June 22, 2016

Report: Florida gets an 'F' for failing racial and gender diversity among court judges

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8colFlorida is one of 26 states to receive a failing grade for its gender and racial diversity, according to the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, progressive legal organization. Florida ranked 29 out of 51 state court jurisdictions in the country because it's judiciaries are 45% less diverse than the state population.

The findings echo some of the research done by the Herald/Times in 2014, which found that Gov. Rick Scott appointed only nine black attorneys to judgeships in his first four years. 

The report, authored by law professors Tracey E. George and Albert H. Yoon, compiled the race, ethnicity, and gender of 10,000 sitting judges on state courts. It is  titled The Gavel Gap: Who Sits in Judgement at State Courts?

“The vast majority of Americans’ interactions with the judicial system, ranging from traffic violations to criminal proceedings, happen in state courts,” said George of Vanderbilt University. “When people do not see themselves represented in their community leadership, when the vast majority of judges cannot relate to the lived experience of those they serve—this is a problem. It creates a mistrust of judges, and propagates the mystery surrounding the court system. For the first time, we have the data we need to identify and address this serious problem.”

Photo: Tampa Bay Times

 

Four years after brutal Florida prison death, no punishment but lack of trust, disclosure and confidence

Raineyvia JKnipeBrown

One thousand four hundred and sixty one days.

That’s how long it’s been since Darren Rainey was forced into a shower by officers at Dade Correctional Institution and left there, under a blistering spray of scalding water, for nearly two hours. It’s been four years since Rainey screamed and begged to be let out of the small stall before finally collapsing in a heap, his skin peeling.

Since Rainey’s death, it was discovered that he and other mentally ill inmates at the prison had been tortured, beaten, starved and left to sleep in their own excrement. They were doused with buckets of chemicals, over-medicated, kept in extended isolation and placed in painfully cold or blistering showers as punishment for behavior caused mostly by their own illnesses.

While Rainey’s death has led to some reforms in the treatment of the mentally ill in Florida prisons, the prison system remains dangerously understaffed and rife with violence, as evidenced by recent riots and turmoil at Franklin Correctional Institution in north-central Florida.

Details of the June 9 incident at Franklin haven’t been made public, and may never be known. The absence of transparency by the agency, critics say, has bred distrust and a lack of confidence that the prison system is truly taking the steps necessary to keep inmates, officers and the public secure. Story here. 

June 21, 2016

LGBT rights activists want Rick Scott to sign anti-discrimination rules after Orlando shooting

@MichaelAuslen

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A week after a gunman killed 49 people inside an Orlando gay nightclub, advocacy groups want new protections enacted to protect LGBT Floridians.

Equality Florida, an advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights has long pushed for state anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

In a move that could presage more forceful action when the state Legislature returns to Tallahassee next year, the group’s lobbyist, Carlos Guillermo Smith, called on Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi to act now — without lawmakers’ involvement.

“Gov. Rick Scott and Pam Bondi could issue an executive order today with the stroke of a simple pen that would forbid and make illegal anti-LGBTQ discrimination in our state,” said Smith, a Democrat also running for the Florida House, in an interview Sunday on MSNBC.

State law does not protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

For 10 years, lawmakers have proposed expanding Florida’s civil rights protections, but their attempts have never reached a floor vote either chamber of the state Legislature. This spring, the proposal achieved a small victory: its first-ever committee hearing. The Senate Judiciary Committee considered the bill but did not approve it.

Asked whether he would support anti-discrimination protections, the governor’s office reiterated comments Scott made Monday when reporters pressed him on his gay-rights record.

“Right now what I want to focus on is how do we make sure that we love everybody impacted: the gay community, the Hispanic community,” he said. “But let’s all remember this was an attack on our entire nation.”

He did not say whether he intends to push for additional protections of LGBT groups.

However, Scott could not extend full anti-discrimination protections to LGBT people in hiring, housing and public accommodations by executive order.

In an interview with the Times/Herald on Tuesday, Smith said he wants Scott and Bondi to enact narrower, more immediate change: executive action to protect state workers and government contractors.

This would be within the governor’s powers. Early in his first term, Scott issued an executive order requiring state workers to be randomly drug tested, although that was later struck down by a judge.

Cabinet officials could set similar rules within their offices. Bondi already has done this, spokeswoman Kylie Mason said.

“The Attorney General does not have the authority to issue an executive order,” she said in a statement. “However, our office already has a policy in place against discrimination based on sexual preference.”

Some groups criticized Smith for pushing Equality Florida’s agenda so soon after the shooting at Pulse nightclub. The Florida Family Policy Council, which advocates for social conservatives and largely opposes LGBT-rights groups’ agenda, tweeted Tuesday morning that Equality Florida is “politicizing tragedy.”

Since the attack, Scott and Bondi have both issued statements supportive of the state’s LGBT community.

“We pray for our LGBT community,” Scott wrote on Twitter. “Our Hispanic community. Our state. Our nation. This was an attack on every American.”

But during more than five years in office, neither Republican official has taken up the mantle of gay rights.

Bondi fought and lost a court battle to uphold a same-sex marriage ban, spending $493,000 in taxpayer funds in the process. Scott’s administration is in the process of removing proposed protections for LGBT foster children in group homes from state rules.

LGBT-rights advocates hope recent well wishes could turn into political action when the Legislature is in session next year.

Equality Florida’s wish list includes not only anti-discrimination laws but also expanding the definition of hate crimes to include transgender people and banning so-called conversion therapy.

Smith said the group has requested a meeting with Scott and Bondi to discuss its agenda.

Photo by Eve Edelheit, Tampa Bay Times.

June 20, 2016

Gov. Rick Scott criticizes decision to release partial transcript of Orlando shooter's 911 call

via @learyreports

Gov. Rick Scott says it doesn't make sense to release only partial 911 transcripts of the Orlando shooter.

 

Appearing today on Fox News:

On Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s comments regarding releasing the partial transcripts of the Orlando terrorist’s 911 call:

“Bill, I do not know, but I’ve talked to families and have been down here since the terrorist attack. I’ve talked to families who have lost their loved ones, I met with families that are in the hospital with loved ones in the hospital. We are all looking for answers. Why wouldn’t she release everything? We all need to know, but especially these families. They need to know exactly what happened to try and understand why this happened. It doesn’t make any sense to me why you wouldn’t release the entire transcript.”

On whether he disagrees with Lynch only releasing partial transcripts:

“Absolutely. This seems like it is another example of not focusing on the evil here. This is evil. It’s ISIS. It’s radical Islam. At some point – we lost 49 lives here, we lost Steven Sotloff in 2014 that was beheaded by ISIS. At some point, we’re going to get a president that’s going to say I care about destroying ISIS. I want it for everybody that was impacted by this. I want a focus on how we get rid of ISIS. How do we stop this, how do we stop radical Islam. This is wrong. It’s hurting our country. This was an attack on our gay community, our Hispanic community, our entire country.”

On Lynch’s comments that she is only releasing partial transcript because she doesn’t want to ‘re-victimize the victims’:

“I have no idea what she means, but I’ll tell you what. I’ve gone to funerals, I’ve sat down and cried with the parents. I’ve gone and visited individuals in the hospitals, they’re grieving. They want answers. If it was my family, I’d want answers, she would too. We all would like answers. She should release everything that doesn’t impact the investigation. I could understand if it was something that impacted that investigation until this is finished, I get that. She’s not saying that. It doesn’t make any sense to me. We’ve got to get serious about destroying ISIS. Destroy ISIS, stop radical Islam.”

On what he thinks the administration’s motive behind not releasing the full transcript is:

“I have no idea, but it sure appears that they don’t want to talk about that ISIS was involved. This is clearly ISIS-inspired. It’s clearly a result of evil, radical Islam. We’ve got to call this what it is. We’ve got to defend our country. We’ve got to stop saying ISIS is not the problem, they are the problem. They want to destroy us. There’s people that want to kill us, they are killing us. 49 people in my state massacred because of radical Islam, because of the evil of ISIS.”

June 16, 2016

Obama's somber trip to Orlando underscored by tension with Gov. Scott

Omar2 06 EKM

@ByKristenMClark

Yet again making the all-too-familiar trip to console and grieve with victims of a mass shooting in an American community, President Barack Obama will travel to Orlando on Thursday.

The trek has become a sadly frequent one for Obama, whose presidency has coincided with other high-profile mass shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., Charleston, S.C., and Newtown, Conn.

But Sunday’s slaying of 49 people at a gay nightclub holds special significance as the worst of them all — the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

While in Orlando, Obama will visit with families of the dead and the 53 people who were injured. The president also plans to meet with surgeons, doctors and nurses who treated the wounded, and law enforcement officials and first-responders who were on the scene in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Specific details on the visit haven’t been released. But Obama is expected to also attend a prayer vigil at the Amway Center, Orlando officials told the Herald/Times.

Obama wants to offer “comfort and support to a community that’s grieving,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Wednesday, adding that he expects it will be “an emotional trip” for the president.

While the visit will be a somber one, it will also be underscored by some recent political tension between Obama and Republican Gov. Rick Scott — despite other public displays of bipartisanship in a time of tragedy.

Read more here.

Photo credit: Emily Michot / Miami Herald

June 15, 2016

President Obama (finally) calls Gov. Rick Scott

@ByKristenMClark

Florida Gov. Rick Scott finally got the call he's been waiting for three days to get.

President Barack Obama called the governor at 12:40 p.m., according to a revised public schedule Scott's office released just before 3 this afternoon.

It's unclear how long the call lasted. Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said in an email to the Herald/Times: "The president called to offer his condolences. Governor Scott reiterated his request for the emergency declaration requested on Monday."

No details were immediately available about the length of the call or what the two discussed.

During cable news interviews the past several days, Scott and top members of his administration -- including fellow Republicans, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera -- have pointedly mentioned the fact that Obama hadn't called Scott in the wake of Sunday's shooting massacre in Orlando.

Scott's office issued similar after-the-fact, revised public schedules for the governor this week to reflect that he had been called by both former President George W. Bush and senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Notably, the advisory from Scott's office this afternoon came 90 minutes after Scott made himself available to the media at a press conference -- in which local and state officials offered an update into the investigation of Sunday's attack.

Scott spoke during the press conference and also took questions from reporters, but he didn't let on then that he'd spoken with Obama an hour earlier.

Obama will be in Orlando on Thursday to meet with victims' families. While there, he's also expected to attend a prayer vigil at the Amway Center.

Scott plans to greet Obama on the tarmac when Air Force One lands in Orlando.

Gov. Rick Scott will greet President Obama in Orlando

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@ByKristenMClark

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is planning to be on the tarmac as Air Force One lands in Orlando on Thursday -- when President Barack Obama is expected to visit with victims' families from Sunday's shooting massacre at Pulse nightclub.

Scott and Obama have not yet spoken directly in the three days since the shooting -- magnifying ongoing tension between the two -- but Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz confirmed to the Herald/Times late Tuesday that "yes, the governor will be on the tarmac" for Obama's arrival.

It's unclear yet whether any public events will be held during Obama's trip or whether Obama and Scott will have time to talk privately, particularly about Scott's request for a federal emergency declaration for Orlando. The Florida Times-Union reported Scott's ask is unprecedented after a mass shooting.

The Orlando tragedy is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, with 50 people dead (including the shooter Omar Mateen) and 53 injured.

The purpose of Obama's visit is "to pay his respects to victims' families and to stand in solidarity with the community as they embark on their recovery," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said when the trip was announced Monday.

Photo credit: U.S. President Barack Obama is welcomed by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Florida Governor Rick Scott, as he arrives at MIA with Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, for a town hall meeting on immigration at Florida International University on Wednesday February 25, 2015. Pedro Portal / El Nuevo Herald

June 14, 2016

White House: 'Hopefully' President Obama, Gov. Rick Scott will talk Thursday

@ByKristenMClark

While President Barack Obama and Florida Gov. Rick Scott have yet to speak directly after the Orlando shooting massacre, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters earlier today that "hopefully" the president and governor will meet up when Obama is in Orlando on Thursday.

Scott pointedly noted this morning on Fox News that he's had phone calls from Donald Trump and former President George W. Bush -- but his communication with the White House has been limited to a Monday night phone call with senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Asked today if Obama has plans to reach out to Scott, Earnest responded:

Well, first of all, the President has had the opportunity to speak with Buddy Dyer, who is the mayor of Orlando.  Other senior White House officials have been in touch with Governor Scott directly, and there have been a number of conversations between Obama administration officials and their counterparts in Florida to ensure that we are effectively coordinating the efforts of federal authorities with state and local authorities as well.

So that is an important principle here, to make sure that all our efforts are concentrated on investigating this situation, getting to the bottom of it, but also standing in solidarity with a community that's grieving.  And, as we announced last night, the President will be traveling to Orlando on Thursday.  And, as we always do, we will invite the governor to be a part of the President's arrival.  And hopefully the President will have the opportunity to see Governor Scott there.

When asked if Scott had plans to meet with Obama on Thursday or if he would greet the president on the tarmac when Air Force One lands, Scott's spokeswoman Jackie Schutz told the Herald/Times in an email this afternoon: "No details yet." 

Gov. Rick Scott says President Obama hasn't called him

Gov. Rick Scott wants a call from President Obama. Appearing on Fox & Friends this morning:

On whether President Obama has reached out to him since the shooting:

“No. He has not called, a staffer’s called but no, he’s not called. Look, the second amendment didn't kill anybody; evil, radical Islam, ISIS, they killed. We have got to start standing up for this country. This is our country. We have to say, we’re gonna vet people before they come into our country. If you disagree with what with what our country believes in, why in the living daylights are you allowed in our country? We have 49 people dead. Dead. Murdered, right here. 43 people in the hospital. I was at the hospital last night - still having surgeries. They're not sure they're going to live. When do we stop this?”

On his call with former President George W. Bush following the shooting:

“Well he said he and Laura were praying for us and anything he could do he’d love to be helpful.”

On his call with presumptive GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump regarding the shooting:

“He called. He called to just ask how I was doing, say you know like everybody else is praying for us.”On whether he will be given background information on any Syrian refugees coming to Florida:

“After the Paris attacks I was on a call with the White House and I said, will you share vetting information from anybody that comes into our state - you're going to send to my state and they said no.”

“The White House said they will not share that information with the Florida law enforcement. They said, oh, that -- those people have privacy rights. What about our security rights? The  security and making sure if you live in my state, you’re gonna be safe. I’m responsible for the safety of the people in my state. I’m fed up with the fact that we’re not destroying ISIS. We’re not vetting these people; we’re not taking care of our own citizens.”

On the importance of naming the enemy:

“Here's the deal. If not now, when are we going to take this seriously? This is an attack on Orlando, a gay nightclub, it’s an attack on gays, an attack on Hispanics and our country. When are we going to say enough is enough and say we are going to absolutely destroy ISIS, we're going to stop the evil of radical Islam. We’ve got to at some point, is 49 enough? How many more can there be?”

On meeting with the families of victims:

“I met with a mom that knew her son bled to death. Somebody in Pulse, the gay nightclub, was there when he bled to death. She believes her son was a hero. I talked to a dad, who didn’t want to talk about his son that he lost; he said this has to stop. We have to think about how we're going to share information, how we're going to destroy ISIS. I mean, the stories – I talked to a family who thought their son was dead and just found out he was alive. I talked to a young man that has three gunshot wounds in his back and he just feels so lucky and his family that he’s alive.”

- Alex Leary, Tampa Bay Times

Gov. Rick Scott on assault weapons: 'The Second Amendment didn't kill people. Evil killed people'


Scott on Fox 613For the third consecutive day, Gov. Rick Scott made the rounds of the national television cameras Tuesday in the make-shift village of satellite trucks and pop-up tents that have been erected just blocks away from the site of the Orlando massacre.

But as the debate continues over how to prevent another mass shooting -- and whether laws need to change to keep assault weapons out of the hands of the deranged -- Scott directed the blame at ''radical Islam" and deflected questions about tightening weapons laws.

"We've had the Second Amendment for over 200 years,'' Scott told the Miami Herald after interviews with CBS News and Telemundo. "What's changed is we have radical Islam. We have ISIS. This country's got to get serious about destroying ISIS, get serious about destroying radical Islam, vetting people better. We've got to share that information better with our local law enforcement community. The Second Amendment didn't kill anybody. Radical Islam. ISIS. They're the ones doing this.

"So our federal government has got to take this seriously and say enough's enough. We've had 49 people killed. They targeted gays. They targeted the Hispanic community. They've got to say this isn't going to happy again in our country.

"What decisions need to be made to make that happen?,'' Scott was asked.

"Get the federal government to focus on destroying ISIS. If you focus on something you absolutely get it done,'' he replied. 

"Do you think people should be arming themselves with more assault weapons?,'' we asked.

"The Second Amendment didn't kill people. Evil killed people,'' he said.

Photo: Rick Scott speaks to FoxTV reporter Bill Hemmer in Orlando near the site of the Pulse shootings.