Perry talked about his experience running for president and that he will likely announce whether he will run again in the spring. He also talked about job creation, education and immigration.

Pozzuoli said that his law firm doesn’t plan on limiting speakers to the Republican Party, but Tripp Scott is known as a prominent GOP law firm. The law firm itself has donated about $309,000 since the 1990s mostly to GOP candidates or entities, with one of the largest benefactors being the Republican Party of Florida, according to the state Division of Elections. The law firm gave about $16,000 to Gov. Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee in 2012.

Other Republicans involved in the speaker series include former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux; Jim Scott, former state senate president/county commissioner/Tripp Scott partner; Ben Porritt, McCain-Palin spokesman; Shane Strum, former Broward GOP chair and lawyer; Norman Tripp, law firm name partner; Dennis Smith, vice chairman at Tripp Scott and Shari McCartney, Oakland Park mayor and a director at Tripp Scott.

“It’s an opportunity for national folks to come in and have a stop,” Pozzuoli said. “We are trying to make sure South Florida is not ignored in the political debate and discussion. New Hampshire and Iowa -- they have their typical diners and pancake fest, that kind of thing. We thought this was a good idea to bring to bear the access we have.”


Tornado overturns cars, rips fence at Fla. prison

An early-morning tornado that moved through the Florida Panhandle Monday caused damage and minor injuries at Calhoun Correctional Institution in Blountstown, about 50 miles west of Tallahassee.

The Department of Corrections said a prison fence was damaged, a number of cars were overturned by the high winds and two staff members suffered minor injuries. No inmates were hurt and "the facility is secure," prison spokeswoman Jessica Cary said.

Calhoun opened in 1988 and has housing for 1,354 inmates.

The Department of Corrections provided photographs of the damage.

What bad publicity? RAGA names Bondi chair

Nevermind all the bad publicity her ties to the Republican Attorneys General Association have brought her.

Over the weekend, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi doubled down by getting elected the group’s new chair.

“It is an honor to be selected by my fellow Republican Attorneys General to lead RAGA at such a critical time in our country’s history,” Bondi said in a statement. “We will continue to stand up for the rule of law and protect the citizens of our states.”

Bondi accepted the position while the group held its Fall national meeting at the ritzy Fontainebleau in Miami Beach. As Bondi has shown, this group likes luxury. Since taking office, she has accepted $25,000 in gits to attend RAGA events.

It might seem brazen for Bondi, 48, to become the group’s new chair. Media coverage in the last month has shown Bondi’s adopted the groups priorities, recited talking points and joined its members’ legal battles far beyond Florida.  The New York Times reported that it’s at RAGA events like this weekend where Bondi has grown close to corporate lobbyists who have clients with cases pending in Florida. She even invited one lobbyist, Lori Kalani, to stay at her home while recuperating from surgery.

Not only was an ethics complaint filed in response to the revelations about Bondi and RAGA, but editorial boards and columnists throughout Florida have called for investigations.

But the coronation of Bondi as RAGA’s new chair shows just how untouchable both must feel at the moment.

Continue reading "What bad publicity? RAGA names Bondi chair" »

November 16, 2014

In Florida, robo-signed mortgage docs -- legit or not -- are allowing banks to hound borrowers

New York Times business editor Gretchen Morgenson writes today about another dubious honor Florida has earned as its regulators stand on the sidelines: banks hounding homeowners for payments after they accepted faulty mortgage documents on homes that subsequently went into foreclosure.

Some excerpts:

Remember the robo-signers, those mortgage loan automatons who authenticated thousands of foreclosure documents over the years without verifying the information they were swearing to?

Well, they’re back, in a manner of speaking, at least in Florida. Their dubious documents are being used to hound former borrowers years after their homes went into foreclosure...

The problem, experts say, arises when robo-signed documents enabled banks to foreclose even when they didn’t have legal standing to do so...

During the summer of 2010, when Bill McCollum was Florida’s attorney general, he told me he was concerned about the dangers posed by judges who accepted as factual what was put forward in foreclosure documents. “Thousands of final judgments of foreclosure against Florida homeowners may have been the result of the allegedly improper actions of these law firms,” he said.

Four years later, his fears are being realized. Chip Parker, a partner at Parker & DuFresne in Jacksonville, Fla., says he has 60 cases of former borrowers being pursued by Fannie for deficiency judgments involving documents handled by known robo-signers. There are undoubtedly many others, given the several thousand cases being brought by Fannie.

November 14, 2014

Judge rejects lottery for medical marijuana growers; orders health department to write new rules

An administrative law judge on Friday ordered the Florida Department of Health to start over and map out a new plan for growing, processing and selling a form of medical marijuana, known as Charlotte's Web.

Judge W. David Watkins of the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings, rejected the idea of a controversial lottery to pick the nurseries that would grow the plants, a decision that could impact when the marijuana oil will be available to patients.

Watkins stated in his order that after reviewing chemical and safety issues and testimony from growers,  "I knew that the lottery became strictly a chance-based scenario and it wasn't merit-based or experience-based. And to me, I had to object to it."

The state legislature, in its last session, legalized Charlotte's Web, which is low in THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and high in CBD (cannabidiol) for patients with seizures, severe and persistent muscle spasms and cancer. The "Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014," requires the health department to have rules in effect by Jan. 1, 2015.


Continue reading "Judge rejects lottery for medical marijuana growers; orders health department to write new rules" »

For new Miami congressman Curbelo, a time to wait as he learns the ropes


Carlos Curbelo is one of about five dozen new freshman to the U.S. House of Representatives, and he won’t take office until January. But as he waits, one of the pivotal issues for his district – immigration reform – is suddenly the biggest story of the week.

“I wish this would be happening in January, not now, because all I can do is give color commentary,” said Curbelo, the Miami Republican who beat sitting Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat, last week. “That’s frustrating.”

A few minutes later, Curbelo was on Fox News, asked about his views on the issue of the day, and he told host Gretchen Carlson that the president should give the new Congress time to act. If the president acts unilaterally, Curbelo said, it would poison the well and make it harder for Republicans and Democrats to get things done.

“Unfortunately, until January, I can’t do much – except speak publicly like I’m doing today,” he said.

The appearance on Fox capped a busy week for Curbelo and his wife, Cecilia, as they navigated Washington and participated in freshman orientation events for new members of Congress. With their two young daughters at home in Miami, they planned to fly home Friday night. Curbelo will have to back in Washington Sunday night for more orientation events.

It’s a hectic schedule he’ll have to get used to, as the family plans to stay in Miami while he comes to Washington for the congressional work week. He’s deciding whether to pay up for housing in Washington or do what other lawmakers do and sleep on a cot in his office during the work week.

Beyond that, the week was an exercise in “information overload,” he said in an interview. He learned about office staffing and budget guidelines and ethics rules.

“It kind of really hit me the nature of the work that has to get done here, and just the need to learn fast,” he said in the car to the Fox studios. “To use a sports analogy: You’re not on the bench, you don’t get to watch others. You have to jump in and play. To be very frank, it’s been a little overwhelming. And at the same time, very exciting.”

Tale of the tail: David Rivera calls cops on mysterious follower


Former U.S. Rep. David Rivera is known in Florida political circles to be a bit... paranoid.

But, as the saying goes, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you.

When Rivera left his home in a Miami suburb on Friday and thought somebody was following him, he turned out to be right. He had a shadow.

Here's what happened, according to accounts pieced together by the Miami Herald.

As he pulled out of his driveway, Rivera spotted a middle-aged man in a white SUV inside his Doral gated community. The SUV followed him out the gate. It was still behind him when Rivera drove to a nearby SunTrust Bank branch.

Alarmed, Rivera lined up someone to witness the tail. The witness was tasked with following the follower.

Rivera drove to a nearby Starbucks. So did the SUV. So did the witness.

Convinced the man in the SUV was after him, Rivera dialed 911 on his way back home. This time, the SUV didn't go into the gated community. But it did park by a side entrance.

Continue reading "Tale of the tail: David Rivera calls cops on mysterious follower" »

Miami-Dade courthouse campaign also supported Democratic PAC


The failed $1.3 million campaign to raise taxes for a new Miami-Dade courthouse included some money that went to a group trying to elect Charlie Crist governor. 

Campaign reports show the committee funded overwhelmingly by Miami-Dade lawyers distributed $21,000 to Changing Florida's Future, a political action committee in Tallahassee supporting Democratic candidates. In October alone, Changing Florida's Future gave about $75,000 to the state Democratic party and about $10,000 to the Crist campaign. 

Christian Ulvert, the Democratic Party operative who managed the courthouse campaign, said sending cash to help Democrats made sense because liberal voters were the natural constituency for what was an invest-in-government message. The more voters the Democrats could turn out in Miami-Dade, he said, the better it would be for the courthouse measure. 

"No one is going to think that Republicans were our base for this issue," Ulvert said.

Continue reading "Miami-Dade courthouse campaign also supported Democratic PAC " »

Carlos Curbelo makes NYT in first week in D.C.

via @nytimes

The New York Times followed a few newly elected members of Congress this week during their freshmen orientation -- including Miami Republican Carlos Curbelo, who is apparently hunting for Washington D.C. roommates.

There are housing arrangements to make (“I look forward to talking to other freshmen to see if there is anyone I can room with,” said Carlos Curbelo, a Republican from Florida), friendships to cultivate and new rules to learn, rooted in seniority: In the lottery for office space, freshmen pick last.

The story also notes that Curbelo, who defeated Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia, has been a political junkie since his youth at Miami's Belen Jesuit Preparatory School.

Mr. Curbelo’s parents are Cuban exiles. Now 34, he carried around a copy of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America” when he was 14. “I hope that doesn’t make me sound too nerdy,” he said.

Read the full story here.