News from Tallahassee for 9/18/14

Bondi fights to prevent lesbians’ divorce posted on 9/17/14

by Elaine Silvestrini | Tampa Tribune

TAMPA — Attorney General Pam Bondi may be fighting to prevent same-sex couples from marrying in Florida, but she is also taking a legal position that has the effect of forcing gay couples who married elsewhere to stay married, lawyers in a Tampa case say.

Bondi’s office announced Friday it was appealing several court rulings overturning the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

The attorney general is also entering a Tampa same-sex divorce case to defend a judge’s finding that a lesbian married couple couldn’t be granted a divorce because the state doesn’t recognize their Massachusetts wedding.

That case is now before the Lakeland-based 2nd District Court of Appeal.

Lawyers say Bondi’s office has been invited twice to join the case. And Friday, the attorney general filed motions seeking to intervene “to defend state law, ensure further review if necessary, and promote an orderly resolution of the legal issues presented.”

Bondi “finally decided that she wants same-sex couples to remain married in the state of Florida,” said Brett Rahall, the Tampa-based attorney of one of the women wishing to divorce, Mariama Changamire Shaw.

The legal position of the state is that Florida doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages that take place in other jurisdictions. So if the marriages aren’t legally recognized, the courts can’t dissolve them.

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FL Bar poll shows overwhelming support for appellate judges in merit retention elections posted on 9/9/14

by Susannah Lyle | FL Bar

A poll of Florida Bar members regarding the merit retention elections of 22 appellate court judges indicates strong support for all to be retained, with an average ranking of 88 percent. The confidential poll seeks to find whether attorneys who know the most about these jurists believe they should continue in their jobs. The retention election is scheduled for Nov. 4. This year, no Supreme Court justices are on the ballot in merit retention elections.

“I am proud that Florida lawyers participated in this worthy endeavor to give guidance to Florida voters about the District Court of Appeal judges on the merit retention ballot this year,” Florida Bar President Gregory W. Coleman said. “Most Florida citizens do not have reason to be in our appeals courts, where judges review cases on appeal from the trial courts. So it can be difficult for them to assess judicial performance.

“They can go to the court websites for their District Court of Appeal to read decisions, but the results of this poll give Floridians an excellent resource to determine how the attorneys practicing in these courts assess the judges they practice before. Once again, as in past years, the assessment is very positive.”

Coleman added the results are very positive because Florida’s merit selection/retention process – in which judicial nominating commissions screen candidates and make recommendations to the governor who appoints the judges – does a top-notch job of finding attorneys who are extremely qualified to serve as appellate jurists.

“This system has served Florida well since 1978,” Coleman said.

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Democrats attack Bondi over gay-marriage fight posted on 9/9/14

by Aaron Deslatte | Orlando Sentinel

TALLAHASSEE — Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has used her first term in office to go on the offensive against synthetic drugs, prescription-pill mills and human trafficking.

But all summer, she has been playing defense on another topic: her office's fight to uphold Florida's gay-marriage ban.

"This is me doing my job as attorney general," she told a gathering of Palm Beach County Republicans last month. "And I will continue to do that and if anybody wants me to moderate my message or stand for less, I have a message for them: I am just getting started."

Democrats see her refusal to drop the issue as ammunition for attracting moderate voters this fall when Bondi will face a financially outmatched Democratic opponent in George Sheldon.

"Pam Bondi is the gift that keeps on giving," said Sheldon, a former Department of Children and Families secretary under Gov. Charlie Crist. "It is amazing when you raise the name Pam Bondi on the road. Republicans almost don't want to talk about her, and Democrats and independents are fired up."

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Florida officials appeal gay marriage ruling posted on 9/5/14

by AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- Officials named as defendants in two federal lawsuits challenging Florida's gay marriage ban are appealing a ruling last month that declared the ban unconstitutional.

Attorney General Pam Bondi's office filed the notice Thursday on behalf of Surgeon General Dr. John H. Armstrong, Secretary of Management Services Craig J. Nichols and Washington County Clerk of Court Harold Bazzell.

U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee ruled Aug. 21 that the ban added to Florida's constitution by voters in 2008 violates the 14th Amendment's guarantees of equal protection and due process. Hinkle issued a stay delaying the effect of his order, meaning no marriage licenses would be immediately issued for gay couples.

High Court Could Consider Campaign Cash in Judicial Races posted on 9/3/14

by JIM SAUNDERS | NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA

When Lanell Williams-Yulee began running for a Hillsborough County judgeship in 2009, she signed a letter to would-be supporters seeking contributions for her campaign.

Now, five years later, Williams-Yulee's letter could spur the U.S. Supreme Court to wade into a First Amendment debate about whether it is constitutional for Florida and other states to bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions.

Williams-Yulee's attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the issue, after the Florida Supreme Court in May rejected arguments that the ban is unconstitutional and found that Williams-Yulee violated a code of conduct.

The possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court taking up the issue got a boost last month when The Florida Bar -- which filed the complaint against Williams-Yulee -- also urged the high court to resolve the matter. The Bar said in an Aug. 22 brief that it stands behind its position that judicial candidates should not personally solicit contributions, but that appellate courts across the country have taken differing positions on the issue.

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