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October 14, 2016

Morgan Freeman's voice stars in new Clinton ad geared at black voters

via @learyreports

Actor Morgan Freeman’s distinctive voice is used in a new Hillary Clinton TV ad aimed at African-American voters in Florida and other key states, part of an effort to motivate an essential voting bloc for Democrats.

“What does showing up when it’s time to vote actually mean? You care about protecting his legacy and our progress,” Freeman says as an image of Barack Obama and his family is shown as well as the Obamas helping lead a civil rights march.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Advocates, officials react to Supreme Court's death penalty ruling

@MichaelAuslen and @MaryEllenKlas

Friday morning, the Florida Supreme Court struck down the state's death penalty sentencing law, declaring that all death sentences should be decided by a unanimous jury.

"I am profoundly disappointed by today’s Florida Supreme Court opinion that found a component of our death penalty law unconstitutional. ... Make no mistake, those impacted most by this miscarriage of justice are the families as they watch the perpetrators of some of the most heinous and vicious murders and tortures continue to live the days their loved one were denied," said Florida House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran in a statement. "This decision is indicative of a Court that comes to a conclusion, then seeks a judicial pathway, however tortured, to achieve its desired result.  That is antithetical to the rule of law and dangerous for our state."

Spokespeople for Gov. Rick Scott Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and President-designate Joe Negron said they were reviewing the court's ruling.

So did Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. "We are reviewing the Florida Supreme Court ruling, but in the meantime Florida juries must make unanimous decisions in capital cases as to the appropriateness of the death penalty," said spokesman Whitney Ray in a statement.

Here's how advocates and elected officials responded in the hours following the court's ruling:

"It was a pretty simple question. We either found a compromise or nothing happened and doing nothing was not a reasonable outcome," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, who also said he was not surprised by the court's ruling. “If we had done nothing then there would not have been a law that the Supreme Court of Florida could pass judgment on. Now we have direction and so we needed to act at the past session in order to end the delays in the death penalty system.”

"I supported unanimous juries in the past and I think it’s probably the right decision," said Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. "This is just really a trend of what supreme courts have been doing around the country on this issue."

"We enforce the laws, the Legislature writes the laws and the Supreme Court interprets the laws," said Buddy Jacobs, general counsel of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, which opposed unanimous juries. "So we will be talking and meeting on Monday to try to come up with some sort of road map of where we go from here based on this opinion."

"For years, we have warned the Florida legislature that unless they rewrote our state’s broken death penalty, the courts would take the issue out of their hands," saidHoward Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, in a statement. "Just as we warned the Florida Legislature that they would, the Florida Supreme Court has inserted some much-needed fairness in our death penalty process by declaring that anything short of a fully unanimous jury is unconstitutional."

“Today’s opinions released by the Florida Supreme Court continue to reveal a broken, mistake-prone death penalty system that fails victims’ families, the innocent, and taxpayers. It is time to end the use of Florida’s failed death penalty government program," said Mark Elliott, executive director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, in a statement. "For more than a decade, prosecutors have known full well that Florida’s death sentencing scheme was seriously flawed and could be unconstitutional, yet they downplayed concerns and advised against reforms. Victims’ families were dragged through long, repetitive, and painful procedures, record numbers of innocent people were sentenced to death, and Florida taxpayers paid the enormous costs."

"Florida finally joins the rest of the states in requiring what everyone has known for a long time -- that at least, the imposition of the death penalty requires a unanimous verdict," said Miami defense lawyer Philip Reizenstein, who handles death cases. "What remains is for Florida to join the rest of the civilized world and end the death penalty."

“The Florida Supreme Court’s ruling that jury recommendations for the death penalty must be unanimous is a long overdue recognition of the state’s fatally flawed capital punishment regime," said Professor Mary Anne Franks of the University of Miami School of Law in a statement circulated by the Fair Punishment Project. "The prosecutors who relentlessly pursued death sentences despite being repeatedly placed on notice that the state’s death penalty regime was constitutionally defective should be held accountable for the emotional and financial costs they have imposed on victims’ families and on taxpayers.”

We'll keep updating as reactions come in.

With reporting by Tampa Bay Times staff writer Laura Morel and Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle.

Mail-in ballot signature case highlights 'crazy quilt' of Florida voting laws


This presidential election may be national, but questions of how people vote and whose ballots are deemed valid are decided by a hodgepodge of local officials in each of Florida's 67 counties.

"Our election laws are a crazy quilt ... of differences and no uniformity," said Ion Sancho, supervisor of elections for Leon County.

It's a phrase he borrowed from Mark Walker, the U.S. District Court judge in Tallahassee overseeing a lawsuit brought by Democrats who want courts to give more protection to mail-in voters whose signatures on file with local election supervisors don't match those on their ballots.

At a two-hour hearing Friday, Walker questioned Sancho, who is retiring this year after more than 25 years as supervisor, on the particulars of voting in Florida voting. How does mail voting work in Leon County? In the rest of Florida? What exact steps do election officials take to make sure every vote is counted?

And more to the point: How do counties decide that a voter's signature doesn't match what's on file, and what happens next?

In Leon County, signatures on mail ballot envelopes are verified electronically, Sancho said, and almost all of them are deemed acceptable. A few get passed on to elections staff, and some of those are handed to the county canvassing board to make an official determination about whether they match the signature in the voter file.

But this process may look different elsewhere in the state.

"Rural jurisdications, you would not need to have this kind of mechanized approach to the signatures," Sancho said.

Only the canvassing board -- made up of a judge, a county commissioner not up for re-election and the supervisor of elections -- can decide to throw out ballots where signatures don't match what's in the record, but once they do, there is no legal way to fix it.

And because each county has its own canvassing board, they each could have their own standards. That can wreak havoc for voters whose signatures change from when they first register, a common occurrence, says Sancho, especially when people register at age 18.

A missing signature, meanwhile, can be fixed with an affidavit that supervisors mail to voters.

That's what Democrats sued over.

Walker is under a tight deadline with voting ending Nov. 8. He scheduled a hearing for Monday morning but gave no hints as to how he feels about the case.

He did say that after hearing the arguments, he was worried about mail voting, something he has never done.

Posing a hypthothetical, Walker said, "If I mail in my ballot, which in light of this testimony, I don't know why I would..."

Obama to campaign for Hillary Clinton Oct. 20



President Barack Obama will campaign for Hillary Clinton in South Florida Thursday one day after her final debate with Donald Trump, according to Clinton's campaign.

In addition to the political event, Obama will give a speech about the Affordable Care Act at Miami Dade College. He had initially planned to deliver those remark in Tampa, but the appearance was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew. 

The Clinton campaign has not yet announced the location of the rally for Clinton. The storm had also forced Obama to postpone a rally earlier this month at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

Obama will appear days before voters in Miami-Dade and Broward counties start casting ballots at early voting sites Oct. 24. Voting by mail is already underway.

The public can RSVP to the Clinton rally here.


Major GOP LBGT group backs South Florida lawmakers



Log Cabin Republicans on Friday endorsed Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Carlos Curbelo in their re-election races, along with five other incumbent lawmakers from across the country.

The advocacy group, which believes that equality for LBGT people is in the best traditions of the Republican Party, said the seven newly endorsed representatives "have been steadfast allies of LBGT freedom" in the House of Representatives.

"All of these common-sense conservatives have not only spoken out in support of equality, but also cast votes in the 114th Congress that confirm their commitment to the cause," Gregory T. Angelo, head of Log Cabin Republicans, said.

Ros-Lehtinen, running for her 15th term against Miami small business owner Scott Furhman, expressed gratitude for the endorsement.

"I will continue to promote inclusiveness and ensure the fair and equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender," she said.

Curbelo is running for his second House term against Joe Garcia, the former congressman he defeated two years ago.

"In Congress, I have been proud to stand up for equality," Curbelo said. "I am honored to have the support of Republicans who understand that equality can never be a partisan issue."

For more information about Log Cabin Republicans, read here.

Photo credit: Hector Gabino, El Nuevo Herald



Rubio slams latest Cuba policy changes

via @learyreports

Marco Rubio continues to watch President Obama peel back decades of policy toward Cuba and today blasted new executive actions that will allow travelers to bring back as much Cuban run and cigars as they want (for personal use) and promotes more medical research, among other changes.


"The Obama Administration is making more concessions to the Castro regime, and the United States is getting nothing in return,” Rubio said. “Cash makes the Castro regime's grip on power stronger, its repression harsher and its exportation of misery throughout the hemisphere, especially Venezuela, easier‎. The Obama Administration, in collusion with American companies, is now responsible for essentially bankrolling a communist dictatorship which works each day to undermine America's security and national interests. By encouraging U.S. companies to do business with Cuban military-owned entities, the Obama Administration is giving them an open invitation to violate existing U.S. law.”

The sweeping changes toward Cuba come as politics at home have shifted as well. Hard line Cuban Americans are being replaced with a younger generation that is supportive of change and is voting more Democratic. That increasingly isolates Rubio, 45, whose outrage hasn’t resonated on Capitol Hill.

"After two years of President Obama's Cuba policy, the Castro regime has made out like bandits and received numerous concessions from the U.S. without lifting a finger to return the fugitives it is harboring from American justice, pay Americans for their stolen property, or allow the Cuban people to exercise their God-given freedoms. Today's announcement reaffirms the fact that President Obama's Cuba policy puts the Castro regime's interests first, profits ahead of America's national security, and the Cuban people's rights and dignity dead last."

Obama: "Challenges remain – and very real differences between our governments persist on issues of democracy and human rights – but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values. The progress of the last two years, bolstered by today's action, should remind the world of what's possible when we look to the future together."

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

Court invalidates Florida's death penalty law -- requires a unanimous jury verdict

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that Florida’s revamped death penalty law was unconstitutional, declaring that death sentences must be determined by a unanimous jury and triggering the potential re-sentencing of hundreds of inmates on death row.

In a 5-2 ruling, the court ordered Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature to try again to rewrite the law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in January which allowed for 10 members of a 12-member jury to impose a death sentence. The court went beyond imposing a unanimous jury, it also raised the bar in capital cases by declaring that juries, not judges, must unanimously agree on all components of the evidence relating to the death sentence.

“We...hold, based on Florida’s requirement for unanimity in jury verdicts, and under the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution, that in order for the trial court to impose a sentence of death, the jury’s recommended sentence of death must be unanimous,” the court majority wrote. Justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston dissented, saying the court did not have the authority to reject the law.

The immediate effect of the ruling is that more than 40 inmates who have not completed their death penalty review must be given a new sentencing trial, any capital cases pending in Florida must be decided by a unanimous jury for the first time since the death penalty was restored in Florida in 1972, and the 385 inmates now on death row have a new legal avenue to seek another sentencing trial.

“Today’s decisions will mean that all defendants on Florida’s death row whose cases are pending on direct appeal will be entitled to new sentencing hearings unless the state can prove its heavy burden of showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the error in their cases would not have affected the jury verdicts in capital sentencing,’’ said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which joined in the case.

Stephen Harper, of the Florida Center for Capital Representation at the Florida International School of Law, said the ruling “will clearly limit the number of cases in which prosecutors seek death because the burden of proof is harder and stronger.”

This is the second time this year that Florida’s death penalty law has been held unconstitutional. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated the state’s death penalty law that allowed a judge to overrule a jury verdict and impose a death sentence. The court said that in that case, known as Hurst v. Florida, that Florida’s system was a violation of a defendant’s right to a jury trial.

Florida lawmakers responded by rewriting the state law, replacing the judge’s override and requiring a 10-12 vote of a jury to send someone to death. The law required that juries in future capital cases must agree unanimously and in writing on the aggravating factors before imposing a death sentence.

Continue reading "Court invalidates Florida's death penalty law -- requires a unanimous jury verdict " »

Twitter outreach by Miami-Dade Schools Police takes unexpected turn


The Miami-Dade Schools Police Department usually tweets about public safety concerns, outreach efforts and district meetings.

But over the last few weeks, the department’s Twitter account has featured a few entries of a different sort.

On Wednesday, the @MiamiSchoolsPD account retweeted a message from Donald Trump calling for a reversal of President Obama’s Cuba policies.

A few weeks earlier, the schools police account retweeted a GIF of sloshing beer mugs promoting “Happy #NationalDrinkBeerDay” and a Miami New Times article asking if marijuana oil was the new female Viagra.

Miami-Dade Schools police spokesman Lt. Raul Correa was surprised to learn about the tweets, which he had not seen before the Herald brought them to his attention. He said he wasn’t sure who had posted the off-topic tweets but he had a good idea how it happened. 

In an effort to attract more Twitter followers, Correa said he had given the account password to half a dozen people in the department so they could all pitch in to keep it active. He wanted to make sure the schools police had a lot of Twitter followers so they could reach parents and students when they needed to.

He said he had not expected the staff to take the new freedom so liberally.

“I'm going to limit the access now,” Correa said, vowing to change the Twitter account password as soon as he got off the phone. 


How Trump sold Miami condos to foreigners

The visionaries

via @NickNehamas

Donald Trump built his presidential candidacy disparaging foreigners, describing Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” comparing Syrians refugees to a “Trojan horse” and promising to build a “great wall” on the southern border.

But in South Florida, Trump helped local developers sell condos to buyers from Latin America and Russia, including people allegedly involved in corruption and wrongdoing, as well as to dozens of anonymous offshore companies.

In 2004, Trump signed a licensing deal for an 813-unit condo project called Trump Towers in the city of Sunny Isles Beach. The Apprentice star’s gold-plated name was used to market the units to wealthy foreigners.

The Miami Herald found that at least 13 Trump Towers buyers have been the subject of government investigations, either personally or through their companies. They include members of a Russian-American organized crime group, a Venezuelan oilman convicted in a bribery scheme and a Mexican banker accused of robbing investors of their life savings.

Nothing Trump and his partners did was illegal, although they profited from a South Florida real estate market that regulators and former law enforcement officials believe is tainted by dirty cash. That’s because lobbying has left real estate unregulated compared to many other industries where money laundering abounds. The purchases highlighted by the Herald show how easily illicit funds from around the world can worm their way into local real estate.

More here.

Extra! Extra! Miami’s Trump video archive is … meh

via @abscribe @Marbinius @glenngarvin

We’ve got it! Secret stuff on Donald Trump from the video archives! Everything from how to get rich quick (buy a copy of his book The Art Of The Deal for $19.95, get him to autograph it, then flip it quick: “I tell you, these books sell, when signed, on the open market for $500 a book!”) to the quickest way to finance your acquisition of an airline. (“When other people couldn’t get financing, all we have to do is call up Citibank — they give it to us in 15 seconds!”)

Scandal? Not so much. Though the discovery last week of a tape of Trump’s vulgar talk about women on the set of an entertainment-news TV show has sent reporters scrambling through video archives across the country, so far they’ve come up empty.

“What we’ve got might be considered interesting by some people, but it’s not really scandalous,” said Rene Ramos, director of the Wolfson Florida Moving Image Archives at Miami Dade College, which houses about 35,000 hours of old TV news video from around the state.

Trump’s longtime presence in South Florida as a real estate mogul, golf impresario, beauty-pageant host and occasional resident make the Wolfson archives’ TV collection a prime hunting ground for reporters in search of hot-mic gaffes like the one that made headlines last week.

But what Miami Herald reporters who spent a couple of hours rummaging through the Wolfson collection found was mostly routine and only occasionally reached the level of eccentric. Even that remark about selling his book for $500 isn’t as braggadocious as you might guess — a quick look at the Internet shows autographed first-edition copies of The Art Of The Deal selling for as much as $1,860.

More here.