News from Tallahassee for 11/1/14

Stark differences in Fla. attorney general race posted on 10/29/14

by GARY FINEOUT | AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — From their style, to their opposing positions on everything from regulating utilities to the need for a ban on same-sex marriage, the Florida's two main attorneys general candidates seem to have very little in common.

Republican incumbent Pam Bondi and Democrat George Sheldon have stark differences about their approach to a post that is arguably the second-most powerful in state government. The attorney general is the state's chief legal officer, but has numerous duties including defending state laws, handling death row appeals and going after companies that deceive consumers.

Bondi is a former prosecutor who has spent the last four years tackling issues like prescription drug abuse and human trafficking with zeal, yet has come under fire for her opposition to medical marijuana and same-sex marriage. One of her most scrutinized decisions came when she asked that an execution be delayed because the date conflicted with a fundraiser of hers.

The 48-year-old Bondi has also eagerly taken on the administration of Barack Obama especially over the president's health care overhaul. She's gotten involved in contentious national legal battles that haven't directly impacted Florida including filing a legal brief challenging an environmental dispute involving Chesapeake Bay.

Bondi led the charge to let the University of South Florida exhume bodies at a closed reform school in the Panhandle despite local opposition. And with a near manic energy, she ticks off a list of issues, include cyberbullying to the problem of identity theft that she says she's eager to tackle if she gets elected to another four years.

"Frankly, I don't think this is a four-year office," Bondi said. "This office needs to be eight years. With an office this big to accomplish everything that you want to accomplish, you want to save lives, that's what it's about every single day."

With a calm and at-times professorial tone, Sheldon asserts that Bondi has been too fixated on partisan causes and ignored the traditional role of the attorney general's office. Sheldon once contended that Bondi's next job should be as a Fox News anchor.

The 67-year old also faulted Bondi over defending the state's ban on same-sex marriage amid a line of rulings striking down similar bans across the country and opposing the amendment to allow the use of marijuana for medical reasons.

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Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General posted on 10/29/14

by ERIC LIPTON | NY Times

lady justiceWhen the executives who distribute 5-Hour Energy, the popular caffeinated drinks, learned that attorneys general in more than 30 states were investigating allegations of deceptive advertising — a serious financial threat to the company — they moved quickly to shut the investigations down, one state at a time.

But success did not come in court or at a negotiating table.

Instead, it came at the opulent Loews Santa Monica Beach Hotel in California, with its panoramic ocean views, where more than a dozen state attorneys general had gathered last year for cocktails, dinners and fund-raisers organized by the Democratic Attorneys General Association. A lawyer for 5-Hour Energy roamed the event, setting her sights on Attorney General Chris Koster of Missouri, whose office was one of those investigating the company.

“My client just received notification that Missouri is on this,” the lawyer, Lori Kalani, told him.

Ms. Kalani’s firm, Dickstein Shapiro, had courted the attorney general at dinners and conferences and with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Mr. Koster told Ms. Kalani that he was unaware of the investigation, and he reached for his phone and called his office. By the end of the weekend, he had ordered his staff to pull out of the inquiry, a clear victory for 5-Hour Energy.

The quick reversal, confirmed by Mr. Koster and Ms. Kalani, was part of a pattern of successful lobbying of Mr. Koster by the law firm on behalf of clients like Pfizer and AT&T — and evidence of a largely hidden dynamic at work in state attorneys general offices across the country.

Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

A robust industry of lobbyists and lawyers has blossomed as attorneys general have joined to conduct multistate investigations and pushed into areas as diverse as securities fraud and Internet crimes.

But unlike the lobbying rules covering other elected officials, there are few revolving-door restrictions or disclosure requirements governing state attorneys general, who serve as “the people’s lawyers” by protecting consumers and individual citizens.

A result is that the routine lobbying and deal-making occur largely out of view. But the extent of the cause and effect is laid bare in The Times’s review of more than 6,000 emails obtained through open records laws in more than two dozen states, interviews with dozens of participants in cases and attendance at several conferences where corporate representatives had easy access to attorneys general.

» Read more

Florida Ballot Preview: Judicial Appointment Amendment (Am 3) posted on 10/29/14

by Lynn Hatter | WFSU

One constitutional amendment proposal on the November ballot could affect Florida politics and policies for decades to come, but it hasn’t gotten much attention. Still, Amendment Three could give a future governor the power to change the balance of the Florida Supreme Court.

In January of 2019 a new governor will be inaugurated. Inauguration Day is also when three new Florida Supreme Court justices will have to be named. And, according to Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon), it’s also the one day, when, up until inauguration—the state will technically have two governors serving. Florida’s constitution is mum on which governor—the incoming or the outgoing—will get to make the appointments, and Lee believes the issue should be settled now.

“We could end up with a major constitutional question about whether justices were seated properly by a Governor, and depending on the stakes involved with that, we could see a great deal of litigation ensue following with which a cloud is over the court in terms of their work product," Lee said earlier this year explaining a then-bill that lays out a plan for addressing the situation.

That bill is now Amendment Three, and Lee’s take on it is this: since the process for nominating new justices will start under the old governor, it should be the old governor who gets to make the appointment.

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Gay marriage won't go direct to Fla. Supreme Court posted on 10/27/14

by AP

MIAMI (AP) -- A Florida appeals court has refused to let Attorney General Pam Bondi take the state's gay marriage ban directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal on Friday indicated it will likely rule itself on previous decisions striking down the Miami-Dade and Monroe counties bans.

Several Florida judges ruled this summer that Florida's ban is unconstitutional but stayed their rulings until other cases around the country were resolved, including those pending with the U.S. Supreme Court. It recently declined to hear appeals from five states that sought to keep their marriage bans in place. The American Civil Liberties Unions, and attorneys for the couples in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties then sued to overturn the stay.

If they prevail, Bondi could then go to the Supreme Court.

Fla. Supreme Court to decide fate of new districts posted on 10/24/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Florida's highest court is going to fast-track a challenge to the state's current congressional map.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday decided by a 5-2 margin to hear a case brought by a coalition of groups who contend that the current map for Congress is illegal.

The high court will hold arguments on the case in March.

A Florida judge approved a new congressional map in August. The new map alters seven of the state's existing 27 districts, but the changes will not take effect until after this year's elections.

Voters in 2010 passed an amendment that says legislators cannot draw up districts to favor incumbents or a political party. A circuit judge in July ruled that two districts were invalid so legislators changed them during a special session.

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