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If another SCOTUS opening occurs, will Charles Canady get a serious look?

According to Sen. Charles Grassley, the U.S. Supreme Court may need to fill another opening this summer. The Iowa Republican, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not name names, but rumors are swirling it could be the Court’s swing vote, 80-year-old Anthony Kennedy.

If that occurs, President Trump will go back to his list of 21 potential nominees, now numbering 20 after  the elevation of Neil Gorsuch. Rumored to be on the short list before Gorsuch’s selection was Judge William Pryor of Alabama from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Diane Sykes of Wisconsin from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judge Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania from the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.

If those rumors are true, will those three again go to the top? How about some of the others? Also on the Trump list are Florida Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady and Judge Federico Moreno from the Southern District of Florida.

The next nominee will be an appeals court judge or a state supreme court justice. Moreno and Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee are the only two not fitting that description. Moreno’s logical next step is a promotion to the court of appeals.

Will Canady receive serious consideration this time? He has similar educational training to the current Court.

All 9 current justices studied law at either Harvard or Yale (Ruth Bader Ginsburg started at Harvard, but earned her law degree from Columbia). Canady earned his degree from Yale, while Pryor came from Tulane, Sykes from Marquette, and Hardiman from Georgetown. Gorsuch attended Harvard and Oxford.

As a former state legislator, four-term Congressman and General Counsel for Gov. Jeb Bush, Canady understands the separation of powers between the three branches of government. He was Chief Justice from 2010-2012 and along with Ricky Polston, comprise the Court’s reliable conservative minority.

If Gov. Rick Scott wanted to bend Trump’s ear about Canady, the President would certainly listen. There is no question Scott and Trump are of like minds on many topics in addition to jobs. Another Trump friend, Attorney General Pam Bondi, could do the same.

On the down side, Canady will be 63 years old in June. Next to Moreno (64) and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Young, who is 65, Canady is the oldest on the list.

Pryor is 55, Sykes 58 and Hardiman is 52. The thought of having someone on the bench for 30 years is an appealing quality for a sitting president.

Confirmation hearings would certainly be lively. Millennials will not likely recall the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, but Canady was one of the House prosecutors. Would Democrats have fun with that?

How about being questioned by Judiciary Committee member Lindsey Graham? The South Carolina Republican was also one of the impeachment prosecutors (known as House Managers).

How juicy would it be for Canady to be tapped and for Charlie Crist to receive some credit for raising Canady’s profile? It was then-Governor Crist who appointed Canady to the Florida Supreme Court.

Perhaps Canady wound up on Trump’s list as a favor to Scott, or the president will actually give him a serious look. No one has retired yet, but that doesn’t stop playing the “what ifs” game in the meantime.

 

Supreme Court OKs gambling control, felon voting rights amendments

The state’s highest court on Thursday gave its approval for proposed state constitutional amendments on voter approval of new gambling and restoring voting rights to ex-cons.

But there’s a big ‘if’ before either can be placed on the 2018 statewide ballot—both amendments still need hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Moreover, Justices Ricky Polston and R. Fred Lewis dissented on the gambling amendment, saying “the ballot title and summary do not clearly inform the public that the proposed amendment may substantially affect slot machines approved by county-wide (referendums).”

The Florida Supreme Court does not pass judgment on subject matter, but reviews proposed amendments only to make sure they cover only one subject and that their ballot title and summary aren’t misleading.

“We are pleased that the Supreme Court has approved the language of this amendment,” said John Sowinski, chair of Voters In Charge, the group behind the “Voter Control of Gambling in Florida” amendment.

“(W)e can move forward with our efforts to ensure that Florida voters – not gambling industry influence and deal making – are the ultimate authority when it comes to deciding whether or not to expand gambling in our state,” he added in a statement.

Voters in Charge wants to “ensure that Florida voters shall have the exclusive right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling,” the ballot summary says.

The court, however, has not yet ruled in a case on Gretna Racing, the Gadsden County track seeking to add slot machines. Pari-mutuel interests have said Gretna and other facilities in counties where voters approved slots should be allowed to offer them.

If the court rules in favor, that could result in the single biggest gambling expansion in the state. The case has been pending since last June, when lawyers gave oral argument.

As of Thursday, state records showed the gambling amendment had 74,626 of the 766,200 valid signatures required for ballot placement.

“We will continue to collect the remaining petitions required to achieve ballot placement in 2018,” Sowinski said. “The expansion of gambling in Florida carries with it such significant consequences for our state that any decision to do so should rest with the people of Florida.’’

The “Voting Restoration Amendment,” backed by Floridians for a Fair Democracy, has 71,209 valid signatures. The court approved that amendment unanimously.

It aims to restore “the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation,” its summary says.

“The amendment would not apply to those convicted of murder or sexual offenses, who would continue to be permanently barred from voting unless the Governor and Cabinet vote to restore their voting rights on a case by case basis,” it adds.

“Today is a momentous day,” said Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and chairman of Floridians for a Fair Democracy. “The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Voting Restoration Amendment to move forward marks a key milestone on our path to a stronger democracy and a fairer Florida … Those who have paid their debt to society deserve a second chance.”

ACLU of Florida Political Director Kirk Bailey said in a statement his organization was the “language approved today reflects the belief that those who have committed crimes should be punished, but once they have fulfilled the terms of that punishment, they should be restored to full citizenship.’

Florida is one of only three states with a lifetime ban on voting, he added: “This amendment modernizes Florida’s criminal justice rules by bringing our state in line with others nationwide.”

In 2011, Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet ended the automatic restoration of voting and other civil rights to nonviolent felons after their sentences are up, requiring at least a five-year waiting period before ex-convicts can apply to get their rights back.

Satellite TV

Supreme Court OKs taxing satellite TV higher than cable

Satellite-television service can be taxed at a higher rate than cable TV, the Florida Supreme Court decided Thursday.

Satellite companies had challenged the state’s 16-year-old Communications Services Tax (CST), which now taxes cable service at 4.92 percent and satellite at 9.07 percent.

Those concerns, led by DirecTV, said that difference was unconstitutional and asked for a refund.

But the high court reversed the 1st District Court of Appeal’s 2-1 decision, which said that taxing the two services differently is unconstitutional.

Then-1st DCA Judge Simone Marstiller, in her dissent, had said there is no discriminatory purpose in the CST because satellite and cable providers are not “similarly situated entities.”

“There is no evidence from the text of the statute that it was enacted with a discriminatory purpose,” said Thursday’s opinion by Justice Peggy A. Quince and joined by the other justices. New Justice C. Alan Lawson didn’t participate in the decision.

“Consequently, the (satellite TV companies) are not entitled to a refund of the taxes paid,” it added.

During oral argument last year, Justice Barbara Pariente had noted that “in the end, we’re really talking about the customer that either gets screwed or helped … It all gets passed on.”

A spokesman for AT&T, which now owns DirecTV, declined comment.

The case is Florida Department of Revenue, et al. vs. DirecTV Inc., et al., no. SC15-1249.

Governor’s office affirmed prosecutorial discretion, state attorneys’ independence, in letter last year

Among material filed Tuesday with Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden.

Ayala’s attorneys Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C. and Marcos Hasbun of Tampa included the letter as an appendix to their writ of quo warranto, which asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders used to strip cases from Ayala.

The governor issued those orders reassigning first-degree murder cases from her to 5th Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King because the governor believed she overstepped her authority when she claimed prosecutorial discretion and refused to pursue death penalties.

Yet almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services.

The governor’s office has not yet had a chance to review and respond to the filing and the appendix.

“Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.

“The state attorneys operate independently, and as elected officials, they answer only to the voters of their individual jurisdictions,” Davis’s letter continued.

Ayala’s petition for a writ, filed Tuesday by Austin and Hasbun, cites amendments to Article V, Section 17, to the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1972 and 1986 saying they “expressly required for the first time that ‘the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts’ in his or her judicial circuit and made it clear that any exception to this must be ‘provided in this constitution.’

“Until the last few weeks,” the writ continues, “the Office of Governor Scott agreed that the Ninth Circuit State Attorney had discretion over the cases in his judicial circuit.” It then cites the April 21, 2016 letter.

Aramis Ayala files challenges of Rick Scott with Florida Supreme Court, federal court

Arguing Gov. Rick Scott had no legal basis to strip murder cases from her jurisdiction, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed challenges Tuesday morning in both the Florida Supreme Court and federal court.

In complaints filed by her attorney, Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C., Ayala contends that she legally exercised prosecutorial discretion in deciding not to pursue death penalty prosecutions in the 9th Judicial Circuit. Ayala was not found by guilty of any misconduct.

Consequently, Ayala argues that Scott’s executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to another state attorney were only because he disagreed with her determination not to pursue death penalties.

The state action, seeking a writ of quo warranto, asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders. Ayala’s petition cites Article V, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution, which declares that “the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in that circuit,” and contends that Scott has no legitimate grounds to overcome that.

Ayala’s federal suit, filed in Florida’s Middle District of U.S. District Court, seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Scott in his official capacity as Governor of Florida and in his individual capacity, as well as against Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King in his official capacity.

It argues that Scott denied both the will of the voters of the 9th Judicial Circuit and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“This is about justice and it’s about fairness,” Austin said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “Ms. Ayala was elected to ensure the fair administration of justice in the 9th Judicial Circuit. That is what she plans and is going to fight for. That involves everybody, the people in her office, the families of victims, the community she represents.”

The moves set forth the anticipated monumental showdown that will determine both the breadth of the power of the governor and breadth of prosecutorial discretion of Florida prosecutors.

The federal suit asks the federal court to defer for now to the Florida Supreme Court, so the state will get the first crack at the issues, based on state law and the Florida Constitution.

There is no question that Ayala’s decision to not pursue death penalties ignited a political firestorm, with Scott, State Attorney General Pam Bondi, many other Republicans and many police representatives expressing angry disagreement, while a number of Civil Rights, faith-based and legal organizations and a handful of Democrats have sided with Ayala, a Democrat.

The key questions are: how far can a state attorney take the long-standing legal concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” which essentially holds that the prosecutor can decide how to prosecute cases; and how much power does the governor have to manage the affairs of state and local officials whom the governor determines have overstepped their authorities.

The federal suit stands ready to test the issues on a bigger scale.

The complaint charges: “Scott violated the Constitution of the United States, usurped Ayala’s authority, and deprived voters in the 9th Judicial Circuit of their chosen State Attorney when, under color of law, he removed Ayala from 23 pending homicide cases in her circuit and replaced her with King, a State Attorney who was not elected by voters from Orange and Osceola Counties.”

For the first time, the federal case argues Ayala did indeed consider the facts of the case of Markeith Loyd, the alleged Orlando cop-killer who is also charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend.

Loyd’s first-up on her agenda, and it was her refusal to pursue a death penalty that led Scott’s first action, taking that case from Ayala and reassigning it to King.

“After extensively researching the relevant law, as well as the facts of the Loyd case, Ayala determined that she would seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in Loyd’s case, not a sentence of death,” the suit states.

“Separately from building her case against Loyd, Ayala began formulating her office’s policy for handling death-eligible cases generally. She reviewed research showing that the death penalty: has no positive impact on public safety; is racially discriminatory; discriminates against the poor; is enormously expensive; leaves victims’ families in a state of uncertainty, and is imposed on innocent people too often

“She also met with victims’ families, reviewed files from other cases, and spoke with other people involved with the criminal justice system,” the suit contends.

Florida may pay millions to homeowners for lost citrus trees

Florida may end a long-running battle and pay millions to homeowners whose healthy citrus trees were torn down in a failed attempt to eradicate citrus canker.

The Florida House has $66 million in its proposed budget to pay lawsuits filed on behalf of homeowners in Broward, Lee and Palm Beach counties. There are also lawsuits ongoing in Orange and Miami-Dade counties.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the House budget chairman, said the payments should be made because courts have already ruled against the state in those counties.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the state should wait until the lawsuits reach the Florida Supreme Court.

So far Senate Republicans have not included the payments in their budget.

Canker damages citrus trees. From 2000 to 2006, the state removed citrus trees within 1,900 feet of an infected tree.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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.”

Term limits for Supreme Court, appeals judges clear the Florida House, if barely

A proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on justices of the Florida Supreme Court and state appellate judges squeaked through the Florida House Wednesday after a majority defeated a series of unfriendly — even sarcastic — amendments.

HJR 1, by Eustis Republican Jennifer Sullivan, won 73 “Yes” votes — one more than the three-fifths support it needed. Forty-six members voted “No.”

The measure would limit judges of the district courts of appeal and justices of the Supreme Court to 12 years in office.

Sullivan argued Florida’s merit-retention system for appellate judges isn’t accountable because the voters have never tossed out a judge.

A number of Democrats argued the real motivation was to rein in a judiciary that has thwarted legislative initiatives.

The measure is “short-sighted and punitive, an “assault on a co-equal branch of government,” Democrat Evan Jenne said.

“And the only sin of that co-equal branch is providing a check and balance when the Legislature runs afoul of the Constitution — which, unfortunately, happens more than even I would like to admit,” Jenne said.

Following the vote, Jenne said he learned the House leadership would move for a final vote only when he arrived on the floor. Democrats opted not to try to block the move, reasoning the measure won’t pass the Senate. A companion measure, SJR 482, has yet to be heard in committee.

“It’s a dead bill,” Jenne said. “We’ve wasted enough time on a dead bill that isn’t going anywhere.”

Tampa Democrat Sean Shaw described the abuse directed at his father, the late Supreme Court Justice Leander Shaw, while running for retention following an abortion ruling. The family received racist material in the mail, and pictures of dead babies.

“I’m being told on this floor. ‘That’s not accountable.’ That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

Republicans defended the proposal. Larry Metz, an attorney from Yalaha, argued that appellate judges set policy and need to be held accountable.

“I support term limits for the appellate bench for the same reason I support them for this House and Senate,” he said. “Many times, they go way beyond the case or controversy in question, and they offer policy solutions to a problem that they think is constitutional.”

“This isn’t about going against the judicial branch of government,” Sullivan concluded. “It is about ensuring that power lies with the people.”

If the measure wins a Senate supermajority, it would become a constitutional amendment upon approval by 60 percent of the voters.

Representatives of an array of legal groups — including the Florida Bar, the Florida Board of Trial Advocates and the Florida Justice Reform Institute — warned in committee that it would discourage bright lawyers from seeking the bench and interfere with judicial independence.

In a written statement released shortly following the vote, House Speaker Richard Corcoran suggested such unified opposition was a bug, not a feature.

“It was said in debate today that all the special interest groups have lined up against term limits,” Corcoran said.

“That tells you we are doing what is right. And neither special interest hand-wringing nor political influence will stop the House from doing what is right. It boils down to this — we believe that no government job should be for life.”

The Florida Justice Reform Institute issued its own statement.

“Term limits are not going to ensure the best judges are on the bench,” said William Large, the group’s president.

“Instead they will only ensure that the best and brightest Florida lawyers rarely apply, and even when good judges manage to end up on the bench, they will be kicked off just as they are gaining the institutional knowledge and experience that make for great judges.”

Sullivan warded off 13 of amendments by Jared Moskowitz, a Democratic attorney from Coral Springs, that frankly made a mockery of her proposal.

Moskowitz proposed extending Supreme Court terms to 28, then 24, then 20 years, then 16, then eight.

To extend term limits to trial judges. To require ex-judges to publicly disclose their clients. To bar them from appearing before their old jurisdiction for two years.

He ended up withdrawing the amendments he didn’t withdraw

Moskowitiz’s point, he said, was that the proposal would be a mistake and the 12-year limit aribitrary.

Legislation advanced making knowingly spread HIV through sex without partner’s knowledge a capital crime

Roughly 34 years after the discovery of the virus that causes AIDS, Florida’s lawmakers are considering legislation whose maximum sentence would be death to knowingly spread the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, to a sexual partner without their knowledge, according to a committee that voted favorably Monday in regard to the measure.

The bill, HB 165, sponsored by Florida Rep. Kionne McGhee, would expand a current law already on the books in the Sunshine State making it a crime to consciously spread sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs).

McGhee’s legislation looks to amend the law by adding HIV to a list of STDs, which include gonorrhea, genital herpes simplex, chlamydia, human papillomavirus hepatitis and syphilis, among others. Anyone caught knowingly spreading those communicable diseases can be punished in a court of law and face jail time, but may only be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor crime if they didn’t know it.

The amendment could make it a first-degree felony, punishable by death, if a person knowingly spreads the disease more than once to multiple people.

The move was sparked by a 2011 case in Key West, Florida, that forced Florida lawmakers to redefine the definition of sex. The Florida Supreme Court issued a ruling in connection to the case just last week.

Gary Debaun, 65, allegedly risked his partner with the virus that causes AIDS and a legal definition of sexual intercourse can’t get him out of the charge, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a six-page decision based solely on whether intercourse is defined as only sex between a man and a woman.

“The term ‘sexual intercourse’ is commonly understood to broadly refer to several sex acts — including the sexual act at issue here,” said the court ruling. “In certain contexts, the term refers to specifically — that is, more narrowly, to penile-vaginal intercourse.”

Florida Supreme Court declines to hear Tampa General malpractice case

The Florida Supreme Court decided not to weigh in on a case between Tampa General Hospital and the estate of Annie Godwin, who died while undergoing surgery performed by University of South Florida physicians in 2009.

Godwin died of blood loss during an operation to remove a cancerous tumor after a large vein was torn during surgery. After her death, Godwin’s estate sued Tampa General, USF and the physicians performing the procedure.

The malpractice lawsuit centers around whether Tampa General can be held liable for Godwin’s death even though the physicians were USF employees, not hospital employees.

The 2nd District Court of Appeals found Tampa General was not liable for Godwin’s death when it took up the case last year.

In the ruling, the court noted that Godwin had signed a form acknowledging the physicians were not hospital employees.

“No disputed material facts undermine the trial court’s conclusion that the physicians were not TGH employees or agents,” said the decision, written by Judge Edward LaRose last year. “”In addition to the affiliation agreement and the three forms signed by Mrs. Godwin, we are mindful that USF controlled its physicians.”

“The physicians were employees of USF, paid by USF, and assigned by USF,” the decision continued. “USF, not TGH, controlled their activities.”

Godwin’s estate pushed the case to the Florida Supreme Court after that decision, and the courts decision not to take up the case effectively leaves to stand the 2nd District Court of Appeals’ ruling.

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