July 18, 2017

Appeals court considers lawsuit over Florida's public education system

1st dca - June 7  2016


The Florida Constitution requires the state to provide “a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools” — but is that general standard something that can be measured?

That’s what an appeals court in Tallahassee will decide in the latest round of a long-standing battle over whether the Legislature, state Board of Education and the Florida Department of Education are fulfilling their constitutional obligations for 2.8 million children in the state’s public schools.

After a five-week trial last year, a Leon County Circuit Court judge tossed out the lawsuit that was filed in 2009. While the plaintiffs — led by two advocacy organizations, Citizens for Strong Schools and Fund Education Now — argued the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty, Judge George S. Reynolds III found they hadn’t met the burden to prove that was the case.

Now the First District Court of Appeal will decide whether Reynolds erred in that ruling. Central to that decision is whether the constitutional standard — adopted by voters in the late 1990s — is one that can be definitively measured.

Focused on that theme, the three-judge appeals panel peppered attorneys for the state and for the plaintiffs with questions during an hourlong hearing Tuesday.

Read more here.

July 07, 2017

Lawsuit alleges Florida's colleges, universities owed $1B from state

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via @harrisalexc

In the 1970s, Florida joined a wave of states that encouraged private philanthropy to public universities by matching donations. Following the housing market crash and economic downturn, the Legislature put the matching rules on hold “temporarily” in 2011.

Temporarily has turned into six years. Now, a state lawsuit has been filed against lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott to pay out the money — all $1 billion of it. That’s $600 million in backlogged matches and the rest in estimated potential donations if the automatic match is reinstated.

Grace Mead, a Miami attorney who filed the class-action lawsuit under the name of two recent University of Florida graduates, argues that the Legislature’s continued hold on donations matches violates Florida’s constitution and harms students’ education. The two students named as lead plaintiffs are Alexis Geffin, a Wisconsin sports reporter, and her brother Ryan Geffin, an incoming medical student at Florida International University.

“We’re not seeking damages,” Mead said, “we’re seeking allocation of funds.”


Full story here.

July 03, 2017

UPDATED: Lawmakers react to Miami judge's ruling deeming Stand Your Ground change unconstitutional

Florida Legislature (21)


Several lawmakers took to Twitter on Monday to weigh in on a Miami judge's ruling that new changes the Legislature made to Florida's Stand Your Ground law were unconstitutional and beyond the purview of their law-making duties.

The Miami Herald's David Ovalle has more on the ruling here.

SB 128 passed the Legislature along partylines with Democrats opposed, and Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed it into law last month. Scott's office had no immediate reaction to Monday's news other than acknowledging they were "reviewing the ruling."

Here's what some lawmakers had to say: 

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes:

Sen. Rob Bradley, the Fleming Island Republican who, for two years, sponsored the legislation to change Florida's Stand Your Ground law:

Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford...

... with a responses from Reps. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, and David Richardson, D-Miami Beach:

Rep. Julio Gonzalez, R-Venice:

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando:

Rep. Cord Byrd, R-Jacksonville Beach...

... with agreement from Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa:

 Rep. Kionne McGhee, D-Miami...

 ... which drew this brief exchange with Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville:

Photo credit: Mark Wallheiser / AP

June 15, 2017

Rubio: 'Tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people'

via @learyreports

WASHINGTON - Sen. Marco Rubio confirmed Thursday morning he will join President Donald Trump in Miami on Friday to unveil “strategic and targeted” changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba.

“The goal of these polices is very simple: We want to power and we want to strengthen the Cuban people without strengthening the Cuban military, which controls a significant  percentage of their economy," Rubio said in a Facebook live chat from his Senate office.

“I’m very proud of what the president will be announcing tomorrow. It’s up to them to lay out the specifics, but suffice it to say that tomorrow is going to be a good day for the Cuban people, a better deal for the Cuban people, which is who new are trying to help by empowering them and doing so in a way that does not empower their oppressors.”

The change Rubio alludes to would seek to restrict business between private U.S. companies and Cuban companies controlled by the military, the Grupo de Administración Empresarial S.A., or GAESA.

Trump is also considering other changes, including possible limits on travel. He is scheduled to deliver remarks at Manuel Artime Theater in Miami at 1 p.m. He'll also be joined by Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who like Rubio has criticized the ways in which President Barack Obama's opening relations with Cuba.

--ALEX LEARY, Tampa Bay Times

April 10, 2017

Parents ask Supreme Court to review 'opt-out' testing case

From the News Service of Florida:

Several parents who oppose standardized-testing requirements in public schools are taking their battle to the Florida Supreme Court.

The parents last week filed a notice that is a first step in asking the Supreme Court to overturn a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal in a case related to what is known as the "opt out" movement.

Parents who brought the case against the Department of Education and several school boards told their third-grade students to put their names on a standardized test, then refuse to answer questions. When the students were barred from moving to fourth grade under state law, the parents sued, saying they wanted their children to be evaluated using a portfolio allowed in the case of "good cause exemptions."

A three-judge panel of the appeals court on March 7 ruled that Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers erred on procedural grounds in allowing the case to go forward and also disagreed with portions of her opinion that could have allowed some students to avoid answering questions on state exams. The appeals court ruled, in part, that the state has an interest in preventing social promotion, the reason given for the testing requirement.

The parents' notice of appeal to the Supreme Court, as is common, did not provide detailed arguments.

March 15, 2017

Lawmaker: House should 'put Florida Supreme Court in position of telling us that we're wrong'

Florida Legislature (4)


Some Florida House Republicans have issued a challenge to the state’s top court — saying if the Legislature moves forward and enacts a constitutionally questionable measure seeking to impose harsher penalties on undocumented immigrants, then the Florida Supreme Court should prove them wrong.

HB 83, which passed its first House committee Wednesday, is rife with questions about its constitutionality because it subjects undocumented immigrants convicted of severe crimes to enhanced charges — and potentially longer prison sentences — solely on the basis of their immigration status.

But some House Republicans said a bill’s potential unconstitutionality shouldn’t be a factor in whether lawmakers approve it.

“I would submit to you that perhaps we sit in here one day and the Florida Supreme Court has told us this vote is wrong,” Tampa Republican Rep. James Grant said, but “I would encourage all of us to put the Florida Supreme Court in the position of telling us that we are wrong.”

More here.

Photo credit: State Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa. Florida House.

March 09, 2017

Is Sen. Bill Nelson a filibuster flip flopper?



A conservative group misfired in its attack on U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., for being inconsistent on the use of the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees.

America Rising Squared, the policy arm of the conservative America Rising PAC, said in an online post that Nelson, up for re-election in 2018, committed a "filibuster flip-flop" on President Donald Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch.

"In 2006, Nelson opposed the use of a filibuster for the nomination of Justice (Samuel) Alito, but now has adopted a different stance," said America Rising Squared, a group advocating for senators to support Gorsuch.

We decided to look at whether Nelson flip-flopped on using the filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee on our Flip-O-Meter, which examines whether a politician has been consistent on an issue.

Experts told us America Rising mischaracterized Nelson’s record.

Keep reading from PolitiFact Florida.

February 09, 2017

Will Florida become the first state to impose term limits on justices?

Florida supreme court.1_12061496_8col@MaryEllenKlas

Despite a torrent of criticism from both conservatives and liberal lawyers, a House committee on Thursday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would impose a 12-year term limit on Florida Supreme Court justices and appeal court judges who now can serve until retirement age.

The idea is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, who accuses the Florida Supreme Court of repeatedly "writing whole cloth law" in violation of the separation of powers. If the measure is placed on the November 2018 ballot, it would need 60 percent of the vote to become law. No other state has such steep limits on its highest courts, although Colorado, Mississippi and Nevada have proposed judicial term limits at the appellate level and voters have rejected it .

The House Civil Justice and Claims Subcommittee voted 8-7, for HJR1, by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora. The measure would not apply to judges currently in office but take effect beginning with anyone who is appointed to the appellate courts beginning in 2019.

Under current law, justices and appeals court judges can serve until they reach the retirement age of 70, but must face voters in an up-or-down merit retention election every six years. Sullivan argued that since no justice or judge has been turned out of office in the last 40 years, the system has not worked as intended.

“An accountability system that does not hold people accountable is not truly accountable,'' she said. "This bill seeks to correct that and give the people of Florida another opportunity to implement the accountability they originally intended to place upon our judicial branch of government."

The Florida Supreme Court, however, does have the power to discipline judges and the Judicial Qualifications Commission recommends who to discipline and remove. Most of the appellate judges that have faced sanctions in the last two decades have resigned before being reprimanded, according to a 2015 report by legislative auditors.

The proposed amendment is opposed by the Florida Bar, former court justices and legal scholars and, this year, the conservative Florida Justice Reform Institute, a judicial advocacy organization that has been on the losing side of many Florida Supreme Court rulings, also voiced its opposition to the bill.

Continue reading "Will Florida become the first state to impose term limits on justices? " »

February 06, 2017

Labarga appoints to CRC three candidates who will watch the court's back

Roberto Martinez Arthenia Joyner HenryCoxeAs rhetorical attacks mount against the judiciary in Florida and in Washington, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court on Monday named three people who value “judicial independence” to serve on the powerful panel to revise the Florida Constitution.

Florida Chief Justice Jorge Labarga appointed Miami lawyer Roberto Martinez, Jacksonville defense attorney Henry Coxe III and former Democratic leader of the Florida Senate Arthenia Joyner to serve as his appointees to the Constitution Revision Commission, the 37-member panel assembled every 20 years to review the constitution and put proposals directly before voters in 2018.

They each were chosen because they value an independent judiciary, Labarga told reporters at a press conference on Monday at the Florida Supreme Court. He called them "extremely qualified people who care about our state" and said he looked for candidates with "wide-ranging knowledge about our system and appreciation for separation of powers and the independence of the judicial branch of government."

While the chief justice has only three appointees, Republican Gov. Rick Scott will appoint 15 members of the panel, including its chair. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, and Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, each have nine appointees. Members of the commissioner are volunteers who will serve until the November 2018 election. The appointments must be made before the legislative session begins March 7.

Labarga’s three appointees are each prominent lawyers in their fields with experience working in the political process.

Continue reading "Labarga appoints to CRC three candidates who will watch the court's back " »

January 30, 2017

Court administrator weighs in on Corcoran v. Court dust-up: Nothing new, full court was consulted

James E.C. PerryIn a letter today to the chairman of the House Justice Appropriations Committee, Florida's state courts administrator Patricia "P.K." Jameson attempted to clear up some misconceptions about the Florida Supreme Court's decision to allow a retiring Justice James E.C. Perry to complete unfinished work on the bench.  Download 20170130-Letter to House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee

Perry was appointed senior justice by Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in December pending his retirement on Dec. 30. The appointment originally lasted until Sept. 30, 2018 but on Jan. 11 Labarga assigned a new order ending Perry's term tomorrow, saying that when he made the first order, Perry's replacement had not been named at and "it was not known when a new Justice would be appointed to replace him. That issue now has been resolved."  Download Perry (James E C) sj orders

In the meantime, House Speaker Richard Corcoran threatened to sue, suggesting that Perry was serving as an unconstitutional "eighth justice." He also sought an end to any reimbursement he may have been paid. 

Jameson's note to Rep. Bill Hagar, R-Boca Raton, clarified that Perry wasn't paid, that his appointment is nothing new, that he served in the job to finish up work that might otherwise still be pending and his assignment as a retired justice was done "in consultation with the full court."

"The appointment as a senior justice is distinct from appointment as a senior judge, and there is no compensation provided Senior Justice Perry for his work in that capacity,'' Jameson wrote. "The appointment of a departing justice of the Court as a senior justice allows him or her to continue to serve in that capacity so pending work may be completed efficiently and timely."

She added that "this is not a new procedure" and in the last 20 years, "six different chief justices have issued assignment orders for eight departing justices to serve as senior justices."

Jameson explained that the practice was done "as a matter of judicial efficiency" because "it would take significant time for new justices to review anew cases that may otherwise be disposed much sooner with the participation of a senior justice who heard the case originally."

Corcoran and the House lawyers who prepared his brief argue, however, that the U.S. Supreme Court uses a different system which requires the court to rehear a case when a pending case is not completed before a justice retires or decide the case with the remaining justices.  Download DRAFT 2017.xx.xx_Petition for quo warranto