Florida Supreme Court Archives - SaintPetersBlog

Jorge Labarga names Council of Business Partners members

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Friday announced the first members of a panel to advise the Florida Supreme Court‘s commission on helping the state’s poor and working poor get legal help.

The Council of Business Partners will advise the Commission on Access to Civil Justice, created by Labarga in 2014.

“Employers, too, have a stake in this,” Labarga said in a statement. “Employees who have challenges accessing justice have higher absenteeism and reduced productivity.

“It is in all our interests to address access to justice,” he added.

Those appointed include:

— Tere Blanca, president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Miami, who will serve as liaison between the Council of Business Partners and the Commission on Access to Civil Justice.

— David Faulkenberry, president of FBMC Benefits Management, Inc., Tallahassee.

— Cathy Roth, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, Universal Parks & Resorts, Orlando.

— Byron Russell, chair and CEO, Cheney Brothers, Inc., West Palm Beach. 

— Lynne Wines, Harvard University, Advanced Leadership fellow, Fort Lauderdale.

The commission has been seeking solutions to the perennial problem of providing civil legal help to those who can’t afford it. That includes things like child custody and landlord-tenant cases.

Rick Scott gets more time to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday granted Gov. Rick Scott‘s request for 14 extra days to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

Scott general counsel Daniel Nordby filed the request Wednesday, asking to move the deadline to July 19.

“Multiple extensions of time for the same filing are discouraged,” the court’s order says. “Absent extenuating circumstances, subsequent requests may be denied. All other times are extended accordingly.”

Nordby’s reasons for extension included the need for legal briefings on bills still on the governor’s desk (68 as of Thursday morning), and “official duties associated with Section and Committee meetings at the 2017 Annual Bar Convention,” meeting in Boca Raton this week.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor.

The lawsuit by The League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

They seek a “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Rick Scott asked to respond to judicial appointments lawsuit

The Florida Supreme Court has asked Gov. Rick Scott to respond to a lawsuit claiming he doesn’t have authority to appoint three new justices on the last day of his term.

The court on Friday gave Scott till July 5 to file a response, with the League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause having a July 17 deadline to reply to Scott’s filing.

The organizations this week filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

Scott, a Naples Republican, has said he plans to name the replacements for the court’s liberal-leaning trio of Justices R. Fred LewisBarbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.

They face mandatory retirement on the same day—Jan. 8, 2019—that is Scott’s last in office as governor. He’s term limited next year.

The filing says Scott can’t replace those justices because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

The Supreme Court, in a 2006 advisory opinion, said appellate vacancies may be filled by a governor only “upon the expiration of the term of the judge or justice.”

Advisory opinions, however, “do not constitute binding precedent, though they can be persuasive,” wrote former Justice Gerald Kogan and court spokesman Craig Waters in a 1994 law review article. “They are authorized by the (state) constitution to deal with situations in which the Court’s opinion on an abstract question can advance public interests.”

A Scott spokesman previously declined comment on the suit.

“A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations,” the petition says.

The petitioners also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida.

They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

Progressive groups sue over Rick Scott’s judicial appointment power

When Gov. Rick Scott appointed a conservative jurist to the state’s Supreme Court in December, he made clear he wasn’t done.

“I will appoint three more justices the morning I finish my term,” he said, referring to the mandatory retirement in early 2019 of the court’s liberal-leaning triumvirate of Justices Barbara Pariente, Peggy A. Quince and R. Fred Lewis.

Now, two progressive organizations are saying to Scott: Prove you can. They say he can’t.

The League of Women Voters of Florida (LWVF) and Common Cause on Wednesday sued Scott in the Supreme Court, saying he doesn’t have the power to name their successors—only the governor elected after Scott does. They filed a petition for “writ of quo warranto,” a court action against government officials to demand they prove their authority to perform a certain action.

The upshot of their argument is that Scott can’t replace the justices in question because he’ll be out of office earlier on the same day all three retire, and their terms last till midnight.

“The Florida Constitution prohibits a governor from making a prospective appointment of an appellate judge to an existing seat before that seat becomes vacant,” the writ argues.

It adds: “A prompt, final decision on this pure question of constitutional law … would preempt cynical complaints by anyone dissatisfied with the decision that the case was contaminated by political considerations.”

“Our office has not officially received the suit,” said Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis, declining comment.

Scott’s addition of former appellate judge C. Alan Lawson to the bench created a three-judge conservative minority, including Justices Ricky Polston and Charles Canady, whose name was on a list of then-GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump‘s “potential Supreme Court picks.”

Assuming the Republican Scott appoints three more conservatives in 2019, the seven-justice court could tilt 6-1 to the right, with current Chief Justice Jorge Labarga remaining. His mandatory retirement is in 2023.

“The Florida Constitution establishes a mandatory retirement age for justices that occurs on or after their 70th birthdays,” the court’s website explains.

Three more conservative judges may well be appointed anyway, even if left to the next governor: Florida hasn’t chosen a Democrat for the Governor’s Mansion since Lawton Chiles was re-elected in 1994.

The lawsuit, however, sticks to a “constitutional question that has plagued this State for decades: When a judicial seat opens on a Florida appellate court due to an expired term coinciding with the election of a new governor, whom does our Constitution authorize to appoint the successor, the outgoing governor or the newly elected governor?”

In December 1998, days before Chiles died in office, he and then Gov.-elect Jeb Bush, a Republican, avoided a crisis by jointly appointing Quince to the court to replace Ben F. Overton.

In 2014, lawmakers placed a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot, backed by Republican state Sen. Tom Lee, that would have given Scott the power to name the new justices. But it failed to gain the required 60 percent approval.

“There may be many reasons voters rejected the amendment, there can be no doubt one reason was that a newly-elected governor is not only more accountable, but also better represents the will of the people who just voted than someone elected four years ago,” the writ says.

Ultimately, Scott “lacks authority because the expiring judicial terms run through the last second of the evening of January 8, 2019, by which time his successor will have begun his or her term or, alternatively, if the vacancies occurred earlier in the day, his successor’s term still will have already begun by that time,” it says.

“… (I)f any ambiguity existed in our constitutional scheme, it should be resolved in favor of allowing the incoming governor, who best represents the will of the people, to fill judicial vacancies arising the same day he or she is set to take office.”

The plaintiffs also include LWVF President Pamela Goodman, former LWVF president Deirdre Macnab, and Liza McClenaghan, the state chair of Common Cause Florida. They’re represented by Tallahassee attorneys John S. Mills and Thomas D. Hall, a former Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court.

medical malpractice

Supreme Court strikes down limit on medical malpractice awards

In a 4-3 decision, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday agreed with a lower court and said limiting certain damages in personal-injury medical malpractice lawsuits is unconstitutional.

The ruling split along the usual lines, with the progressive-leaning justices concurring, and the conservatives—now including new Justice C. Alan Lawson—in dissent.

The Legislature established $500,000 limits, or caps, on what are called “non­-economic” damages for such cases.

The Supreme Court previously ruled they don’t apply in medical malpractice cases involving wrongful death. The 4th District Court of Appeal had extended that decision to personal injury cases.

That court reinstated a $4.7 million damage award to Susan Kalitan, who sued North Broward Hospital District and others over complications from surgery, namely that her esophagus was punctured during the administering of anesthesia.

The majority of Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince held that “caps in (state law) violate equal protection” in that some people are injured worse than others. 

“The arbitrary reduction of compensation without regard to the severity of the injury does not bear a rational relationship to the Legislature’s stated interest in addressing the medical malpractice crisis,” the opinion said.

“We further conclude … there is no evidence of a continuing medical malpractice insurance crisis justifying the arbitrary and invidious discrimination between medical malpractice victims,” it added.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, called a Special Session in 2003 to overhaul the law governing medical malpractice lawsuits. Doctors said big-money jury awards were driving up their insurance premiums; some even stopped practicing in Florida.

The state eventually limited noneconomic damages, sometimes referred to as “loss of the enjoyment of life,” to $500,000 per plaintiff and no more than $1 million from all defendants in a single lawsuit.

In dissent, Justices Lawson, Charles Canady and Ricky Polston countered that the limit “easily passes constitutional muster.”

Moreover, “it is the Legislature’s task to decide whether a medical malpractice crisis exists, whether a medical malpractice crisis has abated, and whether the Florida Statutes should be amended accordingly,” the dissent said.

“For a majority of this Court to decide that a crisis no longer exists, if it ever existed, so it can essentially change a statute and policy it dislikes, improperly interjects the judiciary into a legislative function.”

Paul Jess, interim director of the Florida Justice Association, welcomed the ruling in a written statement.

“Today’s ruling by the Florida Supreme Court that state statutes establishing caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice personal injury cases are unconstitutional is a resounding victory for patients,” he said. “This is a step forward that will promote safer health care in Florida.”

But David J. Becker, M.D., president of the Florida Medical Association, said his group “is disappointed with the Court’s ruling, but given past decisions, it was not unexpected.”

The FMA “will continue to do all it can to ensure that the costs of the medical liability system do not unfairly impact physicians ability to practice medicine,” he added.

New deal? Gretna asks court to reconsider slots ruling

Lawyers for a North Florida racetrack have asked the state’s Supreme Court to rehear argument in a case over whether pari-mutuels can add slot machines in counties that passed referendums allowing them.

Gretna Racing‘s motion for rehearing was filed late Friday, court dockets show. The horse track, also known as Creek Entertainment/Gretna, is managed and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

Last month, the court unanimously ruled against the track, meaning that gambling facilities in Gadsden County’s Gretna and in seven other counties that passed referendums allowing slots will not be able to offer them.

The court upheld a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that agreed with state gambling regulators who denied the track a slots permit.

The ruling was a blow for the state’s pari-mutuels and a win for gambling expansion opponents—if it had gone the other way, the decision might have led to the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

The opinion, authored by Justice Charles Canady, found that “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.”

The track’s 12-page motion counters, in part, that the justices “misapprehended” case law on counties’ home rule authority.

Track lawyer Marc Dunbar, also a part owner, told justices in oral argument last June that the Legislature intended to allow for an expansion of slot machines in the state, saying counties were empowered under state law to decide whether to allow slots.

Lawmakers, many of whom have bitterly complained of judicial overreach into policy, failed to agree on a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s gambling laws this Legislative Session.

As of Monday morning, the court had not responded to the motion. Voters in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties have approved slots.

Justices rejects Florida appeal over death penalty

The Supreme Court has left in place a lower court ruling that said imposing a death sentence in Florida requires a unanimous jury.

The justices on Monday turned away an appeal from Florida officials seeking to overturn the ruling last year from the state’s highest court.

The Florida Supreme Court had struck down a newly enacted law allowing a defendant to be sentenced to death as long as 10 out of 12 jurors recommend it. That ruling concluded that Timothy Lee Hurst — convicted of a 1998 murder at a Pensacola Popeye’s restaurant— deserves a new sentencing hearing.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s death penalty sentencing law unconstitutional. State legislators responded by overhauling the law.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

slot machines

Pari-mutuels subdued on next steps after Supreme Court slots decision

With the state Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the possibility of a slot machine expansion, what’s next?

A unanimous court ruled against pari-mutuels seeking to add slot machines in counties that passed a referendum in support of them: Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington.

Those concerns are holding their cards close to the vest, at least publicly.

That includes bestbet in Jacksonville, which unsuccessfully applied to the state for a slots license.

Spokesman Brian Hughes told the Times-Union’s Tia Mitchell last week that “the company was disappointed by the ruling but hopeful that the Legislature will pass new laws that negate its effect.”

“Something it clearly demonstrates is that the Legislature still has an opportunity to respect the will of the people at the local level,” Hughes told the paper.

But lawmakers have been sequentially unable to pass new gambling laws for years, the most recent attempt ending in impasse this Legislative Session.

The Senate declined to back down on its insistence that slots should be expanded to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them, while the House opposed such a move.

The track that brought the litigation, Creek Entertainment/Gretna in Gadsden County, said it was “disappointed” in the ruling, but didn’t hint what it might do.

“Because of this ruling, we are now unable to create new jobs,” spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said. “We are considering our options on how to proceed.”

Izzy Havenick, a member of the family that owns Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Racing & Poker in Bonita Springs, said he too will go back to the drawing board with lawmakers.

Lee County passed a slots referendum with almost 63 percent of the vote in November 2012; turnout that election was nearly 69 percent.

“What do we do? We go back to the Legislature next year and hope they honor the will of the people,” Havenick said.

And according to TCPalm, Fort Pierce Jai-Alai & Poker in St. Lucie “wants to invest $100 million to expand its facility into an entertainment complex (that) owner Casino Miami says would employ about 500 people, but only if it can add 1,000 slots.”

A representative for Casino Miami couldn’t be reached Friday.

Florida Supreme Court rules against Gretna track, slots expansion

A unanimous Florida Supreme Court has ruled against a North Florida racetrack seeking to add slot machines.

The 20-page decision, released Thursday, means that gambling facilities in Gadsden County’s Gretna and in seven other counties that passed local referendums allowing slots also will not be able to offer them.

In doing so, the court upheld a decision by the 1st District Court of Appeal that agreed with state gambling regulators who denied the track a slots permit.

In sum, the ruling comes as a loss for the state’s pari-mutuels and a win for gambling expansion opponents. If it had gone the other way, the decision might have led to the single biggest gambling expansion in the state.

“The good news is there will not be thousands of slot machines coming to Florida without further action by the legislature,” said John Sowinski, president of the No Casinos anti-gambling expansion group.

Sowinski also chairs Voters in Charge, a political committee trying to get a proposed constitutional amendment on the 2018 statewide ballot to give voters “the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling.”

Lawmakers, many of whom have bitterly complained of judicial overreach into policy, failed to agree on a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s gambling laws this Legislative Session.

*   *   *

At issue in the Gretna case was “whether local voters can authorize the operation of slot machines in counties outside of Dade and Broward.”

Statewide voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks only in those counties and only if voters there OK’d it in referendums there.

Since then, voters in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties approved slots.

But the opinion, authored by Justice Charles Canady, found that “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.”

Specifically, the “general power of non-charter counties to ‘carry on county government’ does not constitute authorization to conduct a referendum to approve slot machine gaming,” the opinion said.

(“Charters are formal written documents that confer powers, duties, or privileges on the county,” according to the Florida Association of Counties.)

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices C. Alan Lawson, Barbara Pariente and Ricky Polston concurred in the decision. Justice Peggy A. Quince had been recused.

Oral argument in the case was last June but Lawson, appointed to the court in December to replace retired Justice James E.C. Perry, “fully participated after reviewing all of the materials including the oral argument video,” spokesman Craig Waters said.

Justice R. Fred Lewis also concurred, but wrote separately to note “the confusion in this area of the law.”

“Because slot machines are generally prohibited, Gadsden County does not have and cannot assert home rule powers as a basis to support a referendum on slot machine gambling,” he wrote.

Any other construction of the law is “misplaced,” he added.

*   *   *

The horse track, known as Creek Entertainment/Gretna, is managed and operated by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians. Spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said they were “disappointed the Florida Supreme Court did not agree with our interpretation of the law.”

“Because of this ruling, we are now unable to create new jobs,” she said. “We are considering our options on how to proceed.”

Track lawyer Marc Dunbar, also a part owner, told justices in oral argument that the Legislature intended to allow for an expansion of slot machines in the state, saying counties were empowered under state law to decide whether to allow slots.

The track, about 30 miles west of Tallahassee, had asked the court to let it have slot machines because voters approved them in 2012.

Attorney Dan Gelber, the former House Democratic leader who represented No Casinos at argument, countered that lawmakers “would not have allowed slots but for that constitutional amendment.” He served in the House 2000-08.

“The idea that in implementing that amendment that they would, under the table, give 65 other counties that same right is sort of absurd,” he said. “If that had happened, I know a couple of my colleagues’ heads would have exploded.”

A decision the other way also likely would have broken the exclusivity to slots outside of South Florida enjoyed by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. That would have entitled the Tribe to reduce or stop paying money to the state.

“The Tribe is continuing to review the decision, but it looks like very good news for the State of Florida and for the Seminole Tribe,” spokesman Gary Bitner said.

And Stephen Lawson, spokesman for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates gambling, said the agency was “pleased that the Florida Supreme Court agreed with us on this important issue.”

“We will continue to follow the law,” he added.

Chris Sprowls looks back on successful legislative session

Now that the 2017 Legislative Session is in the history books (for the most part), Florida lawmakers are beginning to take stock. And Palm Harbor Republican Chris Sprowls is no different.

Sprowls offers his own post-Session review, in an email to supporters highlighting some of his major legislative actions in the House over the past year.

At the top of the list is HB 221, the landmark ride-sharing legislation co-sponsored by Sprowls and recently signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure creates a statewide standard for companies like Uber and Lyft, which Sprowls says “ensures safety, convenience, and consistency.”

“I am proud of this bill because it guarantees that anyone in Florida has access to this convenient transportation option should they choose it, in addition to providing an extra source of income for many Floridians looking to make ends meet.

Inspiring Sprowls to bring the bill were conversations with Floridians “who love driving for rideshare companies,” particularly for its flexibility in work times — perfect for people such as single parents, veterans, college students and others.

HB 221 opens the market for ride-sharing jobs, as well as offering a “convenient mode of transportation for Floridians and vacationers alike.”

Most notably, this bill can be a template for ride-sharing bills across the country, Sprowls says.

Another legislative success were reforms to Florida’s death penalty statute, ensuring the state has a “working death penalty law.”

In October 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled the state’s death penalty law unconstitutional — throwing the process into legal ambiguity, putting capital cases in a state of limbo.

Sprowls, a former state attorney, saw this legal instability as a disservice to all involved. HB 527 fixed the state death penalty statute, bringing the law in-line with Constitutional requirements.

Sprowls also introduced legislation to honor Officer Charles Kondek, killed December 2014 in the line of duty.

“Officer Kondek had a decades-long career serving our community,” Sprowls writes, “and it is only fitting that we rename a portion of Alternate 19 so that we always remember his service, sacrifice and legacy.”

The “Officer Charles ‘Charlie K’ Kondek Jr. Memorial Highway” is at U.S. 19A/S.R 595 between Tarpon Avenue and the Pasco County line in Pinellas County.

Sprowls was also among the lawmakers sponsoring a formal apology to the Groveland Four from the 1940s, as well as to the Dozier Boys who suffered torture and abuse at the Dozier School for Boys.

“It was an honor to have the families of the Groveland Four, and the remaining survivors of the Dozier School in Tallahassee a few weeks ago to hear their stories and witness the closure they have so long awaited,” Sprowls writes.

Other victories for Sprowls in the 2017 Session were in ethics and government spending reforms, including passage of sweeping ethics changes and a lobbying ban that is the strictest in the country.

Similarly, Sprowls takes sides in the fight over incentive program funding, touting his support for a state budget which puts an end to “state-funded corporate welfare.”

“Government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers,” he writes, “and Enterprise Florida was using your tax dollars to subsidize the operations of large businesses.”

Sprowls, who is in line to be House Speaker in 2020-22, notes that Enterprise Florida has seen a $1.2 million increase in payroll without showing similar gains in job creation.

While Enterprise Florida was intended to be a public-private partnership, Sprowls says that it is indeed funded 90 percent by taxpayers.

“We as a Legislature are tasked with ensuring your hard-earned money is spent wisely and efficiently,” he writes. “Enterprise Florida’s use of your tax dollars was neither.”

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