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January 04, 2017

Ambassador Trujillo? Trump is recruiting Miami state legislator for foreign post

Trujillo and Trump CM GuerreroWhen few Miami Republicans were willing to embrace Donald Trump, state Rep. Carlos Trujillo emerged early and at his side and stayed with him as a top Hispanic surrogate throughout the presidential campaign.

Trujillo, 33, the son of Cuban immigrants, is now being recruited by the Trump administration to serve as ambassador to a Latin American country somewhere in the Southern Hemisphere, the details of which are still being negotiated.

"It's a great opportunity to serve your country,'' Trujillo told the Herald/Times. "It's humbling. But it has to be the right country and the right time."

Trujillo, who is a member of House Speaker Richard Corcoran's inner circle, was recently named to the powerful post of House Appropriations Committee chairman. He expects an announcement from the Trump administration in early February and, if it happens. he will remain in office long enough to serve through this legislative session because of the lengthy vetting and Senate confirmation process.

"Carlos Trujillo was one of the top Hispanic surrogates in the country for the Trump campaign. He was somebody who risked a lot -- because he was in a very swing district,'' said Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, a close friend of Trujillo's and another member of the Corcoran inner circle.

"It would be a real shame for the Dade delegation to lose Carlos Trujillo but it would be a great opportunity for our state to have an up-and-coming leader to represent us,'' Diaz said. "He would be impactful for decades to come. I'd hate to see him leave but I'd also hate to see him stay and forgo a good opportunity for him and his family."

Trujillo was born on Long Island, New York, and moved to Florida just short of his fifth birthday in 1988. He attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, where he majored in International Business and was the vice president of the Student Government Association. He received his law degree from Florida State University College of Law in 2007 and served as an assistant state attorney for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Florida. He started his own law firm, Trujillo Vargas Ortiz Gonzalez LLP.

Trujillo is married to Carmen Maria Mir and they have four children: Carlos Manuel, Isabella Alba, Juan Pablo, and Felipe Andres.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump receives a classic linen guayabera from Miami state Rep. Carlos Trujillo.C.M. GUERRERO. EL NUEVO HERALD


Florida Democratic Party chair candidate Stephen Bittel subject of eligibility complaint




A group of Miami-Dade Democrats filed a grievance Tuesday alleging that the county party violated rules when it elected Stephen Bittel as state committeeman, a prerequisite for him to run for chair of the Florida Democratic Party.

The grievance, signed by 13 Democrats, relates to various procedures used at two meetings leading up to Bittel winning the state committeeman spot.

On Dec. 6th, Bret Berlin won the state committeeman post but them quickly stepped down to make way for Bittel to run on Dec. 20th. 

Bittel, a wealthy donor and Coconut Grove developer, is one of five candidates running for Florida Democratic Party chair. The other candidates are activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Oscela chair Leah Carius.

The race to replace Allison Tant as chair has been filled with drama -- and the latest grievance filed by the state party is no exception. It includes allegations about an "invalid midnight motion" and "stuffing the ballot box" and conflicts of interest.  

Most of the allegations relate to procedural issues such as whether a quorum was met. The letter alleges that some Democrats who traveled hundreds of miles were "physically barred" from entering the room.

The grievance also alleges that Juan Cuba, the newly elected county chair and former executive director, has unfairly favored Bittel because "Bittel has been funding Cuba's salary." Bittel has given thousands to the county and state party. Cuba was paid through the county party when he was a consultant in the past and was paid through the state party when he was the executive director. 

"Because of the rules violations outlined below, we strongly believe that this election must be immediately overturned," wrote the Democrats who signed the letter including Zenia Perez, who was the interim rules chair, and Erika Grohoski, outreach chair. "We do not raise these concerns out of malice or to discourage inclusiveness. We simply want to enforce our rules to ensure fair play, and to build a party that earns and respects the trust of our voters."

Cuba has said the county party followed the rules at the meetings.

"Everyone had an opportunity to be heard," he said. "Despite efforts to disrupt the meeting, an election was held and the membership overwhelmingly voted for Stephen Bittel to be the next state committeemen. We had an election attorney at the meeting to ensure bylaws and procedures were not violated."

Bruce Jacobs, a lawyer and rules committee member at the DNC who represents Bullard, sent a similar letter of complaint to the state party. 

The state party rules committee is expected to act on the challenges to eligibility on Jan. 13th, one day before the chair vote in Orlando. The committee will also examine a complaint about the  Clendenin's residency. After Clendenin lost a state committeeman election in Hillsborough County he moved into a rented trailer in Bradford County and won a similar spot there.

Bullard made a similar maneuver: after he lost a state committeeman race to Bittel in Miami-Dade he moved to Gadsden County. 

Bullard's voter registration form initially showed he moved to 36 Lanier Lane in Gretna. When the Miami Herald pointed out to the elections office that the address didn't exist in property records, an elections official later said the address is actually 32 Lanier Lane.

Bullard told the Miami Herald today that he is renting in Gretna and if he wins the chair job he will quit his Miami-Dade school teaching job and may move to Gretna or maintain both residences.

Bullard said Democrats in northern Florida reached out and encouraged him to run in Gadsden.

"They were really disappointed in the shenanigans around the Miami-Dade election," he said. "They granted me another opportunity and I decided to take it."

 This post has been updated to include comments from Bullard. Photo of Bittel on the left and Bullard on the right.

For Miami mayoral candidate, a new law firm and a long donor list invited to mingle


Fresh in his new digs at Gray Robinson, Miami mayoral candidate Francis Suarez is holding a networking event in the firm's Miami office and tapping his campaign's fund-raiser to beef up the guest list. 

Brian Goldmeier, who helped Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez raise a record-breaking $7 million in 2016 and now is signed on with Suarez for the 2017 city mayoral race, recently sent out an invitation to his donor list for a Gray Robinson "Business After Hours" networking event that Suarez is hosting.

"As you may already know, Commissioner Francis Suarez has joined the law firm of Gray Robinson P.A.," Goldmeier wrote in the email to his vast mailing list of donors and would-be donors. "He asked that I send you an invite to a business networking event that he is hosting on Thursday, January 26th from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

"This is not a fundraiser," Goldmeier wrote, "he would just like to bring our friends from the business community together for an event at his new law firm." 

Goldmeier has already helped Suarez, a city commissioner, raise more than $1 million for the 2017 race to succeed outgoing Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, who is barred by city rules from seeking another term. In an interview, Goldmeier said he issued the invite as a favor to Suarez. 

"He asked for me to send it out to my contacts," Goldmeier said. "He's my friend. And, yes, I'm doing the fundraising for his campaign. One has nothing to do with the other." 

Suarez came to Gray Robinson's Miami office in May after focusing on real estate and corporate law at Alvarez & Barbara LLP, according to a firm press release. In an interview, Suarez said the Gray Robinson reception isn't political, and that he tapped Goldmeier to promote it as a way to get the word out to people Suarez knows.

"I think it's very typical when someone joins a firm to have an even to say they're here," Suarez said. "It's just a business event. [Goldmeier] has access to my network of business contacts. It's something he's doing as a favor to me." 

Supreme Court rescinds order blocking death sentences in Florida


Just hours after declaring that the state can't prosecute death penalty cases, the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday rescinded the order, saying it was "prematurely issued."

At 1 p.m., the court took an unusual step in rescinding an order that said Florida's death sentencing laws, ruled unconstitutional in October because they did not require a unanimous jury vote for the death penalty, could not be used to prosecute cases. The court also deleted the earlier order from its website.

The Wednesday morning ruling was vacated because of a "clerical error," said Craig Waters, a spokesman for the court.

EARLIER: Supreme Court: There's no death penalty in Florida right now.

It's not clear what that error is.

However, Public Defender Rex Dimmig, who serves Polk, Highlands and Hardee counties, said the court referenced the wrong statute in its earlier ruling. He does not know for certain why the court rescinded its order, but he says he has one idea:

Instead of writing that death penalty laws in section 921.141 of Florida Statutes was unconstitutional, the court identified section 941.141 -- a statute which does not exist.

"It may have simply been a scrivener's error and they wanted to rescind the order to correct the scrivener’s error," Dimmig said. "It could be that simple it could be something more complicated."

Flanked by Miami congressman, Obama brings healthcare fight to Capitol

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Florida Rep. Frederica Wilson was at President Obama's side Wednesday morning as he arrived on Capitol Hill to strategize with Democrats how to protect the Affordable Care Act.

More Floridians have enrolled in Obamacare than any other state and South Florida is a big driver of that.

But that hasn't stopped criticism of the cost and Donald Trump won the state in November, vowing to "repeal and replace" the law. Gov. Rick Scott has said he wants to play a role in the dismantling, serving as a bridge between Washington and the states.

Vice President-elect Mike Pence was also on the Hill Wednesday to talk with Republicans, who Democrats are counting on struggling to produce an alternative health care delivery system.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Just miles from one another, Republicans and Democrats will pick new leaders


The Republican and Democratic parties in Florida literally won’t be that far apart when both select new leaders next week in the same city and in a hotel run by the same company.

Next Saturday, as Republican activists gather at the Rosen Centre in Orlando to choose among three potential leaders, the state Democratic Party will be meeting about 2 miles away to choose their new leader from a group of five candidates at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort.

On the Republican side, current chairman Blaise Ingoglia, from Hernando County, is fending off challenges from Sarasota Republican Christian Ziegler and Lafayette County Republican Alan Levy. The winner will get a post that pays $115,000 a year.

On the Democratic side, Miami developer Stephen Bittel, Hillsborough activist Alan Clendenin, former state Sen. Dwight Bullard, Duval County's Lisa King and Osceola’s Democratic chair Leah Carius are all battling to replace current chair Allison Tant. The position pays $100,000 a year.

Republicans set their date first. State Democrats said the tried to find a different date so they would not be on the same day, but ultimately Jan. 14 was the best date to work with.

Jeb Bush to give speech in Texas same night as Obama's farewell address

GOP 2016 Bush


Former Gov. Jeb Bush will give a speech at Texas A&M University on Jan. 10th -- the same night that President Barack Obama gives his farewell address.

The George Bush Presidential Library Foundation at the university will host the 6 p.m. event.

Bush will also teach a 10-day course on gubernatorial leadership at the university starting Jan. 6th.

(Associated Press phot of Bush taking questions from reporters following a town hall-style meeting at La Progresiva Presbyterian School in Little Havana in 2015.)

Two Florida Board of Education seats vacant as next meeting approaches

via @TB_Times' @JeffSolochek

The seven-person Florida Board of Education heads toward its Jan. 17 meeting with two open seats and no announced time line from the Governor's Office to fill them.

Board member John Padget, a Keys businessman and onetime Monroe superintendent, was forced to step down in December after having served two full terms. He cannot be reappointed.

Board member Michael Olenick, a former Department of Education general counsel, could be considered for another stint on the board. He spent only two years in the seat, filling the unexpired term of Miami-Dade physician Ada Armas, who resigned after two years.

"Anyone is welcome to apply and can find more information at," Governor's Office spokeswoman Lauren Schenone said via email.

So far, Schenone wrote, six people have submitted applications for the positions. They include two former Republican candidates for public office and a college administrator.

Florida law professors take part in national effort to block Sessions as attorney general

via @learyreports

More than 30 law professors in Florida have joined a national effort opposing Sen. Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, contending racial issues make him unqualified to lead the Justice Department.

“We are 1140 faculty members from 171 different law schools in 49 states across the country. We urge you to reject the nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General of the United States,” reads a letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“In 1986, the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, in a bipartisan vote, rejected President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of then-U.S. Attorney Sessions for a federal judgeship, due to statements Sessions had made that reflected prejudice against African Americans. Nothing in Senator Sessions’ public life since 1986 has convinced us that he is a different man than the 39-year-old attorney who was deemed too racially insensitive to be a federal district court judge.”

“Some of us have concerns about his misguided prosecution of three civil rights activists for voter fraud in Alabama in 1985, and his consistent promotion of the myth of voter-impersonation fraud. Some of us have concerns about his support for building a wall along our country’s southern border. Some of us have concerns about his robust support for regressive drug policies that have fueled mass incarceration. Some of us have concerns about his questioning of the relationship between fossil fuels and climate change. Some of us have concerns about his repeated opposition to legislative efforts to promote the rights of women and members of the LGBTQ community. Some of us share all of these concerns.

"All of us believe it is unacceptable for someone with Senator Sessions’ record to lead the Department of Justice."

That said, the Alabama Republican is expected to make it through confirmation. A hearing is set for next week.

"Many African-American leaders who've known him for decades attest to this and have welcomed his nomination to be the next Attorney General," a Sessions spokeswoman said Tuesday after the NAACP staged a sit-in at his Alabama office. “These false portrayals of Senator Sessions will fail as tired, recycled, hyperbolic charges that have been thoroughly rebuked and discredited.”

The Florida professors:

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Supreme Court: There's no death penalty in Florida right now


UPDATE: At 1 p.m., the Florida Supreme Court vacated its earlier ruling, writing that it was issued "prematurely." Read more here.

EARLIER STORY: The state Supreme Court made clear Wednesday that there is no law on the books in Florida allowing prosecutors to seek the death penalty in murder cases.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court rejected a request by Attorney General Pam Bondi to clarify an October decision that said juries must make a unanimous vote to sentence someone to death. It threw out a law passed last spring that required a 10-2 supermajority by the jury.

"The act’s 10-2 recommendation requirement renders the act unconstitutional," the justices in the majority wrote. "Thus, the act 'cannot be applied to pending prosecutions.' "

In a statement, a Bondi spokesman said her office is "reviewing" the order.

Now, it will be up to the Legislature to pass a new death penalty law calling for a unanimous jury vote. It's a priority, state Rep. Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, a former prosecutor who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times/Herald last month.

"We have to act," Sprowls said. "By the time we conclude our business, we have to have a death penalty statute that can be relied upon and that's legal, so that victims have access to justice."

Two justices, Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, dissented, saying that the court ought to issue a clarification on its ruling to end "confusion and paralysis across the state regarding the death penalty and capital trials" and that they did not believe the state's death penalty statute was unconstitutional.

Bondi said in October after the court ruled the death penalty laws unconstitutional that she believed courts could move forward with capital cases under a higher, unanimous jury standard. In one case, she said, a Marion County judge "erred" by putting sentencing on hold in a double-murder case.

"That's why we are asking the Supreme Court to clarify," Bondi said in October. "To state the obvious: that the death penalty must be unanimous."