January 29, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott expresses confidence in his staff

Gov. Rick Scott expressed confidence in his staff Thursday, dismissing the notion that they are responsible for the controversy caused by the hurried dismissal of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey.

"I have a great chief of staff," Scott said at the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, where he was discussing his proposed $470 million communications tax cut. "Melissa Sellers, along with my other team, is doing a great job."

The response came a day after the three elected Cabinet members criticized the governor's handling of Bailey's dismissal and said they were not consulted before the decision was made to replace him.

At a news conference Wednesday in Tallahassee, Attorney General Pam Bondi proposed that the controversial ouster of Bailey in December could have been the doing of the governor's staff without his knowledge. By law, The FDLE commissioner works for the governor and the elected cabinet.

"We all knew there were going to be changes made in the upcoming months, but did I know that Jerry Bailey was going to be told he was fired and have his things packed up, his entire life as a career law enforcement officer in a cardboard box, and be told to be out of the office before the end of the day? Absolutely not," Bondi said. "Nor do I believe the governor knew it."

More here.

-- Josh Solomon, Tampa Bay Times

January 19, 2015

Pafford: Gerald Bailey's ouster from FDLE is 'concerning'

In response to allegations that Gerald Bailey's resignation from the top job in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was both forced and politically motivated by the governor's office, House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford's reaction is clear but measured:

"What's been slowly coming out is concerning, obviously" Pafford told the Times/Herald on Monday.

Pafford said he would likely have a more complete statement later this week, as the Legislature returns to Tallahassee for committee meetings but said this is the kind of situation he's heard of happening before.

"There's always been hints of this type of thing for years," he said.

At issue in Bailey's removal from the job is what role was played by the other cabinet officials, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

They, together with Gov. Rick Scott, have oversight of FDLE. It appears Bailey was asked to resign by members of Scott's staff.

The other cabinet officials' versions of the story remain unclear: While they initially held to a similar line of comment -- that they respected Bailey and that he resigned -- all three had by last Thursday expressed their own concern about the behind-the-scenes processes that led to Bailey leaving office.

When asked about how he would have handled the situation if he had a seat on cabinet, Pafford said he thought the officials should have been made aware of any details about how and why Bailey resigned. But, he was sure to say, he isn't in the same situation.

"You want to be made aware of certain things," he said. "That's part of the gig. There are only three people doing that other than the governor, so you would hope that you would have the information, that it would be provided."

What is clear, Pafford said, is this:

"I think there's a lot more questions right now than answers, and I guess that will kind of unravel, and I'm sure there'll be a story to tell."

January 16, 2015

Bondi pleased Supreme Court will consider gay marriage

After the U.S. Supreme Court announced Friday it would take up four same-sex marriage cases by the end of the term, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi issued a statement of her own, praising the court:

"All along, I have maintained that the U.S. Supreme Court should decide the same sex marriage issue in order to provide uniformity in Florida and resolve the legal issue nationwide. I am pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the same sex marriage issue and provide finality on the matter."

Bondi was largely quiet after same-sex marriages began in Florida last week. She asserted that Solicitor General Allen Winsor was looking into the next steps the state ought to take and that she was happy for the couples that did marry.

The court could provide consistency on same-sex marriage nationwide by striking down state bans as unconstitutional, or it could continue allowing states to determine their own laws and policies.

January 11, 2015

How Marco Rubio could run for president then governor and what that does to other pols

@MarcACaputo

Marco Rubio is expected to run for president.

All that’s really in doubt is the year: 2016, 2020, 2024?

What’s not uncertain is that the U.S. senator has a tough decision to make: does he make a longshot bid and give up his seat or does he run for president and then seek reelection?

Either way, there’s increasing political chatter that Rubio is well-positioned to run for governor in 2018.

And then, if he wins, there’s a good chance Gov. Rubio will run for president — 2020 would be attractive if a beatable Democrat is president. The next presidential year, 2024, an open-seat year, would be more likely. He’ll only be 52.

Rubio is offering few public clues about what’s next.

“At the end of the day, it’s a very personal decision,” Rubio told reporters last week when asked about a presidential bid. “You don’t make this decision on the basis of political advisers. You make it on your own.”

Continue reading "How Marco Rubio could run for president then governor and what that does to other pols" »

January 05, 2015

Bondi's office: 'We wish these couples the best'

Pam BondiFlorida Attorney General Pam Bondi, a Republican who vigorously fought to defend the state's same-sex marriage ban against a barrage of legal challenges, on Monday conceded defeat.

"The judge has ruled, and we wish these couples the best,'' said Bondi spokesman Whitney Ray in a statement.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle of Tallahassee, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, declared the state ban unconstitutional in August, but stayed his decision through Monday to give some time for legal appeals. The ban will now expire on the same day that Bondi, who vigorously fought to keep the state's ban, and Gov. Rick Scott and the remainder of the state Cabinet take the oath of office for a second term.

For the last several months, Bondi sought extensions of the stay from the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, but both turned her down.

A day before a gay-marriage ban that has been ruled unconstitutional is lifted in the rest of the state,  Miami-Dade County became the first place in Florida to allow same-sex couples to marry on Monday when a judge lifted the stay there.

Continue reading "Bondi's office: 'We wish these couples the best' " »

January 02, 2015

Hinkle to Bondi: Yes, Constitution does apply to all counties, so does same-sex ruling

@SteveRothaus

On the first day of the New Year, a federal judge issued a landmark ruling that finally cleared the way for same-sex marriage in every county in Florida.

And, significantly, Attorney General Pam Bondi — Florida’s chief legal opponent to gay marriage — said the state would not try to block county clerks from issuing licenses, beginning as early as 12:01 a.m. Tuesday.

Specifically, U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, clarifying a previous order, ruled that all Florida clerks are bound by the U.S. Constitution not to enforce Florida’s gay marriage ban and that any couple seeking a license should receive one.

“The preliminary injunction now in effect thus does not require the Clerk to issue licenses to other applicants,” Hinkle wrote in an order released Thursday afternoon. “But as set out in the order that announced issuance of the preliminary injunction, the Constitution requires the Clerk to issue such licenses.” More here. 

December 05, 2014

Pam Bondi makes FL 18th state to sue President Obama over immigration action

@MarcACaputo

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced late Friday that the Sunshine State would join a federal lawsuit to block President Barack Obama’s executive action sparing as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.

Of the 18 states now suing the Obama administration over immigration, all have Republican governors or Republican attorneys general. But Florida is the only major swing state with a significant Hispanic population, making Bondi’s decision a potential presidential campaign issue as the 2016 election cycle gets underway.

In a written statement, Bondi said the lawsuit isn’t about politics, it’s about Obama circumventing Congress and acting alone.

“This lawsuit is not about immigration, rather this lawsuit is about President Obama — yet again — overstepping the power granted to him by our United States Constitution,” Bondi said echoing the language of the suit initiated this week by Texas Attorney General and Governor-elect Greg Abbott.

“We need to fix our system of immigration,” Bondi said, “but willfully turning a blind eye to the inconvenience of law and rule is not the path to a remedy, but a prescription for unwarranted presidential overreach.”

But Democrats say Bondi is leading Republicans into a problem with Hispanics that has vexed them in recent presidential elections and threatens to do so again. Republican Gov. Rick Scott has stayed out of the fray and referred questions to Bondi's office.

More here

December 04, 2014

Court ruling means gay couples could wed as early as Jan. 5 in Florida

@SteveRothaus

Same-sex couples in Florida could begin marrying shortly after the new year, after a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that a stay in the state’s gay-marriage ban case will be lifted at the end of the day Jan.5.

In a two-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta turned down a request by Florida’s secretaries of health and management services and the clerk of the court in the Panhandle’s Washington County to extend the stay. A federal judge based in Tallahassee ruled in August that the state’s gay-marriage ban is unconstitutional, but stayed his decision until Jan.5 to give the state time to appeal.

“This is a clear victory for us because it finds the harm is being done to the people, not the state,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which is representing same-sex couples from throughout Florida and gay-rights group SAVE, who sued to have out-of-state same-sex marriages recognized in the Sunshine State.

“It means that relief is finally in sight for the same-sex married couples suffering under Florida’s refusal to recognize their legal unions,” SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima said in a statement. More here. 

 

December 01, 2014

AG revolving door: Bill McCollum lobbies, Pam Bondi's office helps his client

@MVanSickler

When the cruise line Royal Caribbean sought to amend a 1997 consumer protection agreement with the Florida Attorney General’s office, it hired a lawyer familiar with the agency’s inner workings.

Former Attorney General Bill McCollum called on the staff of his successor, Pam Bondi. Six months after the June 2013 meeting, Bondi’s office granted McCollum’s request.

Royal Caribbean’s advertised rates would no longer have to include fees for services, like baggage handling and loading cargo. The fees, which can inflate a trip’s cost by more than $100, could be listed separately from the company’s advertised rates.

On at least two other occasions, McCollum met with Bondi’s staff to discuss two more clients — NJOY, an e-cigarette company, and HealthFair, which sells health screenings from mobile clinics.

McCollum isn’t just Bondi’s predecessor; he also leads the Republican State Leadership Committee, which has championed Bondi’s advancement.

McCollum served as vice or acting chairman of the Washington-based group from June 2012 to January 2014, records show. During that period, it contributed $650,000 to Bondi’s re-election campaign, more than 10 percent of what she raised, and chipped in another $16,000 in gifts so she could attend conferences with other Republican attorneys general.

When asked what role he had in those expenditures, McCollum said the staff, not the board, decides how campaign contributions are made. He didn’t address the gifts. Story by Michael Van Sickler here. 

 

November 10, 2014

Report: Energy drink company wanted to avoid lawsuit so worked relationship with Bondi

From the New York Times: 

Attorney General Pam Bondi of Florida, after taking a free ride on a chartered jet last year to a resort island far from her home state, made an unusual offer to one of the corporate lawyers from Washington who helped foot the bill: an invitation to stay at her Tampa home while recuperating from surgery.

The hospitality was extended to Lori Kalani, a lobbyist and lawyer from Dickstein Shapiro, the Washington-based firm that specializes in building personal relationships with state attorneys general to help corporate clients avoid becoming targets of investigation.

The circumstances of the trip to Mackinac Island, Mich., and the subsequent offer to host Ms. Kalani in convalescence were uncovered as part of a continuing investigation by The New York Times into the relationship between private lawyers and state attorneys general. They make vivid how aggressively Dickstein and firms like it have worked in recent years to try to influence top state law enforcement officials.

The Florida Commission on Ethics is reviewing a sworn complaint filed by a Florida resident asking it to investigate whether Dickstein violated state law by not registering as a lobbying firm in the state.

The complaint was filed after an earlier article in The Times reported that Ms. Bondi and other attorneys general had taken actions favorable to Dickstein’s clients after intervention by its lawyers. Continue reading the main story