Friday, January 19, 2018
Politics

Florida Senate hires former justice to defend new maps, at $695 an hour Florida Senate leaders hire ex-justice to defend new maps

After being slapped by the Florida Supreme Court for creating a redistricting map that "was rife with indicators of improper intent," Senate Republican leaders have hired former Supreme Court justice and Miami lawyer Raoul Cantero to handle the case when they return to the court.

Cantero, who was appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush to serve on the Supreme Court, was a member of the bench from 2002 to '08 and is now with the White & Case law firm. He will be paid $695 an hour plus expenses. Last summer, the House and Senate had spent close to $1.2 million on legal fees on redistricting, and that was before the public hearings were held and the maps were drawn.

Cantero's contract says he will be representing the Senate on its "remand from the Court and advising the Senate on how to draw legislative districts that comply with the court's opinion."

The court has not yet received the revised map. Attorney General Pam Bondi has until April 11 to send it to the justices and the court will then have 30 days for review.

Scott lobbied over USF Poly

Hundreds of Florida residents on both sides are lobbying Gov. Rick Scott on the question of whether the state should spin off USF Polytechnic in Lakeland and make it the state's 12th university. Scott has not yet received the bill (SB 1994), and he told reporters Tuesday he has still not made up his mind whether to sign or veto the legislation.

The governor's office had logged 1,278 emails on USF Poly through Thursday. Support for USF Poly was outpacing opposition by nearly 3-to-1 (906 emails in support, 371 opposed). Of the 25 phone calls to Scott's office in the same period, 24 were opposed.

Jake Robins of Lakeland urged Scott to "think big" and sign the bill creating a separate USF Poly. Robins said the legislation "is just the type of bold thinking that will position our state to be a leader in the next century."

Anastasia Burks, a USF Poly student, called on Scott to veto the bill. "We as students weren't even asked if we wanted to split from the campus," Burks told Scott, "and as a paying student, I truly believe that the students should have some kind of say!"

Scott said he has not yet made up his mind.

"I'm spending a lot of time listening to people. I'm going to meet with people, both sides, and try to make the best decision possible," Scott said. "The way I think about all these things is, 'What's going to be best for these students?' "

JD Alexander settles lawsuit

Florida's feuding citrus cousins, JD Alexander and Baxter Troutman, reached a settlement over the weekend over the failed merger of two family-owned companies.

Troutman, a former state representative from Winter Haven, filed the suit in 2008 against Alexander, a Lake Wales state senator, and his father, when Troutman was still in the Legislature. Troutman, a shareholder of Alico, alleged on behalf of other shareholders that the Alexander family orchestrated the merger between Atlantic Blue Group and Alico to their benefit.

On Saturday, two days before a hearing was scheduled in Polk County Circuit Court, both sides agreed to the settlement. The three-page accord ends the lawsuit, allows both parties to walk away from the dispute owing nothing to each other, and opens the door for Alexander to seek attorney's fees and expenses.

It does not appear to end the blistering feud between the two grandsons of citrus magnate Ben Hill Griffin Jr., however.

"After several years of litigation and many days in deposition with multiple witnesses, JD Alexander is vindicated in the position that he took throughout this case, that Troutman's lawsuit was a frivolous suit,'' said Alexander's attorney, David King, in a statement. "Faced with having to prove the baseless allegations in the complaint, Mr. Troutman capitulated. He gave up, took nothing, and dropped the case."

Troutman said discussions about the settlement began in August, and he agreed because he achieved his goal: the resignation of Alexander as president and CEO of Alico effective Saturday.

"There were two overriding issues: What were the best interests of the shareholders of Alico for this to come in for a landing and, secondly, my commitment to my family that once JD had resigned as CEO, the lawsuit would go away," Troutman said. "He has resigned."

Reached late Monday, Alexander however, adamantly denied that he had resigned. "I am CEO and president of the company,'' he said. "I did not resign effective Saturday."

Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

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