Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Florida Supreme Court says Tampa immigrant can't get law license

TALLAHASSEE — In a long-anticipated decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday that Tampa immigrant Jose Godinez-Samperio cannot practice law because he's not a citizen, and called on the Legislature to correct what it called an "injustice."

"The Florida Legislature is in the unique position to act on this integral policy question and remedy the inequities that the unfortunate decision of this Court will bring to bear," justices wrote.

Godinez-Samperio's effort to gain admission to the Florida Bar and become a Tampa Bay immigration lawyer was before the state's highest court for more than two years and drew the interest, and opposition, of the Obama White House.

"I'm feeling very disappointed. But more than anything, I'm feeling outraged at Congress, that they have failed to take action on immigration reform," Godinez-Samperio said. "And actually, I'm feeling outraged at the president as well. It's time for Congress to act, it's time for Obama to act and it's time for the Legislature to act."

Godinez-Samperio, 26, is in the United States legally, albeit temporarily. He's known as a "dreamer" under President Barack Obama's 2012 policy directive known as DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a status that has enabled him to get a Social Security number, work permit and Florida driver's license. But he's not a citizen.

He came to America from Mexico at age 9 with his parents, who overstayed tourist visas. He learned English, became an Eagle Scout, was valedictorian at Armwood High in Tampa and went to New College. He graduated with honors from Florida State University's law school in 2011 before passing the bar exam and its moral character test.

But none of that was enough, the state Supreme Court said.

The reason is a 1996 federal law that denies specific "state public benefits" paid for by taxpayers, such as a license to practice law granted by a state court, to undocumented immigrants unless a state declares an exception.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder cited that federal law in arguing that Godinez-Samperio should not be allowed to practice law in Florida.

In a case with similar circumstances, the California Legislature changed its laws to allow Sergio Garcia to practice law in that state.

Godinez-Samperio's attorney, Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, a former FSU president and American Bar Association president, called Holder's reasoning "preposterous" and said: "(He) totally flubbed this."

D'Alemberte began lobbying Florida legislative leaders on Thursday to take up the cause. He's seeking help from House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is championing in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants, arguing that noncitizens who were brought to the United States by their parents should no longer be punished.

"We're reviewing the decision," Weatherford spokesman Ryan Duffy said.

D'Alemberte said the state licenses doctors, nurses, yacht brokers and other professionals who are not U.S. citizens, and his client should be treated the same way.

"If anybody cares about fairness, the idea of keeping Jose from the credentials that he's earned would be, to me, such an injustice," D'Alemberte said.

D'Alemberte said Godinez-Samperio has not applied for U.S. citizenship because of a legal requirement that he leave the country for 10 years before applying.

Associate Justice Jorge Labarga wrote an emotional opinion that concurred with his colleagues but cited "the injustice of this decision" and noted Godinez-Samperio's background.

"He is the type of exemplary individual the Florida Bar should strive to add to its membership," Labarga wrote. "However, applicant is an unauthorized immigrant ineligible to receive public benefits under federal law because, as he explained in his law school application essay, he did not resist his parents when they chose to escape their impoverished conditions in Mexico."

Labarga, who in July will become the first Cuban-American chief justice in Florida history, likened his own upbringing to Godinez-Samperio's with one major difference: Labarga's family fled Cuba, and after he graduated from the University of Florida, he became a member of the Florida Bar.

"My parents and I were perceived as defectors from a tyrannical Communist regime. Thus, we were received with open arms, our arrival celebrated, and my path to citizenship unimpeded by public policy decisions," Labarga wrote.

Godinez-Samperio, who has strong Tampa ties, said he has no desire to practice law in a state that would accept him. For now, he said, he'll continue working as a paralegal at Gulf Coast Legal Services, pursuing his dream of helping other immigrants.

"If I would be able to practice law, I would be able to help so many immigrants navigate the legal system," he said. "I would be able to help so many people in general who just need assistance who are low income. It would have made a huge difference."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Comments
Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Lawmakers call for additional investigations into Tampa Bay’s two CareerSource boards

Federal and state lawmakers are calling on Congress and the Florida House of Representatives to investigate whether two regional workforce centers inflated the number of people they helped find jobs. U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D–St. Petersburg, and sta...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

MacDill crews shift from Islamic State battle to join winter fight against Taliban

Now that the fight against the largely defeated Islamic State is winding down, the U.S. Air Force is turning its efforts toward the Taliban and moving aircraft and crews to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan.Crews and a KC-135 Stratotanker aerial refue...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

Deputies identify 11-month-old who drowned, no other details released

BRANDON — The 11-month-old girl who drowned in an apartment complex pond on Monday was identified as Deleah Morgan by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Tuesday.Deputies released no other details about the incident or the ongoing investigation....
Updated: 1 hour ago
Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Editorial: A good first step in restoring the right to vote

Allowing felons a meaningful chance to reclaim their right to vote and rejoin civic life is edging closer to reality in Florida. On Tuesday the state announced that a yearslong petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot h...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Man, 60, arrested in fatal shooting of his neighbor in Holiday

HOLIDAY — A 60-year-old man fatally shot his neighbor on Tuesday while the younger man stood outside his own home, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Qiu Feng Kek shot Edward Tudor, 37, outside 3519 Richboro Drive. He died a...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Avalanche causes evacuations in Italy; indictment says Madsen abused journalist Wall before killing her; more in world news

Avalanche causes evacuations in Italy; indictment says Madsen abused journalist Wall before killing her; more in world news

Italy150 evacuated after avalancheFour helicopters evacuated 150 people trapped in a four-star hotel and other remote structures Tuesday after an avalanche, authorities said, as heavy snow caused disruption across the Alps. The Langtauferer Hotel, lo...
Updated: 2 hours ago
ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ScarFace the Osprey scarfs up prized neckwear to make Coquina Key home

ST. PETERSBURGSome 25 feet up in the air, towering over Coquina Key, sits an osprey surveying the park below.It is on the hunt for any bit of material so it can prepare a nest for future hatchlings. Whether it be sticks, hay, palm leaves, a trash bag...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

Special counsel questions Sessions; Is Trump coming soon?

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions was questioned for hours in the special counsel’s Russia investigation, the Justice Department said Tuesday, as prosecutors moved closer to a possible interview with President Donald Trump about whether he ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

Woman, 60, found guilty of filing false liens against Pinellas judge

LARGO — In his eight years as a circuit judge, Thomas Minkoff has handled family and civil cases, as well as 14,000 foreclosure hearings.He was in court once again on Tuesday, but not in his usual perch at the bench. This time, he was on the witness ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Hernando County administrative offices to move outside Brooksville

Hernando County administrative offices to move outside Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — After more than 15 years of on and off debate, the County Commission has decided to turn the entire Hernando County Government Center over to the judicial arm of county government, providing the space judges and other judicial officials...
Updated: 2 hours ago