Pam Bondi Archives - Page 3 of 27 - SaintPetersBlog

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.

 

Ethics Commission clears Pam Bondi over Donald Trump contribution

Florida’s ethics commission is throwing out complaints filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi over her decision to ask Donald Trump for a contribution to help her re-election campaign.

The Florida Commission on Ethics on Friday voted to reject several complaints filed against Bondi by a Massachusetts trial attorney.

One of the complaints questioned Bondi receiving a contribution around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

Bondi asked for money from Trump in 2013 and got a $25,000 check for her political organization on Sept. 23 of that year. Emails from the same time period show that her office was being asked about the New York allegation.

Bondi has said repeatedly that she did nothing wrong.

Florence Snyder: Florida’s opioid crisis, Part 5 – Hey Florida, talk to the hand!

One hour isn’t much time for a Senate subcommittee “confirmation hearing” on the heads of the agencies as important to “health and human services” as the Department of Health and the Agency for Health Care Administration.

But that’s what Health and Human Services Subcommittee Chair Anitere Flores allotted, and not one second longer. So, you’d think that AHCA’s acting secretary Justin Senior and DOH’s Interim Surgeon General Celeste Philip would each get a half-hour of the committee’s time … but you would be wrong.

Senior’s “hearing” was a tongue-bath and tummy rub that consumed most of the hour. To be fair, the feds had just dropped 1.5 billion into the AHCA’s coffers. Maybe Flores & Friends think that cash came Florida’s way due to Senior’s executive brilliance, as opposed to President Donald Trump‘s synergistic bromance with Gov. Rick Scott.

Or maybe they were running out the clock to get Philip safely to the border of Munchkinland and out of Oz altogether before she stumbled over that pesky poppy field.

Delray Beach Democratic Sen. Kevin Rader and large numbers of Floridians want to know why we don’t acknowledge the state’s opioid epidemic and get on with the business of dealing with it. In the minuscule amount of time available for Rader to ask and Philip to bob, weave and weasel her way through an “answer,” viewers got a pretty clear preview of coming attractions on the Opioid Listening Tour, announced last week by Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, who are not expected to attend.

Instead, Philip and others with titles, but no actual power, will deploy to four cities in three days for 90-minute “community conversations.”  It will be like watching a Lifetime Cable movie, but with less depth and sincerity.

 

Tom Lee not backing down on claim of questionable spending at Tampa International Airport

Tom Lee insists he never wanted to air any “dirty laundry” about Tampa International Airport when he attempted to introduce an amendment to the Florida Senate’s budget last Wednesday that would have the airport independently audited.

But the Brandon Republican says that there are too many unanswered questions about how the airport is being run for him to stand silent.

“When you’re presented with this information, and you’re a member of the Florida Legislature, and you don’t act on at least an innocuous audit of status of the airport expansion project, that’s a pretty irresponsible disregard of your public duties,” Lee said Sunday.

The Senate rejected Lee’s amendment on a voice vote, but airport officials have stated that they would have no issue with such an audit, if one ultimately took place.

Tampa Republican Dana Young objected to the process by which Lee introduced his amendment, asking him on the floor why he couldn’t have done so when the Hillsborough County Legislative Delegation (which Lee chairs) met last December.

Lee told Young and Jack Latvala, who also objected to the late-filed amendmentthat it was only because of recent media reports that he was compelled to do his own due diligence about the airport’s finances, specifically referring to a report from WFLA News Channel 8.

That story, which aired on March 1, reported that phase one of the airport’s $1 billion master plan expansion was running four months behind schedule.

A story that Lee didn’t mention on the Senate floor, but which he confirmed with FloridaPolitics.com, was a crucial source for him was reported approximately a year-and-half ago by WTSP’s Mike Deeson. That story relied on quotes from two Hillsborough County Tea Party activists who questioned the spending at the airport, as well as excerpts of memos written by former Hillsborough County Aviation Authority member Martin Garcia to board members years earlier. Garcia has been a frequent critic of TIA executive director Joe Lopano and his spending plans at the airport ever since Garcia abruptly left the agency after less than a year of service in May 2014.

Lee says that he “stumbled across” Garcia after he had done some initial research on the airport’s finances, and says that the former Aviation Authority board member “put some meat on the bones” of those reports.

Garcia is the head of a Tampa-based investment firm and served as Pam Bondi’s campaign manager for her successful run for Attorney General in 2010. Lee says he knew of Garcia from local GOP circles, but not well before the recent conversation about the airport.

During those discussions, Lee stated that Garcia told him that he was in possession of documents that referred to the extent of which airport management had “gone out of its way to conceal some of the facts and had refused to proceed in a fiscally irresponsible manger with these independent feasibility studies.” But when Lee asked him if he could share that information with him, he said Garcia told him he would not do so “without a subpoena.”

A call to Garcia for comment was not returned.

Garcia also told Lee about his issues with Gigi Rechel, the Aviation Authority’s former attorney who Garcia encouraged the Florida Bar to investigate regarding text messages she had sent to him that could not be recovered.

In February, the Florida Bar ruled that Rechel did not violate the state’s Sunshine Laws.

Lee admits that other various other media reports about other incidents about the airport have inspired his zeal for an audit. One of those incidents was a report about an alleged security breach and questionable business practices by staffers in the IT department. Two of those staffers ultimately resigned, and a business consulting firm found no security breaches.

Lee says that his request for an audit was a “perfunctory” request, and says he remains surprised that it has become such a major story. But while he insists he doesn’t have a “settled opinion” on whether improprieties are happening with the airport’s finances, Lee also injected the arguably inflammatory words “potential public corruption at the airport” early in his discussion of the debate on the Senate floor last week.

He defends those comments, saying it came later in the public debate after Young challenged him.

“The airing of the dirty laundry on the Senate floor is not my doing,” he maintains, saying he did everything he could to avoid that conversation and said that there had already been ten minutes of discussion off the floor of the Senate before he made that comment (You can watch the debate on the Senate floor, beginning at the 5:30:45 marker here).

Lee also says that Young was advised by lobbyists for the Aviation Authority not to challenge him on the floor because they knew that it could result in exposing “dirty laundry.”

(FloridaPolitics.com reached out to Young and the two lobbyists working for the airport to confirm the accuracy of the claim. None immediately responded).

Acknowledging that an internal state audit could be time-consuming, Tampa Airport officials say that they would welcome such a review because they have nothing to hide.

“If an audit turns up any findings, we certainly would adjust practices as necessary,” says airport spokesperson Janet Zink, “but we feel really comfortable with the way the project has been managed.”

Zink says the Aviation Authority provides monthly updates to the Florida Department of Transportation and has their internal auditing team reviewing the project on a regular basis, as well as producing an annual audit with an external auditor.

“There is a lot of monitoring going on, and we’ve been really, really diligent and careful in the way that we’ve managed the project,” she says.

Lee says that he also is concerned that there hasn’t been much public discussion about phases II and III of the ultimately $2.6 billion master plan. However, Zink says that there will be a board workshop at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Aviation Authority’s boardroom on Phase II of the Master Plan (public notice was the first week of April). There will also be an open house April 27 at 6 p.m. in the boardroom for more people to get information about the project.

Over the weekend, FloridaPolitics reached out to two Aviation Authority members for comment; neither Mayor Bob Buckhorn nor Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist chose to respond. Crist initially responded to a request to talk, but later returned a subsequent message.

A dangerous consequence of the Eyeball Wars; throwing gasoline on Florida’s wildfire opioid crisis

It’s no secret that the United States is in the midst of an epidemic of opioid abuse, overdoses and deaths, with Florida emerging as an epicenter.

Nevertheless, several Tallahassee lawmakers, albeit unwittingly, may soon contribute to this wildfire of a crisis, a casualty of the latest battle in Florida’s Eyeball Wars.

Few can argue the opioid problem has reached epic proportions. The Washington Post is reporting more than 200,000 deaths from opioid overdose between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, nearly 600 people died from overdoses in Palm Beach County alone, says the Palm Beach Post.

By 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi and the legislature had begun actively cracking down on the state’s “pill mills,” helped by the Florida Prescription Drug Diversion and Abuse program, set up by the Statewide Task Force on Prescription Drug Abuse and Newborns, created during the 2012 Legislative Session.

In 2017, a group of state legislators, including Reps. Bob Rommel of Naples, Larry Lee of St. Lucie, Nick Duran of Miami-Dade, and Cary Pigman of Sebring have each filed legislation seeking innovative ways to combat Florida’s mounting opioid crisis.

Despite efforts to fix a problem in one area, Pigman may have open the door for another.

As chair of the House Health Quality Subcommittee, the Avon Park Republican – himself an emergency room physician – narrowly approved a bill that would add nearly 4,000 new prescription pads to Florida.

Sponsored by Manny Diaz, HB 1037 is a bill that would allow optometrists, who are neither medical doctors nor educated in medical school, the ability to prescribe all manner of narcotics, except Schedule 1. The bill is being aggressively pushed by the Florida Optometric Association, which has assembled a team of a dozen lobbyists to promote HB 1037, including Michael Corcoran, brother of the House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

Optometrists claim the expansion of services will allow them to perform intricate, “noninvasive” laser surgery. It has been an argument thoroughly debunked by the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, American College of Surgeons and the American Medical Association, which say optometrists do not have nearly the amount of training and expertise necessary to perform such delicate procedures.

There is no such thing as “noninvasive” eye surgery, they point out.

However, the flip side of HB 1037 — giving optometrists power to prescribe an added group of medications, including opioids — has not received as much attention. And it could turn out to be just as dangerous.

If passed, HB 1037 could fall under the category of unintended (but not unforeseen) consequences by creating a surge in availability of opioids throughout the state, especially during a time when lawmakers struggle to find ways to curb access.

Such a resolution in the Eyeball Wars would be like throwing gasoline on the raging wildfire of Florida’s opioid crisis.

Donald Trump taps lawyer involved with Trump U case for federal job

As a top aide to Florida’s attorney general, Carlos G. Muniz helped defend the office’s decision to sit out legal action against Trump University. Now the president is naming him to be the top lawyer in the U.S. Education Department.

President Donald Trump has announced his intent to nominate Muniz to serve as general counsel to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. The Senate would then consider the nomination of the Republican lawyer.

Emails reviewed by The Associated Press show that in 2013 Muniz, who served as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s chief of staff for three years, was included in discussions about student complaints alleging fraud with Trump’s namesake real-estate seminars.

Muniz, now in private practice, has also been the lead attorney defending Florida State University in a lawsuit by a former student who said the school failed to investigate after she said she was sexually assaulted by the star quarterback of the Seminoles’ 2013 national championship football team. The player was never charged with a crime by police in Tallahassee, and the state attorney’s office declined to pursue a criminal case against him.

An investigation by the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is still underway, presenting a potential conflict of interest if Muniz is confirmed.

Both Muniz and the White House declined to comment Tuesday, referring all questions to the Education Department.

That department did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment about the Trump University review or whether Muniz would recuse himself from involvement in the Florida State probe.

AP reported last year that Bondi personally solicited a $25,000 political contribution from Trump as her office was weighing how to respond to questions from the Orlando Sentinel newspaper about whether she would join New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in suing the billionaire businessman.

Though both Trump University and the Florida-based Trump Institute had stopped offering classes by the time Bondi took office in 2011, more than 20 consumer complaints had been filed by former students who said they were swindled.

Emails from August 2013 obtained under Florida’s public records law showed that Muniz was copied on discussions about how to respond to the newspaper’s request for comment, though he did not actively weigh in.

Emails show Muniz did help direct Bondi’s public defense on the issue, including rewriting an October 2013 fact sheet distributed to reporters.

Days after Bondi’s office said it was reviewing the Trump U case, a political committee supporting her re-election received a $25,000 check from Trump’s charitable foundation. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, also added $500 more to support Bondi.

Bondi, who endorsed Trump’s bid for president right before the Florida Republican primary, said she was unaware her staff had been asked about the New York lawsuit until a Florida newspaper columnist highlighted the 2013 donation from Trump.

Bondi has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and defended her decision to accept the contribution, saying her office never seriously considered suing Trump.

Trump’s 2013 check, drawn on an account in the name of the Donald J. Trump Foundation, violated a federal prohibition against charities giving money to political groups. The issue garnered national media coverage last year during Trump’s presidential campaign, and his foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

The illegal donation prompted a Massachusetts attorney last year to file a state bribery complaint against Bondi and Trump. A Florida prosecutor assigned to review the case informed Republican Gov. Rick Scott last week of his office’s conclusion that there was not enough evidence to move forward.

A memo about the complaint against Bondi said it was “insufficient on its face to conduct a criminal investigation” and was based almost entirely on media coverage. The assistant state attorney who wrote the memo said the complaint was based on insinuation and there was no evidence Bondi asked for the money in exchange for any official act. There was no indication she interviewed Trump or Bondi before reaching her decision.

Though Bondi’s office took no action against Trump, the president later agreed to settle the class-action case filed by New York and private lawyers, paying his former students $25 million in damages.

After leaving Bondi’s office, Muniz became a partner at the Jacksonville, Florida, office of a large law and lobbying firm. He defended Florida State University in a Title IX lawsuit filed by Erica Kinsman, a former student who said she was raped by quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012.

Kinsman sued Winston in April 2015 in federal civil court, alleging sexual battery and assault, and Winston countersued her one month later, alleging her accusations were false and defamatory. Both civil cases were settled in December under confidential terms. Winston, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NFL draft, now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Title IX is a federal law that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The Education Department warned schools in 2011 of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault, even if a criminal investigation has not been concluded.

Last year, FSU agreed to pay Kinsman $950,000, the largest settlement ever for claims regarding a university’s indifference to a student’s reported sexual assault.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

 

Pam Bondi declines to file writ for Armamis Ayala

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is declining to file a challenge supporting Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala against Gov. Rick Scott and may intervene to oppose anything Ayala files.

That sets the stage for Ayala to likely present her challenge early next week, seeking to get a judge to declare that, short of a finding a state attorney violated the law, Scott has no constitutional right to reassign cases from one state attorney to another, as he has done over the past month.

Ayala announced in March that she has concluded the death penalty to be unjust for all, and won’t pursue it in first-degree murder cases. So Scott, who was highly critical of her conclusion, stripped 23 first-degree murder cases from her 9th Judicial Circuit and reassigned them to State Attorney Brad King in the 5th Judicial Circuit.

Ayala intends to challenge Scott’s authority to do so, and earlier Friday her lawyer, Roy L. Austin, asked Bondi to initiate that challenge on her behalf. Specifically, they asked her to petition a court for a writ of quo warranto.

Bondi has sided with Scott all along, arguing that what Ayala did violates Florida law, and what Scott did is supported by statute.

And so, writing in response to that formal request to Bondi, Associate Deputy Attorney General Chesterfield Smith Jr. advised Austin late Friday that the attorney general’s office would not do as he asked on Ayala’s behalf.

That is essentially a formality out of the way for Ayala, allowing her and Austin to now pursue the writ without having to go through the attorney general’s office. Earlier Friday Austin said he expects they will do so early next week, seeking

Smith indicated the attorney general is prepared to oppose anything Ayala pursues in court against Scott.

“This office declines to commence such a proceeding and may seek to appear in any such proceeding to ensure that the laws of this State are properly interpreted and faithfully enforced,” Smith wrote.

Aramis Ayala asks Pam Bondi to initiate challenge of Rick Scott’s murder case orders

An attorney representing embattled Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala has initiated the process to challenge Gov. Rick Scott‘s murder case reassignment orders by asking State Attorney General Pam Bondi to petition the court on Ayala’s behalf.

Ayala intends to challenge the legality of Scott’s now 23 and counting executive orders stripping 9th Judicial Circuit first-degree murder cases from Ayala’s jurisdiction and reassigning them to be prosecuted by 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King.

The governor did so after Ayala announced she had concluded that death sentences were unjust for all involved and that she would not pursue them. That angered Scott — and Bondi — leading Scott to reassign all of Ayala’s first-degree murder cases.

Bondi has supported Scott. But in this request, she may have no choice but to comply, as a perfunctory obligation, said Ayala’s attorney, Roy L. Austin Jr., of the Washington law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis.

Specifically, the letter asks Bondi to petition a court for a writ quo warranto against Scott and King.

Florida law requires state attorneys to go through the attorney general for such actions, Austin said.

“We have to ask her,” Austin said of Bondi. “But what it’s meant to signal is that Ms. Ayala is definitely going to be responding to the governor, making it clear that his actions were unconstitutional.”

“We’re going to do so next week, early next week,” Austin added.

Austin asked Bondi to notify him no later than 5 p.m. Monday on whether she would file for the writ. “If you do not intend to file such an action, state Attorney Ayala will file a petition for a writ quote warrant soon thereafter,” Austin wrote.

In the letter, he summarized Ayala’s position this way: “As the duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, state Attorney Ayala cannot be forcibly removed as the prosecuting officer for trial courts in the Ninth Judicial Circuit absent a finding that she has violated the law. By unconstitutional and unlawful executive orders issued by Gov. Rick Scott, State Attorney Brad King is wrongfully purporting to exercise the right of state Attorney Ayala to prosecute a number of cases in the Ninth Judicial Circuit.”

Pam Bondi’s office to Emily Slosberg: Local government can’t outlaw texting while driving

The Legislature can’t create an exception for Palm Beach County to make texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense there, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office said in a recent letter.

Slosberg headshot
E. Slosberg

The answer came in response to a question from state Rep. Emily Slosberg, a Boca Raton Democrat elected last year. The informal legal opinion letter, dated Feb. 3, was part of an Attorney General’s Opinions Digest released Monday.

Slosberg wanted to know “whether the Legislature may provide express authority for the Palm Beach County Commission to pass an ordinance making ‘texting while driving’ in a school zone in Palm Beach County a primary offense.”

Nope, said Lagran Saunders, director of Bondi’s Opinions Division. It’s now a secondary offense, meaning a driver has to be pulled over for something else first.

“To enact legislation granting authority to Palm Beach County to solely enact an ordinance making texting while driving in a school zone a primary offense would be contrary to this express legislative intent of a uniform system of traffic regulation and would violate the Florida Constitution,” the letter said.

A December letter from the Palm Beach County Attorney’s Office gave the same opinion.

“It’s all subject to interpretation,” Slosberg said in a phone interview. “I understand the need for uniformity but the danger of putting a phone in the hands of an inexperienced driver is still a deadly combination.”

Emily Slosberg’s twin sister, Dori, died i

State law now makes it a secondary offense to view or send text messages while driving. That means a driver first needs to be pulled over for a different traffic infraction, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before law enforcement can issue a texting and driving ticket.

Slosberg filed a bill this year (HB 47) to remove the secondary offense language and increase penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. But the legislation has not yet had a hearing.

Her persistence in pushing the measure has earned her the enmity of some in the Palm Beach Legislative Delegation.

State Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat whom the elder Slosberg unsuccessfully challenged in last year’s primary, in December said it wasn’t “a legal local bill, and there shouldn’t ever be any vote held on it.”

“She’s effectively killed her ability to work with anyone in the Legislature,” he added.

As Saunders said at the end of his letter, “You may wish to work with your colleagues in crafting legislation which will allow your concerns to be addressed throughout the state.”

Pam Bondi’s D.C. trip increases speculation she’s White House bound

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is D.C. bound this week, once again increasing speculation that she might be eyeing a job in the White House before her term ends in 2019.

Bondi is scheduled to moderate a “women’s empowerment panel” Wednesday, featuring some of the top women in President Donald Trump’s administration.

Panelists include Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, SBA Administrator Linda McMahon, U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Verma has played a role in the Trump administration’s early messaging in the Sunshine State.

Last weekend, she was part of the Jacksonville pitch of the Affordable Health Care Act, a pitch that proved ill-fated as Republican support for the Obamacare reform didn’t even make it to a floor vote before the Trump Administration had the bill pulled.

The panel comes on the heels of a trip to Washington, D.C. on Monday, where Bondi met with Trump and two Cabinet secretaries on children’s issues.

According to POLITICO Florida, Bondi brought former Tony Dungy, the former Tampa Bay Buccanneers football coach who has become a children’s rights advocate; Derrick Brooks, the former Florida State University and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Hall of Fame linebacker who co-founded a charter school; and Mark Merrrill, an activist with All Pro Dads with her to talk with DeVos and HUD Secretary Ben Carson about children’s issues.

Bondi said she was happy with her work in Florida, and told POLITICO Florida she was working on “some special projects with the White House.”

An early supporter of Trump, Bondi has often been mentioned as a someone who might join the Trump administration. Bondi has long dismissed rumors, saying she was happy with her current job.

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