News from Tallahassee for 12/19/14

Clerks association warns against issuing gay marriage licenses posted on 12/17/14

by JAMES L. ROSICA | Tribune/Scripps Capital Bureau

TALLAHASSEE — Lawyers for Florida’s 67 clerks of court are warning that those who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples will be “subject to criminal penalties,” including arrest and imprisonment.

The Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers on Tuesday released the revised legal opinion from its attorneys.

Some clerks had been preparing for same-sex unions after a federal judge in Tallahassee declared the state’s ban on those marriages unconstitutional.

Hillsborough County Clerk of Court Pat Frank was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon. Frank has said she was willing to marry same-sex couples in a mass ceremony in a park across from the courthouse.

Pinellas County Clerk of Court Ken Burke said he too was ready to marry same-sex couples but will follow the lawyers’ advice.

“We’re just looking for direction,” he said, “but I think it’s inevitable something will change.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ordered a delay of the effect of his ruling until Jan. 5 to allow time for appeals, and requests to extend that delay have so far been denied.

But a memo from Greenberg Traurig, the association’s general counsel, says Hinkle’s ruling does not apply statewide because it wasn’t confirmed by a “binding appellate ruling.”

The memo also refers to state law saying clerks cannot issue marriage licenses “unless one party is a male and the other party is a female.”

A violation is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Clerks cannot “interpret the law or act without a full understanding of what the law does and does not allow,” said Kenneth A. Kent, the association’s executive director.

DOJ To Investigate Florida Prison System posted on 12/17/14

by melissa ross | WUSF

Hundreds of inmate deaths with questionable circumstances have sparked a potential federal investigation into the state's corrections system.

The U.S. Department of Justice has notified state authorities it will look into potential abuses of inmates after 320 people died behind bars in Florida this year - the highest number of inmate deaths on record.

At the same time, there's been a doubling of incidents involving the use of force by corrections officers.

Amid a growing outcry from prison reform activists, last week Governor Rick Scott last week named a new Department of Corrections Secretary, Julie Jones, to head the department.

Florida has the third-largest prison system in the nation, with 101,000 inmates and a $2.1 billion budget.

"Part of this is economically driven," said Dale Carson, former police officer, prosecuting attorney, FBI agent and Action News Law and Safety Expert. "We have a higher prison population, we don't have the facilities that we would have had 10 years ago, and as a consequence people are pushed on top of one another. It creates stress not only for the inmates themselves, but also for the corrections officers."

A Miami Herald investigation into Florida inmate deaths began with the death of 50-year-old Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution. Witnesses allege Rainey died after corrections officers locked him in a 180-degree shower as punishment for defecating on the floor of his cell.

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Scott names new legal adviser, reappoints surgeon general posted on 12/16/14

by john kennedy | Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott continued to solidify his second-term administration Monday, appointing a new general counsel and retaining his current surgeon general, who heads the state Health Department.

In naming Tim Cerio as general counsel, Scott replaced one-time Palm Beach County State Attorney Pete Antonacci as his top legal adviser.

Scott also reappointed Dr. John Armstrong as the state’s surgeon general and chief of the state’s Health Department. Armstrong has been on the job two years.

Cerio, currently an attorney with the firm GrayRobinson in Tallahassee, will take over Jan. 5. He previously served as chief of staff and general counsel at the Florida Department of Health from 2005 to 2007 when Jeb Bush was governor.

“I look forward to Tim joining our team and helping us make Florida the best state in the nation for job growth,” Scott said.

Antonacci, who will continue as special counsel for a brief transition period, served 10 months as Palm Beach County’s top prosecutor after Michael McAuliffe resigned to take a job with Oxbow Carbon, an energy company led by Bill Koch of Palm Beach. After Dave Aronberg was elected state attorney in November 2012, Antonacci became Scott’s general counsel.

It wasn’t immediately clear Monday what Antonacci, 66, plans to do next.

“Pete Antonacci is a friend and he has done a great job as general counsel and I appreciate all he has done to help make Florida a better place for families,” Scott said.

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Fla. court: Crime victim recordings not evidence posted on 12/12/14

by curt anderson | ap

MIAMI (AP) -- Incriminating statements secretly recorded by a crime victim cannot be used as evidence against the alleged perpetrator even in a child sex abuse case, the Florida Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The justices unanimously decided that the Legislature would have to change Florida law for such evidence to be admissible in a trial. The law generally prohibits conversations to be recorded or otherwise intercepted without the consent of both parties.

There is no exception for recordings made by crime victims, Justice Charles Canady wrote in an 18-page decision.

"It may well be that a compelling case can be made for an exception ... for recordings that provide evidence of criminal activity - or at least certain types of criminal activities. But the adoption of such an exception is a matter for the Legislature," Canady wrote.

The ruling came in the case of a Lee County man serving a life prison sentence for sexually assaulting his teenage stepdaughter over a number of years. The girl recorded two conversations about sex with Richard McDade, 68, using an MP3 player hidden under her shirt. She then took the recordings to police, who arrested McDade.

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Broward judge again overturns gay marriage ban posted on 12/9/14

by dan sweeney | sun-sentinel

Florida's ban on same-sex marriages is back off the books in Broward County.

On Monday, Broward Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen issued a ruling striking down the state's same-sex marriage ban, just as several county judges had before him – including Broward Circuit Court Judge Dale Cohen.

The case involved Heather Brassner, who wanted a divorce after getting a civil union in Vermont in 2002. But Florida's ban on same-sex marriages prevents the state from recognizing same-sex marriages or civil unions performed in other states. Therefore, Brassner couldn't get divorced in the state.

She went to court to fight and on Aug. 4, after hearing her case, Cohen overturned Florida's same-sex marriage ban.

However, Cohen vacated his ruling when he learned that Brassner's attorneys did not give the state enough time to file an appeal.

On Monday, Cohen once again ruled the ban unconstitutional and put his ruling on hold pending appeal.

Still, that will not affect the swiftly approaching deadline in a federal case in Tallahassee.

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