November 17, 2014

Miami activist Grace Solares files to run for District 2 commission seat


Miami uber activist and paralegal Grace Solares has filed to run for the Miami City Commission District 2 seat representing Brickell, Coconut Grove, and Downtown.

Solares, currently the president of the Urban Environment League and former chief of the homeowners umbrella group Miami Neighborhoods United, has a substantial grass roots backing after years of activism. The seat she is seeking is being vacated by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, whose wife is expected to run for his post when term limits will force him out in November 2015.

Solares could not immediately be reached for comment. A member of the city clerk's office confirmed Monday that she'd filed her papers.

Ethics board: Not enough evidence to back altered slate-cards claim in Miami Gardens election


The Miami-Dade Ethics Commission dismissed a complaint Monday from a Miami Gardens council member who accused his opponent of tampering with a candidate endorsement list during the August primary election.

The commission said there was not sufficient evidence to back up Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro’s claim that his opponent, Francis Ragoo, switched out a slate card to mislead voters at North Dade Regional Library into supporting different candidates.

The cards were prepared by Abraham Thomas, a Miami Gardens resident and former County Commission candidate, and endorsed Ighodaro and two other candidates. A volunteer claimed that she saw a Ragoo volunteer passing out fliers that looked identical but switched the endorsement from Ighodaro to Ragoo.

Ighodaro eventually regained his City Council seat, defeating former council member Andre Williams in this month’s runoff election.


Sellers starts work as Scott's chief of staff Dec. 1

Melissa Sellers confirmed Monday she has accepted the post of chief of staff in Gov. Rick Scott's second administration, effective Dec. 1. Sellers, 32, managed Scott's successful re-election campaign and has been viewed as the odds-on favorite for the powerful position.

"It's humbling and I'm honored," said Sellers, 32, a journalism graduate of the University of Texas. The chief of staff controls access to the governor, acts as a intermediary with the Legislature and agencies and is chiefly responsible for executing the governor's agenda.

Sellers will replace Adam Hollingsworth, who is leaving the post after two-and-a-half years, and she will be Scott's fourth chief of staff, also following Mike Prendergast and Steve MacNamara.

Scott also appointed Jackie Schutz as communications director. Schutz is returning to the governor's press shop after working on media relations in the campaign.

Taylor drops bid to replace Pafford as Florida House Democratic leader

For the second time this year, Rep. Dwayne Taylor called off his own bid to replace Rep. Mark Pafford as Florida House Democratic leader.

Taylor, of Daytona Beach, said he concluded this weekend that he wouldn't be able to work with Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant, who strongly supported Pafford.

"I took last week to evaluate what was said coming from Florida Democratic leadership," Taylor said. "When you're the minority leader, you have to be able to work with them. I just don't think I can work with them."

Taylor was scheduled to make his case at 6 p.m. today when the House Democrats meet on the floor to nominate Pafford. They'll still meet, but Taylor said he's withdrawn his challenge.

He said he will be able to work with Pafford.

"This was never about him personally," Taylor said. "He's going to depend on me to help shoulder the load."

Still, it was the second time that Taylor, backed by Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Rep. Kevin Rader, D-West Palm Beach, tried to oust Pafford. Pafford had led a successful effort in 2013 to oust Rouson.

Taylor's case for replacing Pafford, both times, was his dissatisfaction with fundraising. As the incoming House minority leader, it was Pafford's job to raise money for House races. After the Democrats lost six seats, Taylor blamed Pafford for not raising enough money.

But leaders in the Florida Democratic Party said Taylor's case was incorrect. Last week, they disclosed figures that showed Pafford and the party had raised $5.2 million, the most ever for Democrats in House races.

Taylor said he didn't believe those figures and questioned the motives behind leadership's rallying around Pafford. 

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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.

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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.


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