Jim Rosica - 5/106 - SaintPetersBlog

Jim Rosica

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.
bar exam failure

Florida winter bar exam passage rate now at lowest point in 8 years

How low can we go: The number of first-time Florida Bar takers who pass the February administration of the exam has plummeted to its lowest level in eight years.

Of 751 first-time takers, 433 passed the bar, or 57.7 percent, according to a Monday release from the state’s Board of Bar Examiners.

That’s down from the high pass rate of 80.2 percent in February 2013, when there were 819 first-timers, and the lowest passing percentage for the February exam since 2009.

“Save for a few states, bar passage rates have continued to decline nationwide,” the Above the Law blog reported late last year, noting that California’s July bar exam pass rate was its lowest in 32 years.

Experts have placed the blame on law schools lowering their admission standards to fill seats as the number of applicants continues to decline.

Part of that decline is because full-time lawyer jobs keep dwindling, according to The American Lawyer. Citing U.S. Department of Labor data last week, the website reported “employment in the U.S. legal sector took another hit in March, with the industry losing 1,500 jobs.”

Like many state bar exams, Florida’s is given twice a year, in late February and late July. More law students traditionally take the exam in the summer, however, immediately after graduation and bar review.

A smaller number, including those who fail the summer exam, take the bar in the winter. The total of all test-takers for February was 1,881.

Here are the February 2017 passage rates broken down by individual Florida law schools:

University of Miami School of Law — 80.6 percent

Florida International University College of Law — 78.9 percent

University of Florida College of Law — 66.7 percent

Florida State University College of Law — 59.1 percent

Ave Maria School of Law — 57.9 percent

Nova Southeastern University College of Law — 55 percent

Barry University School of Law — 51.5 percent

Stetson University College of Law — 51.3 percent

Florida A&M University College of Law — 46.2 percent

St. Thomas University College of Law — 44.7 percent

Florida Coastal School of Law — 25 percent

Of first-time test takers who went to law school outside Florida, 41.3 percent passed and lawyers from other states who also want to be licensed in Florida passed by 72.7 percent.

Statistics for previous exams are here.

Evan Jenne

Evan Jenne’s ‘tipping point’: A run for House Democratic Leader

It’s tough to be a top Democrat in Florida, but Evan Jenne is going for it.

Jenne, of Dania Beach, recently announced his intention to seek the leadership of the House Democrats in 2020-22.

In a state where Republicans have controlled the Legislature for the last two decades, “you can’t promise definitively that something will happen,” he said.

That said, he added, “If I say I’m going to do something, you can stick to my word.”

The 39-year-old first served in the House 2006-12, stepping out when he and former lawmaker Elaine Schwartz, also a Democrat, were redistricted into the same House district. When Schwartz was term-limited, he ran for the seat in 2014 and won.

Now, he’s Democratic Ranking Member of the House Commerce Committee and the Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.

Jenne says he “grew up in the process”: He’s the son of Broward power broker Ken Jenne, who was a county commissioner, a state senator for nearly two decades, and then spent almost a decade as county sheriff.

The elder Jenne fell from political grace when he pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal corruption charges and served 10 months.

The son said his interest in becoming the House Democratic Leader was something he “always thought about.”

But when his own Democratic colleagues in the House asked him to pursue it—he didn’t say whom—”that was the tipping point.”

The job is as much as about politicking as it is legislative leadership. One job of a leader is to chase the dream of winning back a House Democratic majority, or at least helping to elect as many “D”s as possible.

“During session, you have to show leadership skills, and after a session, you have to prove you can be a valuable political ally,” he said.

And Jenne said he’s already helped raise “hundreds of thousands” of dollars for Democrats.

As House leader, “it would be more about getting involved in the district level, working for (candidates) in the field,” he said.

Of course, with fundraising banned during the Legislative Session, that’s all “just planning in my head” for now.

Moreover, it’s a long walk from now to 2020. Janet Cruz of Tampa is leader for 2016-18, and Kionne McGhee of Miami was recently selected leader for the 2018-20 term.

So for the present, Jenne’s job is to “go out and get as many people on board as I can.”

CRC meeting Boca

Abortion at issue in latest constitutional review hearing

Anti-abortion activists took to the microphone early and often at Friday’s Constitution Revision Commission hearing in Boca Raton.

The 37-member panel, which convenes every 20 years to review and rewrite the state’s governing document, is now on a listening tour, holding public hearings around the state.

A series of speakers Friday urged the commission to amend the constitution to undo a 1989 Florida Supreme Court decision striking down as unconstitutional a state law that required parental consent before a minor can get an abortion.

Several speakers complained that the constitutional provision at issue, the right to privacy, was misconstrued to apply to abortion rights instead of a right to “informational privacy” against the government.

The state constitution now says “every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein.”

The majority opinion, In re T.W., was written by the late Supreme Court Justice, and later Chief Justice, Leander J. Shaw Jr., who was mentioned by name by at least one of the speakers. Shaw was targeted by anti-abortion groups during his 1990 judicial retention vote.

“The ruling invalidated a state law that prohibited single minors from obtaining abortions without permission of their parents, a legal guardian or a judge,” the New York Times explained. “But the ruling went much further, saying the right-to-privacy amendment to the state Constitution meant that government may not interfere in abortion decisions.

“The justices split 4 to 3 on the parental permission ruling, and voted 6 to 1 in ruling that the privacy amendment applied to the abortion issue,” it said.

Shaw went on to win retention on the court by nearly 60 percent of the vote. He retired in 2003 and died in 2015 at the age of 85. His son, Sean Shaw, now is a Democratic state representative from Tampa.

The commission’s next hearing is scheduled for next Wednesday on the campus of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee.

Richard Corcoran: The press corps’ enabler

At halftime in this year’s Legislative Session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran sounds like he’s getting a bit fatigued with questions about “transparency.”

At a media availability on Thursday, the Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed back against a reporter’s question about special interests who draft bills, and whether leadership pressures committee chairs to hear those bills.

“All I hear from you guys is ‘OK, you guys have done more than any other Legislature in the history of mankind (on) transparency and openness … but you forgot this one,’ ” Corcoran said.

“Really, what you ought to say is thank you. We’ve made your lives a heck of a lot easier. You guys have not even had access to all of the documents and all of the information if it wasn’t for us filing lawsuits and dragging people who take taxpayer money up here before committees and browbeating them (about) what they’re spending money on. And the only thing you guys come and tell us is, ‘you forgot this group.’

“You know, you guys have to (get over) your level of cynicism … How many times are bills given to Democrats, to Republicans, that are written by the special interests? Way too many. (But) I will (say) this year of legislators and legislation that is homegrown, owned by the members, is better than any.

“I’ll give you another example,” Corcoran went on. “Take the budget, and the pushback by the special interests. You just went through a whole budget week, and (here in the House), you had seven amendments. A budget that cuts $2.1 billion of pork, one Democrat votes against it and there’s only seven amendments, all of them completely transparent.”

(Actually, it was two Democrats: House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa and Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana.)

“Go across the hall (to the Senate), and what do you see?” Corcoran said. “How many amendments were offered to the Senate budget bill? Over 100.

“… We have a $100 million plus in (member-requested) projects. The Senate? Sitting at $700 million. So you want me to tell you where we can bridge differences? $700 million is too many projects. That is a lot of pork.”

The chamber’s respective budgets should be voted off the floor next week, then move into conference the week after that. The Senate’s more than $85 billion, or about $4 billion over the House’s bottom line. The current state budget is close to $82.3 billion.

Perry Thurston, others want Confederate statue issue resolved

Former and current black lawmakers took to the Old Capitol steps Thursday to call for a likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune to replace a statue of a Confederate general now in the U.S. Capitol.

Led by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, and surrounded by alumni members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the group called for passage of Thurston’s bill (SCR 1360) that would formally approve Dr. Bethune to replace Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall.

Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol. Florida’s other statue, of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, will remain.

But Thurston’s bill has yet to have a hearing, and competing legislation calls for a statue of environmentalist Marjory Stoneman Douglas, author of “The Everglades: River of Grass,” to take Smith’s place.

That’s despite the fact that Bethune, founder of what is now Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, was the top public choice to replace Smith in a poll conducted last year by the Department of State.

Bethune, who lived 1875-1955, received 1,233 votes. That was nearly 800 more than the No. 2 pick, James Weldon Johnson, a writer-activist and the first black admitted to The Florida Bar. Douglas came in fourth.

The move to replace Smith’s statue came after renewed debate about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

A Periscope video of the news conference can be viewed below:

Supreme Court tweaks its ‘senior justice’ rule after controversy

The Florida Supreme Court no longer will allow its justices to keep working indefinitely on open cases after they leave the bench, according to a new rule released Thursday.

After Justice James E.C. Perry officially retired on Dec. 30, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga allowed him to finish work on opinions as a “senior justice,” following decades of court practice.

But critics, including Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, cried foul. They complained Perry was displacing his successor, C. Alan Lawson, who started work the next day on Dec. 31. Perry worked for an additional month after that.

C. ALAN LAWSON/JAMES E.C. PERRY
Lawson (left), Perry

Lawson—GOP Gov. Rick Scott‘s first Supreme Court pick—is a conservative; Perry most often voted with the court’s left-leaning contingent.

Corcoran even prepared a legal challenge to Perry’s continued work, saying among other things that Perry was an unconstitutional “eighth” justice on the seven-member court.

Now, the new Rule of Judicial Administration says, “(N)o retired justice … or other judge who is qualified to serve may be assigned to the supreme court, or continue in such assignment, after 7 (seven) sitting duly sworn justices are available and able to perform the duties of office.”

In defending his decision, Labarga had said the court’s protocol, “as long as I can remember,” has been to grant retired justices senior status to finish work they started; that is, to work on opinions in cases in which they participated in oral argument.

“Appellate work is not like trial work,” Labarga said in February. “If I leave the bench today and a new judge comes in, that judge can’t just start that morning. The records are huge. It takes time to read” all the material.

“This way, when you’re almost out of the woods, almost done with an opinion, you can get it done.”

In a Thursday media availability, Corcoran called it “a great rule change … and my hat’s off to Chief Justice Labarga.”

“They took it upon themselves to come up with a rule, it looks like it was supported by all the justices, and despite that people want to say, ‘there’s tension here, there’s tension there,’ I’ve said it a thousand times that I consider Chief Justice Labarga a friend,” he added. “I think they all want to do … what is best for the judicial system.”

Short takes: Legislative roundup for Wednesday

House votes on senate gambling bill—by amending it with their own bill

The House stood its ground, voting 73-40 Wednesday to replace the Senate’s gambling overhaul (SB 8) with its own version (HB 7037).

That sets up the conference process by which both sides say they can “iron out the differences” between their different approaches.

The gulf is wide, with the House wanting to lock down gambling expansion in the state and the Senate open to a host of new gambling opportunities.

The House bill also would divert revenue share from a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, $3 billion over seven years, to educational initiatives including shoring up “persistently failing” schools.

Some Democrats, who unsuccessfully tried to scuttle those provisions with their own amendments, complained that would mean money goes to charter schools.

House ‘whiskey & Wheaties’ sponsor says bill still in play

Hialeah Republican Bryan Avila is keeping hope alive that a bill to allow retailers to sell hard liquor in the same store as other goods will garner enough votes for passage.

“We had some late issues come up,” he said after Wednesday’s floor session.

Lawyers for Publix, the Florida supermarket chain that opposes the measure (SB 106/HB 81), this week said it would mean teenage employees wouldn’t be allowed to work in stores where booze is sold.

But Avila said he disagreed with that reading of the bill and alcoholic beverage statutes. The latest issue came up after other critics raised concerns that gas stations would be allowed to sell distilled spirits under the measure.

“Trust me: I can tell you with certainty I have experienced every thing imaginable that could possibly happen in the legislative process with this bill,” Avila said.

The Senate passed it last month.

self defense

House sends back Senate’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ bill

The House on Wednesday OK’d the Senate’s fix to the state’s “stand your ground” law to streamline claims of self-defense—with one change.

The House version changes the measure (SB 128) to switch the burden of proof to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt,” to overcome self-defense.

Members voted 74-39 for the amended bill, sending it back across the rotunda.

The Republican majority in the Legislature wants to shift the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. A state Supreme Court decision had put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense.

The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

Democrats continued to inveigh against the measure, saying it would encourage bad actors to injure, even kill, and then claim self-defense.

“Dead men can’t talk,” said Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami-Dade Democrat. The bad guys will get away with murder under the bill because “there will be no one left to contradict them.”

But Rep. Gayle Harrell, a Stuart Republican, said the bill was about “the rule of law”: “The state should have the burden of proof to say you committed a crime. This is simply a correction of a (judicial) misinterpretation of current law.”

Proponents want the burden to be on “the party seeking to overcome the immunity from criminal prosecution,” usually prosecutors, requiring a separate mini-trial, of sorts.

In 2012, Marissa Alexander, then of Jacksonville, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a gun to scare off her estranged husband.

She tried and failed to claim a “stand your ground” defense, saying she fired a warning shot to protect herself. But her conviction was later tossed out on appeal; she was let go after a negotiated plea agreement in 2014.

Perry Thurston

Democrats decry change to ‘stand your ground’ law

A critic of the state’s “stand your ground” law Wednesday said a change to the law now moving through the Legislature will “make it easier for people to murder other human beings.”

Lawmakers now are considering shifting the burden to prosecutors, making them disprove a claim of self-defense. Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, called that making “a bad law worse.”

He appeared with several fellow Democrats at a morning press conference in the Capitol.

The stand your ground law, enacted in 2005, allows people who are attacked to counter deadly force with deadly force in self-defense without any requirement that they flee.

The House on Tuesday amended a Senate measure (SB 128) to change the burden of proof to overcome self-defense to “clear and convincing evidence,” a lower threshold than the Senate’s “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But lowering the burden won’t help the bill, Thurston told reporters, because the problem is with the burden’s shifting: Essentially forcing prosecutors to prove a negative.

Rep. Kamia Brown, an Orlando Democrat, added that the move will incentivize domestic abusers “to finish the job.”

“Why not go all the way … there won’t be anyone around to dispute” a stand your ground defense, she said.

And Rep. Bobby DuBose, another Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said it will embolden gang members “to pick on the competition” with impunity under the cover of a stand your ground defense.

Specifically, the Senate bill—sponsored by Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley—would require prosecutors to show “that a defendant is not immune from prosecution.”

It’s in reaction to a state Supreme Court decision that put the onus on the defendant to show self-defense under the stand your ground law.

The House is scheduled to vote on the amended bill later Wednesday, sending it back to the Senate.

A Periscope video of the press conference can be viewed below:

blackjack gambling casino

House sees Senate on gambling bill, raises the ante

The House amended the Senate’s gambling measure with its own bill Tuesday, setting up the legislation for conference.

The difference between the two chambers’ approach was set up by Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican who chairs the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee.

He said the House effort “erects a firewall against the expansion of gaming in the future,” adding there would be “no more loopholes.” 

With the Senate OK with some gambling expansion, the stark contrast has led House Speaker Richard Corcoran to call a compromise this year “a heavy, heavy lift” and Sen. Bill Galvano to say he “couldn’t guarantee we’ll ultimately have a final resolution.”

On Tuesday, Rep. Tom Goodson, a Rockledge Republican, noted that the House bill constrains pari-mutuels outside South Florida from having slot machines even where they’ve been approved in a local referendum.

Counties, such as Gadsden in north Florida, have long wanted slots and other gambling to boost their local economies.

“Do you have any consoling words for them?” Goodson asked.

La Rosa wouldn’t bite, saying expanding gambling “is not an economic development tool … there’s a very limited market share.”

Both bills include a new agreement for continued exclusive rights for the Seminole Tribe of Florida to offer blackjack in return for $3 billion over seven years.

Having blackjack money for the upcoming $80 billion-plus state budget could mean an extra $340 million-$350 million, Galvano has said.

Another difference: The House bill takes that money and applies it toward education; the Senate wants it for general revenue.

The House meets again Wednesday, when the legislation could be finally voted on.

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