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

October 13, 2014

Bondi reverses course, now asks Florida Supreme Court to rule on gay marriage

Bondi supreme court@SteveRothaus

In a startling move Monday night, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said she wants the Florida Supreme Court to decide once-and-for-all whether same-sex couples can marry in the Sunshine State.

“That is unquestionably an important issue, and the Plaintiffs, the State, and all citizens deserve a definitive answer,” Bondi’s office wrote in a 6 p.m. filing to the state’s Third District Court of Appeal. “Until recently, the issue was squarely before the United States Supreme Court, and it appeared that a definitive answer was coming. ... Unfortunately, the United States Supreme Court decided not to answer the question.”  Download Attorney general's motion to send marriage case to Florida Supreme Court

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court settled the gay marriage issue in Utah, Oklahoma and Virginia, along with Wisconsin and Indiana, when it announced justices would not hear appeals in federal court decisions allowing same-sex marriages in those states. Since then, same-sex couples have also been allowed to wed in North Carolina, Idaho and Alaska. Now, 59 percent of Americans live in at least 30 states were same-sex marriage is legal, according to Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT activist group.

On July 17, Monroe County Chief Circuit Judge Luis Garcia declared Florida’s 2008 gay-marriage ban unconstitutional, ruling against Bondi, whose office defended the ban. He ordered that a Key West couple, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, had the right to marry, but an automatic stay in the case prevented the nuptials. On July 25, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel also declared Florida’s ban unconstitutional, finding in favor of six same-sex couples who want to marry. Her ruling also was stayed pending appeal.

The attorney general took both losses to the Miami-based Third District Court of Appeal, where the cases were consolidated. Lawyers for the plaintiffs asked the Florida Supreme Court to take the cases immediately, but Bondi asked to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court decided the issue.

Bondi, who is up for reelection in November, also said subsequent similar losses in Broward and Palm Beach counties, as well as federal court in Tallahassee, should be decided in Washington.

Since it is unlikely the U.S. Supreme Court will decide same-sex marriage anytime soon, Bondi has relented. Story here. 

 

 

October 06, 2014

Bondi and Sheldon cover lots of ground, deep differences, but few sparks in lone debate

Florida’s three attorney general candidates highlighted stark differences in their views on issues ranging from Obamacare to gambling and medical marijuana during a televised debate Monday, but incumbent Pam Bondi didn’t commit on the issue of the day — gay marriage.

After the Supreme Court announced it would not hear appeals from five states seeking to prevent gay marriage, Bondi hedged when asked how her office will handle a U.S. District Court judge’s decision to overturn Florida’s ban on same-sex marriages. The attorney general’s office previously has defended the ban on the state and federal level, and has appealed the district court’s decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

“My office, I think it just came out less than three hours ago, will be reviewing that, see what happens next. There are a lot of other cases in the pipeline,” Bondi said. The debate, the only one scheduled for this race, was taped in Bay News 9’s studio.

Democratic opponent George Sheldon said it would be best for Floridians if Bondi dropped the matter immediately.

“Government ought to get out of the business of telling people who they can love,” he said, adding that Bondi has a “higher responsibility” to defend not only the Florida Constitution, but the U.S. Constitution, as well. “It is now clear, with the Supreme Court’s action, what that means.”

Sometimes contentiously, the candidates batted issues back and forth for an hour, including Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer, a Tallahassee attorney.

Bondi, who repeatedly stressed she was focused on making Florida a safe place to live and work, said she didn’t like provisions of Amendment 2, the medical marijuana initiative before voters. Wohlsifer, who said he helped write a medical marijuana bill brought before the Legislature in 2013 and 2014, said the amendment didn’t go far enough, while Sheldon decried the hysteria surrounding the measure. He zeroed in on concerns about the amendment’s caregiver provision, which detractors say is too broad in its definition.

“This is no different than a caregiver for a citizen whose doctor prescribes oxycodone, or doctor prescribes other kinds of things,” Sheldon said. “I happen to trust the doctors of this state in terms of how they prescribe this medication.”

Bondi shot back, saying, “I don’t have full faith in all our doctors after shutting down the pills mills. I think we’re going to have a pot clinic on every corner and that the doctors who prescribed it would have full immunity.” Story by Joshua Gillin of the Tampa Bay Times here. 

 

Despite high court move, Pam Bondi won't say if she'll pull appeal on gay marriage ban

@SteveRothaus

Florida gay-marriage proponents will ask a federal judge Tuesday to lift his own stay and allow same-sex unions in the Sunshine State, following a Supreme Court announcement Monday that cleared the way for immediate expansion of marriage rights in as many as 11 states.

“It’s about time to suck it up and recognize the historical inevitability of equality,” ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon told the Miami Herald on Monday in a statement aimed directly at Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, whose office has unsuccessfully defended the state’s gay marriage ban in at least four state and federal court cases.

"My office... will be reviewing that, see what happens next, there are a lot of other cases in the pipeline,” Bondi, the Republican incumbent, said Monday afternoon during a St. Petersburg election debate with Democratic challenger George Sheldon. “What I've always said is that the court must decide this — we need finality from the judiciary. I think we can all agree, we're members of the executive branch, we're not the Supreme Court.”

Asked about dropping appeals in Florida, Bondi responded: “There are other cases in other states. The sixth circuit is still out there pending so we're going to see what they do in the sixth circuit, we're going to be looking at those other cases, we're going to be reviewing everything in Florida to see what to do next. And again, it just came out less than three hours ago, but this is a tremendous win for the plaintiffs in this case.” More here. 

 

October 02, 2014

George Sheldon joins victims of pelvic mesh implants calling for stricter FDA rules

Pamela Wise, a 41-year-old mother from Starke, and Elizabeth Way, 53, of De Leon Springs, took the podium at a press conference Wednesday and shakily described the suffering they've endured from having pelvic mesh implants, a topic that's been highlighted mostly in sensational TV ads paid for by trial lawyers.   But the problem is real, they said. 

 "People have died and wanted to die because of this pain" Way, a former firefighter who now walks with a cane, said. 

But the press conference also had a political message -- standing by Wise and Way was Democratic candidate for Attorney General, George Sheldon, adding his support while taking a dig at his opponent, Pam Bondi.

The attorney general "should be on the forefront" of an issue that affects so many women, Sheldon said. "This is what an attorney general should do. It's what Bob Butterworth did and what a number of attorney generals have done."

Sheldon's comments echo a common theme of Democrats, who charge Republicans don't support issues vital to women voters.

In an email, Bondi's communications director Jenn Meale responded that: "Since early 2013, Attorney General Pam Bondi's Office has been and remains on four executive committees actively engaged in multi-state investigations into four major surgical mesh companies, CR Bard, Inc., Endo Health Solution, Inc. (d/b/a American Medical Systems), Boston Scientific, and Johnson & Johnson's company Ethicon."

Continue reading "George Sheldon joins victims of pelvic mesh implants calling for stricter FDA rules" »

September 08, 2014

Pam Bondi launches awkward 'Streets' TV ad

@tbtia

Pam Bondi's latest campaign ad touts her efforts to quell prescription drug abuse in dramatic form: suspenseful music, police lights and sirens in the background and stern glances to the camera. But she ends with a grin as the announcer declares:"Pam Bondi, our attorney general."

According to a press release from the campaign, the "Streets" ad will begin running Tuesday in five of Florida's major media markets. You can also see it here and embedded below.

The script:

Continue reading "Pam Bondi launches awkward 'Streets' TV ad" »

August 29, 2014

Andrews asks court to hold governor and attorney general in violation of state Sunshine laws

Tallahassee lawyer Steven R. Andrews expanded his public records complaints against Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday, asking the court to hold the state's top officers in violation of the state's public records laws and seeking relief and attorneys fees. 

Andrews, who successfully sued the governor and Cabinet for violating a contract he had to purchase the build that houses his office near the Florida Governor's Mansion, has engaged in a two-year battle to obtain public records as part of his legal battle.

He now alleges that the governor's office not only withheld documents but engaged in "actively concealing them" and "conspiring with others known and unknown, to conceal public records" from him as well as "dealying the production of public records to interfere with the Petitioner’s prosecution of Andrews v. Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Fund (“BOT”), Case No. 2012 CA 859." 

Lawyers for the governor and attorney general have repeatedly argued they have turned over all relevant documents and deny the allegations. 

Here's are his complaints.  Download EOG 2014.08.29 MOT FOR LEAVE TO AMD r (1)  Download 2014.AG 08.29 MOT FOR LEAVE TO FILE AMD PETr (1)

August 18, 2014

Council aims to fight human trafficking

Human trafficking is a crime that reaches a broad spectrum of victims -- teenage runaways, the homeless, undocumented workers and even "kids who hang out at the mall every day,"  Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families said Monday at the first meeting of the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Many victims are also foster care kids who are under state care or have aged out of the state system and have no where to go, Carroll, the council's vice chair, said.

Florida has been ranked third in the number of calls received by the National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which estimates there are 27 million people enslaved worldwide.

"Four years ago, no one wanted to believe this existed," said Attorney General Pam Bondi, who has reached out to truckers, emergency medical workers, business owners, law enforcement and recently Mexican authorities to fight human trafficking. "It has to be stopped."

Now, Bondi, is also counting on a new panel with law enforcement, health care officials, educators, advocates and experts to fight the crime. The 15-member trafficking council, which Bondi chairs, was created during the 2014 legislative session to tackle specific goals in the human trafficking realm, including recommending programs and services to help victims; certifying safe houses and safe foster care homes; recommending ways to better apprehend and prosecute traffickers; and organizing a statewide summit.

Continue reading "Council aims to fight human trafficking" »

August 12, 2014

Movers & Shakers

Former Junior League president and police chief appointed to human trafficking council 

Lee Lowry, a former president of The Junior League of Tampa, and Philip Thorne, Springfield's police chief, have been picked by Gov.Rick Scott to fill the two remaining seats on the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

The council, which was created during the legislative session to develop recommendations for programs and services for victims of human trafficking and maximize existing resources, will have its first meeting at 2 p.m. Aug. 18 in Room 214 of the Knott Building at the Capitol. 

The other members of the 15-member council are Attorney General Pam Bondi, the council's chairman; Mike Carroll, interim secretary of the state Department of Children and Families, who will serve as vice chairman; State Surgeon General Dr. John ArmstrongElizabeth Dudek, Secretary of the state Agency for Health Care Administration; Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey; Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Interim Secretary Christina Daly; and Education Commissioner Pam Stewart; Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle; Martin County Sheriff William Snyder; Terry Coonan, executive director of the Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights; Dotti Groover-Skipper, chairwoman of the Community Campaign Against Human Trafficking; Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; and Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami.

New faces on the Commission on the Status of Women

Nancy Acevedo and Dhyana Ziegler have been appointed to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Acevedo, 65, of Winter Springs, is an intelligence analyst with the Seminole County Sheriff's Office.

Ziegler, 65, of Tallahassee, is the Garth C. Reeves eminent scholar chair of journalism at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »