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191 posts from May 2014

May 28, 2014

Bainter now asks the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the release of docs by Florida's court

Not so fast. The ball has some bounce left. GOP political consultant Pat Bainter has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the order by the Florida Supreme Court over the release of documents in the ongoing redistricting trial.

Florida's high court ruled 5-2 late Tuesday that 538 pages of emails, maps and planning documents of Bainter and his Gainesville-based political consulting firm must be allowed into the record – but only if the courtroom is closed. The ruling came even before a written opinion had been completed by the First District Court of Appeal and Bainter claims the forced disclosure of what he considers "trade secrets" will have a chilling effect on his First Amendment rights. 

On Wednesday, Bainter's attorney appeared in trial court and asked that the testimony of Bainter, and GOP political consultant Rich Heffley, wait until next week to give the federal court time to rule. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said no. The Florida Supreme Court's ruling will hold, he said, until he is told to do otherwise. 

"If it's not relevant, it’s not admitted,'' Lewis told Kent Safriet, Bainter's attorney. "…Your interest in not having it admitted is not the same as whether something is relevant or not. If somebody doesn't object, they obviously think it's relevant. Whether you think it's relevant or your client thinks it's relevant is not the issue."

Safriet argued in 31-page appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that disclosing the documents will violate Bainter's First Amendment rights and force him to disclose trade secrets. The information he wants kept from disclosure includes "names, contact information, and internal deliberations" of Bainter and his team as well as their employees, clients, and "other like-minded individuals regarding the redistricting process." Other documents include "data, analysis, and impressions crucial to [Data Targeting's] business as political consultants" as well as "grassroots members" and insight into his direct mail capabilities.

He argued that disclosure would harm Bainter's financial interests because competitors could "pick off" clients and cause irreparable harm. He also suggested that Bainter may be not answer "questions related to these privileged nad confidential materials" and could therefore be held in contempt of court.

"Disclosure of the privileged and confidential documents at trial (regardless of whether the proceedings are temporarily sealed) would chill the Applicants’ ability (along with that of other concerned citizens) to organize and participate with others in an effort to petition their government generally, and participate in Florida’s decennial redistricting process specifically,'' Safriet wrote in the emergency request. 

The emergency appeal to the nation's highest court continues what has been nearly two-years of legal battles over the documents held by Bainter, the owner of Data Targeting, a GOP political consulting firm. His lawyers say that he and his partners, Matt Mitchell and Michael Sheehan "are caught in the crossfire through non-party subpoenas and discovery."

The plaintiffs allege that Bainter and his partners conspired with GOP consultants and legislative staff to create a "shadow" redistricting process that attempted to protect incumbents and Republican candidates in violation of the Fair District amendments to the state constitution.

Bainter, whose legal bills are being paid by the Republican Party of Florida, argues that the U.S. Supreme Court should issue an emergency stay "to keep the proverbial cat in the bag" and to preserve his ability to later petition this court if it wants to appeal any ruling out of Florida.

"The Applicants are simply political consultants,'' Bainter's lawyers write. "They align with the Republican Party and conservative causes, and as a result are thus vilified by the Democratic-Respondents. But this does not mean that the Non-Parties conspired to violate the law as Respondents suggest."

Background here. 

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Scott sues feds for denying access to VA hospitals

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he's suing the federal government over the refusal of the Veterans Administration to allow state inspectors to visit VA hospitals. A release from the governor's office said the complaint will be filed in U.S. District Court against VA Secretary Eric Shinseki in an attempt to secure access to VA hospitals by the state Agency for Health Care Administration.

Scott's statement cited reports of deaths, neglect, poor conditions and a secret waiting list at federal VA hospitals in Florida, which he called "unacceptable." He said the lawsuit is necessary to stop the VA's "practice of stonewalling our inspectors."


Scott's blind trust OK for now as judge defers action

Critics of a law that allows elected officials to put their assets in blind trusts got some bad news Wednesday.

A circuit judge who was handed the case from the Florida Supreme Court said he saw no need to rule quickly and set a hearing date for June 19, after the start of the week-long qualifying period when candidates must disclose their finances. The only candidate currently affected by the case is Gov. Rick Scott, who put his assets in a qualified blind trust in 2011 with the approval of the Commission on Ethics.

"I actually do read the newspapers, and apparently there's only one candidate this would affect," Circuit Judge John Cooper said during a case management conference.

Cooper said he can't decide the case by the June 16th start of the qualifying period, which means Scott can qualify as a candidate for re-election on the fall ballot with his blind trust intact. The judge's comments were consistent with what an attorney for Secretary of State Ken Detzner also said in court.

"This is not an emergency," Assistant Attorney General Allen Winsor said. "This is not a new statute, and this is not a new issue."

The lawsuit was brought by Jim Apthorp, who as chief of staff to the late Gov. Reubin Askew helped obtain statewide voter approval of the 1976 "Sunshine Amendment" that requires elected officials to disclose their finances. Apthorp, a Democrat, said the Legislature's 2013 blind trust law violates that constitutional principle. Legislative leaders have called Apthorp's lawsuit a "cynical election year ploy" for partisan political gain. 

Judge Cooper also raised the possibility that because Apthorp's lawsuit challenges part of the ethics code, the Commission on Ethics might have to be added as a defendant in the case.

UDPATED Group of prominent architects, urban planners opposes David Beckham's Miami MLS stadium plan


Prominent architects and urban planners who worked with former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz's administration have joined the opposition to building David Beckham's Major League Soccer stadium on the downtown waterfront.

In a statement Wednesday, the five people -- including the person who created Museum Park's master plan -- said city commissioners should reject filling the Florida East Coast Railway slip to build a stadium. Diaz, who was mayor when the city approved unpopular public financing for the Miami Marlins' Little Havana ballpark, came out against the idea last week.

"It is not in harmony with the vision of Miami as a world class city with parks and open areas available for all, for generations to come," the statement says. "We must protect the legacy envisioned by the people of Miami."

The statement was signed by Alexander Cooper, the master plan creator; Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, the former University of Miami School of Architecture dean who helped write the city's Miami 21 zoning code; Victor Dover, who worked on the Museum Park charrettes and Southeast Overtown/Park West CRA plans; David Dixon, who helped draft the city's parks and open space master plan; and Ana Gelabert-Sánchez, the city's former planning director under Diaz.

The architects and planners note that a lengthy public process went into designing Museum Park specifically to keep out a baseball stadium, at the time discussed for the Marlins. "Allowing a private venture to take over the last remaining waterfront site in Downtown Miami for use as a stadium reduces quality open space, obstructs public views of the waterfront and disrupts waterfront recreational uses," the statement says.

Beckham's soccer proposal, suggested by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, would require filling the FEC and encroaching on a portion of Museum Park. The newly filled water basin would create additional waterfront park land and connect Museum Park to the property behind AmericanAirlines Arena known as Parcel B, which has long been promised as a park but has never been opened to the public.

4:06 p.m. update: Beckham's real-estate adviser, John Alschuler, responded Wednesday afternoon with a statement calling the opposition from Diaz and the others "disappointing" and noting Diaz's support of Marlins Park, which was approved without a public referendum. A stadium on the slip would be subject to city voters, Miami leaders have said.

"A new soccer park in downtown will appeal to Miami's diverse community, bring the world's greatest game to one of its greatest cities, and create jobs and opportunities for local businesses," Alschuler said.

"It’s disappointing that former Mayor Diaz and his supporters are choosing a disconnected waterfront over a continuous bay walk; a polluted, man-made mega yacht marina over more green space for the public; and a lifeless waterfront over an iconic soccer venue that draws residents and visitors to a downtown that they have worked so long to improve."

Read the full statements after the jump.

Continue reading "UDPATED Group of prominent architects, urban planners opposes David Beckham's Miami MLS stadium plan" »

May 27, 2014

Court opens the door to a new jai alai/poker room -- maybe casino -- in Miami Dade

Florida City could be home to Miami Dade’s next poker room and, with time, slot machines, under a loophole in the law affirmed Tuesday by a state appeals court.

The decision by the First District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee overruled state regulators and said that Magic City’s parent company, West Flagler Associates, is eligible to obtain a summer jai alai permit that could also open the door to expanded gambling.

Because of a loophole in state law, West Flagler is required to obtain the jai alai permit then operate a single jai alai game to be eligible for a poker room. After two years, it could become eligible for a slot machine license in Miami Dade County.

Isadore Havenick, West Flagler owner and vice president, said the company has an option to buy a piece of property in Florida City and, if the division grants the summer jai alai permit as expected, the company plans to build a poker room and jai alai fronton near Homestead there.

As for building a new casino, "we honestly haven’t thought that far in advance,’’ Havenick told the Herald/Times. "Now, it’s a poker room and a jai alai fronton and, hopefully, we'll be allowed to build that if the division allows us."

West Flagler Associates received a summer jai alai permit in 2011 after the company’s attorney, John Lockwood, uncovered a never-used loophole in a 30-year-old pari-mutuel law. The law allows a summer permit to be awarded to the lowest-performing pari-mutuel in a county. Hialeah Park had the lowest racing handle of the county’s pari-mutuels in the 2011-2012 fiscal year but it declined the option for the permit, so West Flagler became the next one eligible.

The company applied for a second permit in 2012, but the Department of Business and Professional Regulation ruled that company was eligible for only one permit every two years. West Flagler Associates said the law was intended to be a rolling two-year period and the same rule should apply in 2012 as applied in 2011. The DCA upheld that argument.  Download DCA reversal of Flagler denial

"The statute plainly provides that the permitholder with the lowest handle for ‘the 2 consecutive years next prior to filing an application’ may apply for a summer jai alai permit, and, if it declines to do so, a ‘new permit’ is made available," Judge Scott Makar wrote in the 3-0 ruling. DCA Judges Brad Thomas and Simone Marstiller concurred.

The permit comes loaded with advantages that legislators never imagined in 1980, when the law was written. It opens the door for a jai-alai fronton and poker room anywhere in Miami-Dade County. It also increases the odds of operating a new slot casino as a result of a a 2009 law that allowed Hialeah Park Racetrack to operate slots after Miami-Dade voters authorized them for three other pari-mutuels in the county.

The court said state regulators were concerned that this interpretation of the law "would lead to a proliferation of summer jai alai permits,’’ but, the court noted, it’s the Legislature’s job to close the loophole if it doesn’t like the way the law is written. "We cannot interpret the language of the existing statute to achieve this result," Makar wrote.

Florida’s loophole-laden gambling laws have allowed for the gradual proliferation of gambling expansion in recent years as creative lawyers for the industry have found convinced regulators and courts to permit new games.

Legislators discussed ways to close the loopholes and update the state’s gaming laws for the past year but, after spending $400,000 on a consultants study, legislators finished the session that ended May 2 without many any changes to the state’s pari-mutuel laws.

Supreme Court requires GOP consultant Bainter to release redistricting docs in trial

The ping pong over secret redistricting documents ended Tuesday as the Florida Supreme Court ruled that 538 pages of emails, maps and planning documents of a GOP political operative must be allowed into the record in the ongoing redistricting trial – but only if the courtroom is closed.

The 5-2 ruling by the state’s high court was a victory for the voters groups who are challenging the congressional maps drawn by the Legislature and alleging that a “shadow” redistricting process was conducted by political consultants and operatives in an attempt to unconstitutionally influence the legislature’s drawing of the 2012 maps.

But the ruling was also a triumph for Pat Bainter, and his company Data Targeting, who sought to have shield his confidential conversations from the public. Trial court Judge Terry Lewis had ruled that Bainter’s documents could remain confidential unless they were entered as evidence in the trial but the First District Court of Appeal reversed that decision and ordered the documents to remain sealed. 

The plaintiffs in the case, led by the League of Women voters, asked the high court for an expedited review and argued, in briefs that were kept under seal, that the documents should be opened and allowed in court.

Because the case is ongoing and the justices have not had time to determine whether the documents should be allowed in public, the justices ordered Lewis to “maintain the confidentiality of the documents by permitting any disclosure or use only under seal of the court and in a courtroom closed to the public.''

The ruling protects Bainter in the event any documents are deemed “trade secrets” as his lawyers argue but also allows the trial to continue. The trial is in its second week and faces a tight deadline of next Wednesday for completion.

The First Amendment Foundation and some news organizations are reviewing the ruling to decide whether they will take a position on the issue.

"This litigation is unique because it impacts the statewide operation of government and the validity of Florida’s current system of government through the alleged unconstitutionality of the 2012 apportionment plan,'' the majority wrote in the opinion signed by Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry. Download Sc14-987

Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred with an opinion. Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady dissented, with an opinion.

The high court decision came even before the appeals court released its written opinion. The court had ordered the documents sealed late in the day on Thursday but was expected to make its findings and determine the rule of law in a written opinion that has not yet been issued.

Polston blasted that order of events as “truly unprecedented” and chastised the majority as “simply guessing at what the First District’s opinion will state as the basis for its ruling in order to engage in the active trial management.” 

He also accused the court of unconstitutionally pre-empting the appellate court.

 “In short, this Court has predetermined appellate error and awarded the petitioners full relief in the trial court by requiring admission of evidence,’’ Polston wrote.

Polston also noted that "Florida’s constitution does not grant this Court the jurisdiction to generally weigh in on evidentiary rulings and discovery disputes in ongoing civil trials." 

The majority noted that the "statewide importance" of the litigation and the "lack of Florida precedent" regarding the secret documents, made it likely that that the appellate court would have referred the issue to the high court.  

"In order to maintain the status quo during the ongoing trial, preserve this Court’s ability to completely exercise the eventual jurisdiction it is likely to have to review the First District’s decision, and prevent any irreparable harm that might occur if the Petitioners are prevented from using the challenged documents, we conclude that we must grant the petition and stay the enforcement of the First District’s reversal of the circuit court, pending the completion of the trial,'' the court concluded.

The ruling will create some challenges for Lewis, who has allowed the trial to be broadcast daily on public broadcasting’s The Florida Channel.

Lewis was told of the ruling and the potential for a closed courtroom at the end of the redistricting hearing on Tuesday. “I wasn't about to close it without someone telling me," he said.



Scientists disagree with Rubio's claim that surface temperatures "have stabilized"

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has beenattracting a lot of attention recently for expressing skepticism about how much humans contribute to global warming and what policy approaches the United States should take.

During a May 20, 2014, interview, Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly asked Rubio, "Now, you said (a) flat-out bold and fresh statement that you don't believe the scientists on global warming. Are you going up against these people?"

Rubio responded, "No, here's the point. First of all, I have never denied the climate is changing. That shouldn't surprise us. The climate is always changing. The second point on the science is, the left loves to go around saying there is a consensus, there is a consensus. There is a majority of scientists that say that global carbon emissions by humans causes some changes in the climate. What there is no consensus on and (what) they conveniently ignore is there is no consensus on the sensitivity of the climate. How much is it changing and how much of it is directly attributable to human carbon emission? There is no consensus on that, which is why the models vary so greatly, which is why, despite 17 years of dramatic increases in carbon production by humans, surface temperatures (on) the earth have stabilized."

We wondered whether Rubio was accurate when he said that surface temperatures on Earth "have stabilized."

Read PolitiFact for the full fact-check by Louis Jacobson.

Scott in Oakland Park: "I'm not a scientist"

Gov. Rick Scott took his campaign pitch about small businesses to Las Vegas Cuban Cuisine restaurant in Oakland Park this afternoon.

Scott, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera and other Republican leaders repeated familiar lines about how Florida’s economy and employment fared under Scott compared to rival Charlie Crist.

Here are some very similar claims that have previously been fact-checked by PolitiFact Florida:

* Scott’s claim that he cut taxes 40 times

* Jobs lost and rising unemployment under Crist

* Job growth under Scott

There was also a mention of Broward County’s 5 percent unemployment rate.

During the press gaggle after the event -- where a big sweaty crowd jammed into a stiflingly small spot -- Scott was asked about whether he believes in climate change.

Question by SharkTank blog: “Gov. Scott it's very hot in here. Does that have anything to do with global warming considering Charlie Crist’s position is that global warming exists. What is your take on global warming or climate change.”

Scott: “I’m not a scientist but we are going to make sure we take care of our environment.” Scott then talked about funding for the coasts, Everglades and springs but didn’t address climate change.

He faced similar questions about climate change at an event in Hialeah earlier in the day.


Miami commissioner fears City Hall is getting ahead of David Beckham stadium talks before they begin


Major League Soccer was on the mind of Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo when he received draft legislation Friday dealing with the deep-water boat slip that David Beckham would like to fill to build a potential downtown stadium.

The proposed resolution would transfer maintenance and operations of the water basin known as the Florida East Coast Railway slip to the city from the Bayfront Park Management Trust, a Miami agency Carollo chairs. Language in the resolution claims the management trust, which has run the slip on a supposedly temporary basis since 2006, "wishes" to return the property's control to the city. The trust has never discussed such a thing, according to Carollo.

To the commissioner, it sounded like City Hall was getting ahead of any discussions with Beckham and his investors, who said last week that the FEC slip is now their top stadium location.

"It sort of smells," Carollo said after the trust meeting, which drew a few television news crews. "If we're really having an open, transparent process, we should know about something like this."

That's not to say the trust wouldn't be willing to turn over slip control to the city in the event that Miami does work out a deal with Beckham, which would likely involve conveying the stadium footprint -- now owned by the city -- to the county. "But I don't think we're there yet," Carollo said.

Mayor Tomás Regalado said the resolution has been in the works for months and is unrelated to the stadium: "This has nothing to do with that," he said.

City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the administration, through the public facilities department, requested the legislation before the stadium frenzy began, as part of a long-discussed idea by Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who represents downtown, to create a conservancy to manage neighboring Museum Park (and, perhaps, the FEC slip). Sarnoff said conservancy plans have not moved forward, and he is not familiar with the resolution: "I've had zero to do with this."

Either way, Alfonso said no one in his office or several other departments that must approve resolutions had signed off. And since neither the conservancy nor the stadium are ripe ideas yet, the legislation won't be on the commission's June agenda as proposed, he said.

For Beckham and his group, though, Tuesday's scuffle is an indicator of how talks with the city are likely to go: Every move will be scrutinized. And it won't just be Regalado who will be involved -- commissioners will want a say, too. 

This post has been updated with comments from Mayor Regalado and Commissioner Sarnoff.

North Miami councilman creates petition calling for end to 'corruption'


As North Miami prepares to replace its suspended mayor, Lucie Tondreau, Councilman Scott Galvin is hoping to drum up support for an end to "corruption" in the city's government.

Galvin started a petition Tuesday calling for an end to public corruption and demanding that the candidates in upcoming special election be held accountable. And that, in the future, city employees also be called to task because, "their complicity with the inappropriate directions of elected officials so often allow these things to happen," the petition says.

"I see this as an opportunity to give people some hope that the city will be okay," Galvin said.

So far more than 150 people have digitally signed the petition, including former North Miami Mayor Kevin Burns and Babacar M'Bow, the city-appointed director of the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Galvin said he doesn't have a set number of signatures he wants to reach, saying that it's the first time he's started an online petition, but he plans to post the results on his website. Despite the open-ended language of the petition, he says it will serve as "tangible proof" of the community's opinion.

"People have been so frustrated for so long," Galvin said. "Let's capture this moment and show people that there is hope and they need to be involved."