Friday, July 20, 2018
News Roundup

In wake of 'Taj Mahal' scandal, Florida Supreme Court approves new lobbying rules for judges

TALLAHASSEE — Stung by public reaction to judges who lobbied state lawmakers into a $50 million courthouse many have dubbed a "Taj Mahal,'' the Florida Supreme Court has established new rules that would muzzle individual judges who try to have their way with the Legislature.

And some judges are not happy. The state's circuit court judges have formally asked the state's highest court to rescind the rules and at least engage in a public discussion of rules that would constrain their right to speak out in public. Judges at the 5th District Court of Appeal also have filed a formal objection to a provision that would establish term limits on chief judges.

The rules, approved by a sharply divided court in February, would prevent individual judges from taking their budget requests and suggestions for changing the law directly to lawmakers without first getting approval from the Supreme Court and administrative committees that oversee the budget.

In addition, the state's highest court has imposed an eight-year term limit on the service of all chief judges and requires them to be selected on the basis of their managerial, administrative and leadership skills.

Justices Barbara Pariente, Jorge Labarga, Ricky Polston and James Perry voted for all of the rules while Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justice Peggy Quince concurred with part of the decision but objected to term limits. Justice Fred Lewis dissented from the entire opinion.

"The majority in many ways takes the court system backward to recreate circumstances similar to those found by the citizens of Florida to be unworkable and abusive over 40 years ago,'' Lewis wrote.

The reference cites a turbulent time on the Supreme Court when two justices resigned under threat of impeachment in the face of scandal. Historians have frequently pointed to the era as the court's worst days.

The new rules, parts of which are effective immediately, expand the role of the Supreme Court's chief justice, giving him or her the responsibility to serve as the primary spokesperson for all state courts.

The rules also include a provision that allows the Supreme Court to remove a district court chief judge. That change appears to stem from attempts to force former Judge Paul M. Hawkes to resign as chief judge after a series of news stories in the Tampa Bay Times disclosed his role in lobbying for the lavishly furnished courthouse for the 1st District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee.

Hawkes and fellow judge Brad Thomas, both former legislative staffers, spent years lobbying lawmakers for money to build the new courthouse and succeeded in getting a $35 million bond issue tucked into a transportation bill on the final night of the 2007 legislative session.

Hawkes initially refused to give up the leadership post but later stepped aside, saying Chief Justice Charles Canady asked him to give up the job. Hawkes remained on the court for another year, finally resigning in January 2012 to avoid trial on misconduct charges filed by the Judicial Qualifications Commission. Thomas remains on the court.

The new rule would allow the chief judge to report a judge to the JQC if the judge fails to comply with a directive from the high court.

The Conference of Circuit Judges, chaired by Judge Ronald N. Ficarrotta of Tampa, has filed a lengthy objection to the new rules and is seeking a formal hearing before they are imposed on the courts.

A restriction on speaking to legislators could violate a judge's right to free speech, the judges suggest. It would also impose a chilling effect on judges' ability to respond to lawmakers.

Any judge violating the rule could be subjected to discipline that would remove him or her from office, the circuit judges suggest.

"This could result in an unnecessarily harsh consequence for a judge making an unapproved, yet good faith, recommendation or comment about judicial branch policy,'' Ficarrotta noted in a brief, which asks the court to reconsider the rules in open court.

The circuit judges also question the need for term limits, suggesting the move is "arbitrary'' and may not strengthen the court system. And since term limits for chief judges is not mentioned in the Florida Constitution, it raises constitutional issues, Ficarrotta wrote.

The Supreme Court has not responded to the formal objections filed by other judges, and spokesman Craig Waters said the court has not scheduled a hearing on the rules.

Comments
Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome shoots 78 in PGA Tour debut

Seminole’s Brittany Lincicome shoots 78 in PGA Tour debut

Seminole's Brittany Lincicome survived her first round on the PGA Tour at the Barbasol Championship in Nicholasville, Ky., on Thursday, and she can't wait to do it again Friday.Though Lincicome shot 6-over 78 and will likely miss the cut — she ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Longtime Tampa Catholic athletic director Nick DiMaggio dies

Longtime Tampa Catholic athletic director Nick DiMaggio dies

Nick DiMaggio, the longtime athletic director at Tampa Catholic who was a fixture at the school's sporting events for more than 50 years, died Wednesday (July 18, 2018) from complications related to a stroke. He was 86."Nick was an icon, a walking en...
Updated: 5 hours ago
A Florida mayor is being asked to resign after citizens allege his chief of staff ‘preys’ on homeless black men

A Florida mayor is being asked to resign after citizens allege his chief of staff ‘preys’ on homeless black men

ST. PETERSBURG — At Thursday’s City Council meeting, seven residents called for the resignation of Mayor Rick Kriseman and Kevin King — one of his closest confidants — over allegations that King "preys" on homeless black men.Jesse Nevel, the vice pre...
Updated: 5 hours ago
St. Pete residents storm City Council with allegations against Kevin King

St. Pete residents storm City Council with allegations against Kevin King

ST. PETERSBURG — At Thursday’s City Council meeting, seven residents called for the resignation of Mayor Rick Kriseman and Kevin King — one of his closest confidants — over allegations that King "preys" on homeless black men.Jesse Nevel, the vice pre...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Chickens remain free to range in Ybor

Chickens remain free to range in Ybor

TAMPA — Ybor City chickens have escaped the political chopping block — again.The Tampa City Council on Thursday declined to do anything about a wild flock of poultry that drew a loud, strong throng of supporters to City Hall to ask council members no...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Activists camp out in protest at Tampa’s Homeland Security, ICE offices

Activists camp out in protest at Tampa’s Homeland Security, ICE offices

TAMPA — The national movement to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency came to Tampa on Thursday night — and it’s in tents.Approximately 25 local activists gathered next to Cypress Drive in front of the local Department of Homeland S...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Marc Topkin: Rays should trade Chris Archer

Marc Topkin: Rays should trade Chris Archer

ST. PETERSBURG — Chris Archer wants the Rays to get going.Trade more veterans. Bring back Willy Adames and bring up the next group of kids. Get on with getting better, and get back to reaching the postseason, as they did four times over six yea...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Florida State defensive forecast not that simple

Florida State defensive forecast not that simple

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — His debut at the ACC kickoff attracted a wholly unsurprising assortment of topics. New FSU coach Willie Taggart was asked about his culture, his quarterbacks, his catch phrases.He handled each question deftly, hardly devi...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Rays journal: Catcher needed with Wilson Ramos on DL

Rays journal: Catcher needed with Wilson Ramos on DL

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays did not have any answers Thursday about the state of their catching situation as to how long Wilson Ramos will be out and who will be added to replace him Friday against the Marlins.Ramos was placed on the DL Wednesday...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Police: Pinellas infant on life support after father stuffs balled-up baby wipe down his throat

Police: Pinellas infant on life support after father stuffs balled-up baby wipe down his throat

TARPON SPRINGS — Cali’yah Anderson heard a scream Tuesday night and she thought someone was dying. "Help me! Help me! I can’t get it out!" Anderson sprinted into the living room at 1410 Starlight Cove two doors down from her own apartment and found a...
Updated: 7 hours ago