Pam Bondi Archives - Page 5 of 27 - SaintPetersBlog

Still no word on makeup of constitution revision panel

With about a week before the start of the 30-day period in which it’s supposed to have its first meeting, the membership of the state’s Constitution Revision Commission is still unknown.

Representatives for Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran Monday said they still have not officially closed their application periods.

“The President is currently accepting applications,” said Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta, who provided the latest list of 81 names already in.

Because of continued interest, Corcoran also is still taking applications, spokesman Fred Piccolo said, after initially extending his deadline to last Friday.

Each man, however, only has nine picks allotted under the state constitution, which allows for a panel to “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it.”

But the first meeting of the commission, mandated to form every 20 years, must occur within the 30 days prior to the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session. It kicks off March 7.

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson.

The Governor’s Office has posted its applicants online, a who’s who of current and former lawmakers, prominent attorneys, former state officials and others.

“The application is still open,” spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said. “Members can be appointed any time within 30 days of session convening.”

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks. Court spokesman Craig Waters Monday had no news on Labarga’s picks.

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98, but this will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose more conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Federal judge sounds dubious on abortion counseling registration

The state’s new abortion law sparked a contentious dialogue between a federal judge and a lawyer for the state on Friday.

Part of that law requires those engaged in abortion referral or counseling services to pay a fee to register with the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) and provides for criminal penalties for not registering.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing several Florida reverends, rabbis and nonprofit organizations, is seeking a preliminary injunction to prevent enforcement of the provision. They say it infringes on their constitutional free speech and privacy rights.

“It intervenes in pastoral counseling,” the Rev. Bryan Fulwider of Orlando, the lead plaintiff, told reporters after the hearing. “You don’t want to presume any speech in such a setting.”

Attorney Wes Powell told Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle that a footnote in the state’s brief makes clear one intent of the provision: To invite prosecution of those who do not register.

Hinkle

Sparks flew, however, when Hinkle started questioning Blaine Winship, special counsel to Attorney General Pam Bondi. Hinkle already has chipped away at the law, passed last year, striking down a section that would have banned abortion providers from receiving state funding for non-abortion services.

Winship argued that instead of suing AHCA and the Attorney General, the ACLU should have gone after the state attorneys, who would actually bring criminal charges under the registration part of the law.

“So when (all) the state attorneys come in here and want to know who let them be sued, I can tell them the attorney general?” Hinkle said.

Hinkle also was smarting from the state’s decision to appeal his ruling in a case brought by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. There, he ruled that the Tribe could keep offering blackjack because the state promulgated a gambling rule that he found broke the state’s promise of blackjack exclusivity to the Seminoles.

Because an agency rule went against the state’s case, the state’s lawyers said “you should ignore that rule,” Hinkle said.

Winship

The judge also noted that a staff analysis for the bill (HB 1411) that became the abortion law didn’t have a “constitutional issues” section. (Actually, it did, including noting that “AHCA currently has sufficient rule-making authority to implement the provisions of the bill.”)

“Did someone tell staff, ‘we don’t want your opinion on the constitutional issues?’ ” he asked, quickly adding, “Well, that’s probably an unfair question.”

Hinkle also drilled into who was required to register, suggesting it was aimed only toward those who would counsel about abortions, not against them.

The judge asked Winship what Fulwider would have to say in a counseling session to comply with the law. Winship said he didn’t know.

“Then how is he to know? Isn’t that the point?” Hinkle said, adding that Winship seemed to “confess” he didn’t have a winning defense of the registration provision.

Abortion counselors “can’t speak unless they’re registered (with the state, and) if they don’t pay, they can’t speak,” the judge said.

Hinkle did not immediately rule on the injunction.

cigarettes

Pam Bondi moves against tobacco companies for missed payments

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is going after two tobacco companies for holding back money she says is owed to the state under an historic tobacco settlement.

Bondi filed an enforcement motion in Palm Beach County circuit court Wednesday against ITG Brands and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR). 

The attorney general said in a statement that R.J. Reynolds “recently sold three of its most iconic cigarette brands – Winston, Kool and Salem – along with a legacy Lorillard Tobacco Company brand, Maverick, to ITG for $7 billion.”

But neither company included the sale into consideration when making their payments to the state under the settlement, she said.

Bondi says they’re now “liable for millions of dollars of missed payments to Florida,” and her motion seeks a court order “requiring payment to Florida for the past and future sales of these cigarettes.”

“The sale of major, pre-existing tobacco brands to another company for billions of dollars does not cause the payment obligations to vanish like a puff of smoke,” Bondi said.

Florida and other states settled lawsuits in the 1990s against the major cigarette makers, including RJR, for “past, present, and future public health care expenses from citizens’ consumption of … cigarettes,” according to the motion.

A final master agreement was “the largest civil litigation settlement in U.S. history,” according to the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium.

“RJR and the other major tobacco companies agreed to make annual payments to Florida of several hundred million dollars, in perpetuity,” Bondi’s office said.

ITG did not respond to a request for comment.

Reynolds spokesman Bryan Hatchell, in an email, said the company “believe(s) we have strong legal and factual defenses to the motions filed today in this case and will vigorously defend against them. However, as this is ongoing litigation, we decline any further comment at this time.”

David Simmons weighing Florida attorney general, congressional runs

While giving his blessing to state Rep. Jason Brodeur to run for his current post, state Sen. David Simmons says he’s weighing his options to go after the Florida attorney general’s post, Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat, which Democrats just flipped, or staying full-time with his growing law firm.

The attorney general option could come sooner rather than later, as Attorney General Pam Bondi is widely reported to be in the running for a position in President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration.

If Bondi leaves, Gov. Rick Scott would be appointing a successor. If she stays, she’ll be term-limited out in 2018, the same year that U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy comes up for her first re-election bid in CD 7, a seat Republicans had held for generations before her arrival. Simmons said it was premature to say if he has spoken to Scott about the prospect of being appointed as attorney general.

One way or the other, Simmons, a Longwood Republican, leaves by 2020, when he term-limits out. That’s the year for which Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, announced he was filing to run to succeed Simmons in Florida Senate District 9, which covers Seminole County.

“I am looking at my options,” Simmons told FloridaPolitics.com.

“I know that in 2018 the attorney general position will be open, and maybe earlier. And so, at this point in time, we’ll see what happens,” Simmons said. “And then of course, with the events that occurred in Nov. 2016, I believe that there is a need to have a Republican who represents Congressional District 7. And so I’ll look at option as well. When it gets to be 2020, or 2018 — you know how politics is volatile that we don’t’ know what’s going to happen, and who is going to be running for what positions — predicting what is going on is a very difficult thing.”

Becoming just a private attorney with de Beaubien Simmons Knight Mantzaris & Neal also is attractive, he added. That firm, now using the logo DSK Law, has been growing rapidly and now has 50 lawyers and a full-spectrum practice, headquartered in Orlando with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee. Simmons is the financial managing partner, and practices large commercial litigation trial law.

Simmons first entered the Florida House in 2000 and was elected to four terms. He ran and was elected to the Senate in 2010.

The state attorney general’s prospect appears to be leading his current interests. Simmons said he and Bondi are close friends, and was hesitant to speculate about whether she would leave early, or — out of respect — whether he already was posturing to replace her.

Yet Brodeur’s relatively early announcement of interest in Simmons seat may signal that at least Brodeur anticipates that Simmons’ seat might open up soon.

“Certainly I am very interested in the attorney general’s position,” Simmons said.

“I am an attorney who has been involved in the practice of law, has three board certifications, all of them relating to the active practice of law, and having been now the Legislature and the Senate, and having been actively involved in many major issues.”

Simmons said he supports Brodeur to replace him.

Rick Scott should call Richard Doran before appointing next AG

There seems little doubt that within the next few days Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi will add the word “former” in front of that title. The all-but-certain appointment to join the staff of President-elect Donald Trump will likely be leaked to the media, then, no doubt, made official via Twitter.

While we wait, there are administrative matters requiring attention. Among the most important for the Office of the Attorney General is to be prepared for the re-stoking of the Trump Foundation donation to Bondi’s re-election campaign.

The issue is bogus, but Bondi and her successor will again be answering those questions.

Speaking of her successor, the identity of that person has already drawn significant speculation within the political circles. Several names are tossed around, including Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami also appears on several lists.

Two factors go into appointing the next Attorney General. Competency and the ability to win the election in 2018, hopefully in that order, are paramount.

I have a suggestion for Governor Rick Scott as he contemplates his most important appointment. He should consult with Richard Doran.

While Doran’s name would not ring a bell with most around Florida, those within the circles of state government know him well. For what is about to happen, he is the only Floridian who has “been there and done that.”

While there are some differences in the circumstances, Doran, a Republican, was appointed Attorney General on November 5, 2002, by then-Gov. Jeb Bush when Bob Butterworth resigned to seek election to the state Senate.

Doran spent 19 years in the Attorney General’s office. In addition to leading the office for a brief time, he also knows what it takes for it to be successful from the other side.

As a shareholder in the prestigious Tallahassee law firm of Ausley McMullen, he is content doing what he is doing. But, he would be an invaluable adviser to the governor.

Doran believes the governor has a good process in place to make a good selection. He speaks of the current situation involving Bondi as “if” she joins Team Trump, not “when.”

“Because one of the roles of the governor is to evaluate attorneys for judgeships, Gov. Scott and his staff have had the opportunity to evaluate a number of very fine attorneys over the past several years,” Doran said. “To me, the process of selecting a new attorney general would be similar.”

Precious few of those attorneys would have the experience of the mission and inner workings of what amounts to one of Florida’s largest law firms. While others will advise Scott on issues of electability for 2018, Doran can offer his advice on running the ship.

While there are similarities between his situation and the one about to develop in Florida, he recognizes that his two-month stint as Attorney General is different from someone who will serve for two years.

“This would be uncharted territory for a Florida governor,” he said. “I would look for him to identify individuals of the highest integrity, commitment to public service, as well as an understanding and respect of the notion of separation of powers and an ability to run a large organization.”

That sounds like someone who is not thinking much about 2018. Which is exactly why the governor needs to talk to him.

Among the many possibilities out there, there will be a few who can both handle the legal responsibilities as well as possess the necessary political skills to be successful. Butterworth, with whom Doran served, and Charlie Crist, with whom I spent four years in the Attorney General’s office, are perfect examples.

Gov. Scott, you and the people of Florida would be well served by making that call.

Pam Bondi announces website to spread awareness of human trafficking in Florida

Since beginning her tenure as Attorney General six years ago, Pam Bondi has made the combating of human trafficking in the state one of her signature issues. Appearing at Tampa International Airport on Friday morning, Bondi announced the partnership with the airport to encourage travelers to spot human trafficking and report suspicious activity. They can do so by going to a new website, YouCanStopHT.com.

“Thousands of people walk through our airport every single day,” Bondi said. “Partnering with the airport gives us a unique opportunity to spread awareness about human trafficking to thousands of people every single day.”

Bondi said regular citizens can act as the eyes and ears to observing and reporting such transgressions, citing an Uber driver out of Sacramento last week who grew suspicious after picking up a 16-year-old girl (who he originally suspected was only 12) and contacted local police. The teenager was being sold for sex at a Holiday Inn, the police reported, and her eavesdropping Uber driver had saved her. “That is proof that one person…can make a difference if you know what to look for, because sadly it is all around us,” said Bondi.

“The awareness program will be made available for all of our employees,” said Tampa International Airport Police Chief Paul Sireci.

“We’re trying to save that one person who’s drowning out there,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who said he wanted to deliver a message to the people who might be sexually trafficked right now: “Your captors are lying to you,” he said, adding that his department only wants to help such victims, assuring them that if they come forward they won’t be going to jail. “You’re a victim. And we’re going to treat you like one.”

And Bondi, who joined a lawsuit with other Republican attorneys general in December of 2014 disputing President Obama’s executive order granting additional protections to millions of undocumented immigrants, said that the undocumented who are being enslaved should not worry about their status if they come out of the shadows.

“That is often how your captor will keep you – by saying we will grab you, and we will deport you, and you are not a victim. That will not happen,” she said, insisting, “We will protect you. We will keep you safe. Because you are a victim.”

Dover House Republican Ross Spano has made the issue of combating human trafficking since being elected to the Legislature in 2012. He said at the news conference that while he didn’t want to “cast any aspersions” regarding Monday night’s national college football championship game in Tampa, but he did say that the ad campaign in Tampa’s airport could only be a plus in trying to heighten awareness this weekend on the issue. Bondi said traffickers bring their victims into cities like Tampa like the NCAA championship game or next month in Houston at the Super Bowl. “That’s why we’re here at the airport.” (Some critics dispute that there are an influx of prostitutes who attend events like the Super Bowl, as this Snopes.com site alludes to).

The state of Florida has over 80 investigations of human trafficking at this time, Bondi said, and over 70 of those cases are active.

Bondi was also asked by reporters about reports about joining Donald Trump’s incoming administration. While she downplayed those reports (which you can read about here), she did say that she has talked about the issue of human trafficking with him, and said that he is “committed to fighting human trafficking in our country.”

In Tampa, Pam Bondi deflects questions about an impending move to work for Donald Trump

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi attempted to deflect questions about the possibility she may soon leave her job to join the administration of incoming U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday in Tampa.

Speaking at a news conference highlighting a new human trafficking awareness with Tampa International Airport, the Tampa native said, “I’m very happy being Attorney General of the state of Florida right now. I get to work with these great people behind me every day.”

“And,” she added, “I’m also committed to the President of the United States — elect — to make our country a better country, and get back on track.”

On Thursday, Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs reported that Bondi would take a job with the Trump White House, though no particular position was mentioned in the story. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if that were the case, as Bondi was seen visiting the President-elect in Trump Tower last month. She endorsed him at the Tampa Convention Center on the day before Florida’s presidential Republican primary election, an election that Trump won decisively, taking 66 of the state’s 67 counties. With Bondi frequently at his side at campaign events, Trump ultimately won Florida in November over Hillary Clinton by just 1.2 percentage points.

The issue of working under President-elect Trump first surfaced at the news conference at the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority’s board room at Tampa International Airport when Bondi was asked if she would be able to continue her efforts in the White House.

“That’s a good trick question. I can tell you that I talked to the President-elect for half-an-hour. We talk frequently, as well as members of his family and his transition team on many issues that don’t involve me. But he is committed to fighting human trafficking in our country. He is committed to backing up the great men and women standing behind me, and we talk about that very frequently. So whether I’m there or here as Attorney General, where I’m very happy being, by the way, I plan on staying involved in that.”

When asked if she had been invited directly by Trump to join his team, Bondi said: “I’m not going to say anything confidential, nor should anyone, including in the Obama administration.”

When a reporter asked if she had a replacement in mind if she were to leave Tallahassee for Washington, Bondi joked, ” You already have me replaced?”

“I try to be grounded,” she added. “We’re doing a lot of great things.”

If and when Bondi is selected for a position in the White House, both she and Trump will undoubtedly be asked again about the $25,000 campaign contribution that her political committee received in 2013 from Trump’s charitable foundation. Shortly afterward, Bondi’s office opted not to pursue an investigation into charges by some Florida citizens that they had been defrauded by Trump University.

After an ethics group had filed a complaint with the IRS regarding the contribution, Trump’s foundation paid a $2,500 fine to the IRS.

Bondi’s office has been vehement that they never were pursuing a case in Florida against Trump U. Although her office said she had only received one complaint, the AP reported that complaints against Trump University actually numbered in the dozens and that Bondi had personally solicited the donation from Trump weeks before she learned of the charges.

Her office decided not to pursue a case after the donation was received.

Report: Pam Bondi still being considered for job in Donald Trump administration

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi might be saying farewell to Tallahassee.

Jennifer Jacobs with Bloomberg Politics reported Thursday that Bondi will likely take a job in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House. According to the report, it was not immediately clear what her title would be, and she wasn’t among a list of White House appointments announced earlier in the week.

Bondi’s name has been floated as a possible appointee since Trump won the presidential election. She was an early supporter of the New York Republican, but found herself under a microscope because of a $25,000 donation Trump’s foundation made to a political committee associated with Bondi back in 2013.

Bondi later declined to pursue claims that Trump University defrauded Florida residents.

The Tampa Republican has been tight-lipped about her future. She has met with Trump, but in December said she wasn’t prepared to answer whether she would finish her term as Attorney General.

 On Thursday, the Tampa Bay Times reported Bondi wouldn’t comment on whether she was being considered for a position, saying she would “never discuss anything confidential.”

Personnel note: Rob Johnson joins The Mayernick Group

Photo credit: Michael B. Johnston

Rob Johnson, a long-time, respected policy advisor and legislative affairs director, has left the Attorney General’s Office to join The Mayernick Group.

“The Mayernick Group is excited that Rob is joining as a partner in our firm,” said Frank Mayernick in a statement. “We have experienced significant growth and know that as a well-respected professional, Rob has strong relationships and knowledge of the process that will help us continue to serve our current and future clients.

Long on the wish list for private sector recruiters, Johnson served as the Director of Legislative and Cabinet Affairs in the Florida Attorney General’s Office since 2007. He began his time there under Attorney General Bill McCollum, and stayed on after Bondi was elected in 2010.

“I want to thank Rob for his 16 years of service to the State of Florida as a policy advisor, cabinet aide and legislative affairs director,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement. “Rob had a great opportunity in the private sector that he couldn’t pass up and he will be greatly missed.”

Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Johnson served as Gov. Jeb Bush’s deputy director of Cabinet affairs. He was also extensively involved in the 2003 workers’ compensation overhaul during his time working as legislative advisor to the state’s first Chief Financial Officer.

Started by Mayernick and his wife, Tracy Mayernick, The Mayernick Group is one of the leading boutique government relations firms in the state.

Often ranked among the Top 20 firms earning more than $250,000 in the state, the firm saw steady growth in the first three quarters of 2016. According to an analysis by LobbyTools, the firm brought in an estimated $430,000 in the third quarter of 2016.

Among The Mayernick Group’s roster of clients are heavyweights like HCA Healthcare, Florida Power & Light and U.S. Sugar.

The husband-and-wife duo with deep connections in the Florida Senate also does work for several “white hat” clients including maternity and infant health charity March of Dimes, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida, Lutheran Services and the PACE Center for Girls as well as industry-centric “food fighters” such as AT&T, Alkermes Plc and Dredging Contractors of America.

Johnson’s years of public sector experience will likely mesh well with the team at The Mayernick Group. Before striking out on his own, Frank Mayernick served as the legislative affairs director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice.

He also served under the Speaker’s Legislative Fellowship Program, working in the House Rules Committee, and worked as an aide to both Sen. Charlie Clary, a Destin Republican, and Rep. Jerry Melvin, a Fort Walton Beach Republican.

Tracy Mayernick, meanwhile, boasts a strong appropriations background, as well as a history of working on healthcare, telecommunications, environmental, agriculture, economic development, transportation and criminal justice issues.

Johnson’s last day at the Attorney General’s Office was Tuesday. His first day at The Mayernick Group is Wednesday.

I look forward to working with professionals like Frank and Tracy and am committed to providing the firm’s clients with sound strategic counsel as we move into the 2017 Legislative Session,” said Johnson in a statement Wednesday.

A Florida State University graduate, Johnson is married to Alia Faraj-Johnson, the senior vice president and Florida public affairs leader at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. The couple lives in Tallahassee with their 8-year-old daughter.

Pam Bondi announces human-trafficking arrest in Ocala

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Wednesday announced an Ocala man’s arrest for human trafficking.

Ryan Gemelle Poole also faces counts of deriving support from proceeds of prostitution and using a two-way communications device to commit a felony.

Bondi and Marion County Sheriff Emery Gainey said Poole’s arrest was the result of a five-month investigation.

They said he took control of his victim’s money and forced her to engage in prostitution in Alachua, Charlotte, Hillsborough, Marion and Orange counties — promoting her on sex websites.

The Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute the case.

“Human trafficking is an abhorrent crime and the allegations in this case are sickening—further proving that we must do everything in our power to eliminate human trafficking in Florida,” Bondi said in a written statement.

Authorities fear Poole exploited additional victims, and urged anyone with information about the case to call Marion County Detective Zackary Hughes at 352-369-6805.

Gov. Rick Scott named Woods as interim sheriff on May 20, after former Sheriff Chris Blair was accused of perjury and official misconduct. Woods was to serve until newly elected sheriff Billy Woods takes office in the new year.

Blair dropped his re-election bid as part of a plea agreement.

Gainey will return to the attorney general’s office, where he has served as director of law enforcement relations, victim services and criminal justice programs since 2007.

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