News and Events
Daily News Summary
An electronic digest of media coverage of interest to members of The Florida Bar compiled each workday by the Public Information and Bar Services Department. Electronic links are only active in today’s edition. For information on previous articles, please contact the publishing newspaper directly.
March 29, 2011
CASH CRUNCH COULD MEAN COURTHOUSE CLOSURES– Florida Keys Keynoter, http://www.keysnet.com, March 26, 2011.
A statewide money squeeze on Florida’s court system extends into Monroe County, where island geography compounds the situation. Staff is spending money “on absolutely necessary items,” said Holly Elomina, trial court administrator for the 16th Judicial Circuit. “We’ve reduced travel but in a long county with three courthouses, staff has got to travel back and forth.” County Judge Wayne Miller, president of the County Court Judges Conference of Florida, said a patchwork of stopgap solutions may barely get the statewide system through the end of the budget year — unless the revenue situation worsens. If that happens, Miller said, “The courts would have to start furloughing people, and at a certain point, we can’t function.”
LEGISLATIVE ROUNDUP: WHO’S THE BOSS?– The Ledger, column, http://www.theledger.com, March 26, 2011.
The column by Lloyd Dunkelberger of The Ledger’s Tallahassee Bureau states: “. . . [Tenth] Circuit Judge John Laurent of Bartow raised an interesting question this week as a House panel advanced a measure that would split the Florida Supreme Court into two new courts. He essentially asked: Who’s in charge? Laurent, who is chairman of the statewide trial court budget commission, said the question of having a clear leader for the court system is critical, citing the recent crisis when Chief Justice Charles Canady of Lakeland had to work with lawmakers and the governor to resolve a $70 million budget shortfall in the court system caused by a drop-off in foreclosure filing fees this year. A former state senator, Laurent said the current House proposal — which would divide the seven-member Supreme Court into two new five-member courts — does not appear to distinguish a top court between the two new judicial panels, with one handling criminal cases and the other civil litigation.”
WAGING WAR ON THE STATE COURTS– The Gainesville Sun, editorial, http://www.gainesville.com, March 26, 2011.
Similar versions of this editorial ran last week in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and The Ledger. The editorial states: “The rule of law doesn’t exist unless there is an independent judiciary to help protect it. Florida politicians should remember this as they consider a host of Republican proposals aimed at overhauling the state’s appellate- and high-court system. . . . Florida’s court system never was and probably never will be perfect. But it is an essential check on the powers of the governor and the Legislature. Any attempt to weaken it should be met with extreme skepticism.”
LEGISLATURE LOOKS TO STRIP COURTS AMENDMENT AUTHORITY– WFSU, http://www.wfsu.edu, March 29, 2011.
The legislature is looking to reduce the Supreme Court’s influence when it comes to constitutional amendments. Lawmakers have been complaining for years that the courts have too much authority to remove constitutional amendment proposals the legislature placed on the ballot. House Speaker Dean Cannon, who’s pushing a proposal to split the Supreme Court in two, has said the judicial branch oversteps its authority when it removes these amendments. Cannon’s expressed goals are coming in a proposal by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. During the Senate’s Rules Subcommittee Monday [March 28], he outlined the section dealing directly with the courts and constitutional amendments: “If the court finds the language defective and further appeals are declined, abandoned or exhausted, the attorney general shall promptly revise the defective language identified by the court. The Department of State should furnish a designating number and provide the revised language to the supervisors of elections for placement of the ballot. Finally, the bill states that a defect in the ballot title or summary language is not grounds to remove the proposed amendment from the ballot.”
JQC RECOMMENDS REPRIMAND FOR JUDGE DALE COHEN– Daily Business Review, http://www.dailybusinessreview.com, March 26, 2011.
The state Judicial Qualifications Commission is recommending a public reprimand as punishment for 17th Circuit Judge Dale Cohen’s decision to hold evidentiary hearings on recusal motions when he should have dropped out automatically. The commission, which tried Cohen in Fort Lauderdale in January, submitted its findings late Thursday [March 24], suggesting to the Florida Supreme Court, which makes the final decision, that the judge receive a reprimand and pay court costs.
LONGTIME PROSECUTOR BECOMES VOLUSIA JUDGE– Daytona Beach News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com, March 26, 2011.
Seventh Circuit Judge Leah Case took her oath of office Friday [March 25] in front of the many attorneys she worked with when she was a high-profile prosecutor. Former Gov. Charlie Crist appointed Case to an open judge’s seat in December, and she has been hearing dependency cases since then, but Friday’s investiture ceremony affirmed her transition from one side of the bench to the other. Before her appointment, Case helped prosecute and win convictions in several notable murder cases in Volusia County. She ended her 16-year career with the State Attorney’s Office as State Attorney R.J. Larizza’s deputy chief in Volusia County, overseeing Daytona Beach and DeLand.
FOURTH CIRCUIT JNC ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS– Jacksonville Daily Record, http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com, March 28, 2011.
The Fourth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission has been asked to provide Gov. Rick Scott with nominees for the vacancy in the Fourth Circuit Court that resulted from the death of Judge Jefferson W. Morrow. Applicants must be able to fulfill the constitutional qualifications before assuming the office of circuit judge, which require the applicants to be members of The Florida Bar for the past five years; residents of Duval, Clay or Nassau counties; and registered voters in Florida. All applications must be delivered by 5 p.m. April 15. [see news release]
LEE COUNTY JUDGE, MAGISTRATE AMONG NOMINEES FOR CIRCUIT JUDGESHIP– Marco Island News, http://www.marconews.com, March 29, 2011.
Five names have been submitted to Gov. Rick Scott for a 20th circuit judgeship, the 20th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission announced. The position will open June 30 once Circuit Judge Lynn Gerald Jr. retires after 22 years on the bench. The five nominees are Lee County Judge John Duryea; Lee County Magistrate Amy Hawthorne; Charlotte County Magistrate Lisa Porter; Punta Gorda family law attorney Jesus Hevia; and Fort Myers criminal defense attorney H. Andrew Swett.
–Lawyer Ethics/Legal Discipline–
FLORIDA BAR VS. TAMPA LAWYERS WINTERS AND YONKER NOW UP TO JUDGE– St. Petersburg Times, http://www.tampabay.com, March 29, 2011.
Did lies, stolen files and computer hacking 10 years ago give birth to a young law firm or are two high-profile Tampa lawyers, having built their business over the years, now the victims of overzealous regulators and a dishonest secretary? Those were the two contrary scenarios argued Monday [March 28] as Sixth Circuit Judge Walt Logan begins to ponder the legal fate of William Winters and Marc Yonker. The Florida Bar alleges that Winters and Yonker broke several laws and rules when they split in 2001 with Richard Mulholland, a pioneer in high-volume personal injury law. The bitter breakup that has played out for years in other courtrooms.
CHASE DEMANDS BEN-EZRA KATZ TURN OVER FORECLOSURE FILES– The Palm Beach Post, http://www.palmbeachpost.com, March 29, 2011.
Chase Home Finance has filed a federal lawsuit against its former legal counsel, Ben-Ezra Katz, accusing the firm of refusing to hand over foreclosure case files that contain over $400 million worth of original notes and mortgages “without which Chase will be unable to proceed with any of the pending cases.” In the 11-page lawsuit filed Friday [March 25] in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Chase asked for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction ordering the firm to return the files and pay Chase an unspecified amount of damages. “Ben-Ezra refuses to release the Chase Files because it claims that it is owed over $5 million in fees and costs,” according to the lawsuit. Although Chase disputes the amount it owes the firm, it has offered to post a $2.8 million bond as security. The Fort Lauderdale firm is one of eight firms being probed by the Florida Attorney General for its foreclosure practices and a Miami judge found the firm’s founding partner, Marc Ben-Ezra, in contempt of court for filing “sham” foreclosure documents.
–Civil Justice Issues–
NINTH CIRCUIT JUDGE GETS NEEDELMAN LAWSUIT– Florida Today, http://www.floridatoday.com, March 29, 2011.
A Ninth Circuit judge in Orange County has been assigned to handle the lawsuit challenging the outsourcing of Brevard Clerk of Court jobs by Mitch Needelman. Judges in the 18th Judicial Circuit in Brevard and Seminole counties recused themselves from the case earlier this month because many of them work closely with the Brevard clerk’s office. Circuit Judge Thomas Smith will now handle the case, after Monday’s [March 28] signed order from Charles Canady, the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Thirty-nine of the outsourced employees filed the lawsuit March 11 challenging Needelman, the county clerk of court, a week after their jobs were transferred to an outside company.
–Criminal Justice Issues–
STATE SEEKS DEATH PENALTY IN BARAHONA’S ADOPTED GIRL’S MURDER– The Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com, March 29, 2011.
Jorge and Carmen Barahona pleaded not guilty Monday [March 28] to charges they murdered and tortured their 10-year-old adopted daughter, as prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against the couple. A Miami-Dade grand jury last week indicted the two for first-degree murder, as well as a slew of aggravated child abuse and neglect charges. The decomposing corpse of their adopted daughter, Nubia, was discovered in a black trash bag in the back of Jorge Barahona’s pickup truck on Feb. 14 alongside Interstate 95. Jorge Barahona was passed out nearby, and her twin-brother, Victor, was inside the truck severely burned from chemicals. Neither Jorge and Carmen Barahona showed any reaction when Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine announced the state would seek the death penalty.