January 02, 2015

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


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


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


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


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


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."

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September 08, 2014

Pam Bondi launches awkward 'Streets' TV ad


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" »