1. Florida Politics

David Rivera wants Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on ethics case

TALLAHASSEE — Former state Rep. David Rivera isn't giving up yet on his attempts to vindicate himself on charges that he broke Florida ethics rules while in office six years ago.

The Miami Republican's attorney, Leonard Collins, filed a request Sept. 8 asking the Florida Supreme Court to take up Rivera's case because, Collins argues, a ruling this summer by the First District Court of Appeal "conflicts" with a 1984 ruling by the Second District Court of Appeal.

The Florida Supreme Court should settle the matter and overturn the First DCA's ruling, Collins argued, in his three-page notice this month to Florida's highest court.

In July, the First DCA in Tallahassee "summarily" rejected Rivera's effort to get his ethics charges thrown out and it upheld a $57,800 fine recommended last year by an administrative law judge — leaving it to outgoing Republican House Speaker Steve Crisafulli to decide whether to impose it.

The appeals court said it found "no merit in the due process claims" Rivera raised in his appeal, when he had argued the Florida Commission on Ethics made "procedural errors" in his case.

The First DCA also declined to weigh in on Rivera's other argument: That it's unconstitutional for the Florida House speaker to discipline a former member. The court said it would be premature to advise on that since Crisafulli hadn't yet imposed the fine and "there is no indication in the record that the Speaker intends to take disciplinary action against Rivera."

Rivera, now a millionaire, is campaigning this fall to return to the House. He's running against Democrat Robert Asencio for the 118th District seat.

In his notice to the Florida Supreme Court, Collins argued the First DCA erred by not addressing Rivera's constitutional argument.

Collins cited a 1984 case, in which he said the Second District Court of Appeal ruled "that a recommendation by an agency was ripe for review without exhaustion of all administrative remedies."

In Rivera's case, the First DCA "found that even though the agency action is final, it was not ripe until administrative remedies were exhausted," wrote Collins, a former House employee.

"This opinion conflicts with Florida Statutes," Collins said.

The ethics charges stem from when Rivera, as a state legislator more than six years ago, failed to properly disclose his income and double-billed taxpayers for travel by accepting a state reimbursement for a trip paid for by his political campaign.

Rivera has consistently denied wrongdoing. He served in the statehouse from 2002-10 and then served in Congress for two years. As a candidate for state House again this fall, his latest financial disclosure forms raised questions about how Rivera has acquired new wealth in his three years out of public office.

A separate, federal criminal investigation identified Rivera as a "co-conspirator" in an illegal campaign-finance scheme Rivera is suspected of orchestrating in the 2012 congressional election. He has not been charged.

Miami Herald political writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report. Contact Kristen M. Clark at Follow @ByKristenMClark.