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Weekly Roundup: It's All About the Appeal

July 17, 2014 - 6:00pm

It was a week of appeal-related decisions, both legal and political, that could have far-reaching implications.

House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz shocked Capitol insiders when they announced they would not appeal Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis' ruling last week striking down the Legislature's congressional map. Instead, the legislative leaders want Lewis to let lawmakers wait until after the November elections -- when Gaetz and Weatherford will no longer be in power -- to redraw the Northeast and Central Florida districts at the heart of Lewis' ruling.

Attorney General Pam Bondi ignored the pleas of gay couples and gay-rights advocates who won a first-of-its-kind ruling in Florida in a lawsuit challenging the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Bondi immediately filed a notice to appeal a Monroe County judge's decision that found the voter-approved ban violates due process and U.S. constitutional protections against discrimination.

And former Gov. Charlie Crist, trying to make a comeback as a Democrat, enlisted Annette Taddeo to be his running-mate in what some consider a "two-fer" in his efforts to appeal to Latino and women voters, both blocs whose support is considered critical to Crist's bid to overthrow Republican Gov. Rick Scott.


Lawyers for the Legislature, elections supervisors and the Department of State argued in court Thursday that it is too late in the election cycle to redraw the congressional districts deemed unconstitutional by Lewis.

Ballots have already been sent to overseas voters in advance of the Aug. 26 primaries, and re-creating the districts would throw the entire election schedule out of whack, the lawyers insisted.

"This is not an impending election. This election has begun. To undo that, or to cancel that, is both impossible and in no way governed or set forth by Florida statutes or the Constitution, George Meros, a lawyer representing the Legislature, told the judge during a 20-minute hearing.

But David King, a lawyer representing voting-rights groups that sued the state over the congressional map drawn in 2012 by the GOP-controlled Legislature, argued that lawmakers should come up with a new plan.

"We've already had one election on an unconstitutional map in 2012," King said.

Lewis ruled last week that lawmakers failed during the 2012 redistricting process to follow the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts constitutional amendments, approved by voters in 2010. The amendments bar the Legislature from crafting districts that favor incumbents or political parties.

Lewis' ruling targeted districts represented by Congresswoman Corrine Brown, a Jacksonville Democrat, and Congressman Daniel Webster, a Winter Garden Republican. Brown's District 5, which snakes from Jacksonville to Orlando, has been pilloried for years as one of the nation's worst examples of gerrymandering. Redrawing the two districts targeted in Lewis' ruling could affect some neighboring seats, especially those surrounding Webster's District 10 seat.

Lewis appeared caught off-guard by the legislative leaders' decision to let his ruling stand.

"Quite frankly, when I issued my order I thought surely one side or the other would appeal. So it didn't really occur to me to start thinking about what to do with the 2014 election," Lewis said.

But Ron Labasky, the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections general counsel, told Lewis that forcing the Legislature to craft new districts before this year's elections would create havoc. Some of the overseas absentee ballots have already been returned, and the bulk of absentee ballots for the Aug. 26 primary are slated to be mailed next week, he said.

"I'm not sure how we back up and allow somebody to vote again in a new district," Labasky said. "Absent some very novel, creative plan on your part, we just don't see how there's any possible way to have an election in newly created districts."


In a ruling that mirrored decisions in other states striking down bans on same-sex marriages, Circuit Judge Luis Garcia on Thursday ordered Monroe County Clerk of Court Amy Heavilin to start giving out marriage licenses to couples of the same gender beginning Tuesday.

Garcia's order would only apply in Monroe County, but Keys couples can't start lining up to get wed, thanks to Bondi. She immediately filed a notice to appeal the decision, effectively putting a stay on Garcia's order. Heavilin's lawyer Ron Saunders, a former state representative who once served as House Minority Leader, said she won't let any same-sex couples get married until the case is resolved.

That could be a while. Both sides expect the case, filed by two Key West bartenders who have been together for more than a decade, and/or a similar case filed in Miami-Dade County by six same-sex couples, to wind up in the hands of the Florida Supreme Court and, some hope, possibly make it as far as the U.S. Supreme Court.

In his 14-page ruling, Garcia compared the politically charged issue of same-sex marriage with previous civil-rights struggles.

"This court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country's proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and the rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority," Garcia wrote in his 14-page order. "Whether it's the NRA protecting our right to bear arms when the city of Chicago attempted to ban handguns within its city limits; or when Nazi supremacists won the right to march in Skokie, Ill., a predominantly Jewish neighborhood; or when a black woman wanted to marry a white man in Virginia; or when black children wanted to go to an all-white school, the Constitution guarantees and protects ALL of its citizens from government interference with those rights."

Scott appeared to be making an appeal to both sides of the issue in a statement released by his spokesman John Tupps.

"Gov. Scott supports traditional marriage, consistent with the amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008, but does not believe that anyone should be discriminated against for any reason," Tupps said in an e-mail.


Crist's selection of Miami-Dade County Democratic Party leader Taddeo was an unusual move from a candidate who still faces a primary.

But it's another signal that Crist, who has refused to debate fellow Democratic candidate Nan Rich, is focused on the general election against Scott. Crist frequently points out that Scott and his backers have spent nearly $20 million bashing Crist and have pledged to spend $100 million to keep Scott in the governor's mansion and Crist out of it.

Crist touted Taddeo as a working mother who runs a small business in Miami. Taddeo, 47, who was born on a U.S. military base in Colombia, also has served as chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party.

"She will make an excellent lieutenant governor because as a working mom she knows Florida families are struggling to pay their bills, raise their kids, and save for retirement -- and because she believes, as I do, that all Floridians deserve a fair shot at success,'' Crist said in a prepared statement.

But Rich, who has trailed in polls and raised relatively little money, took a shot at Crist, who served as a Republican governor before later becoming a Democrat.

"Because hes been a lifelong Republican, Charlie Crist might be excused for not knowing that Democrats typically dont choose a running mate until they win the nomination,'' Rich, a former state Senate minority leader, said.

Taddeo ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008, losing to U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She has had an elevated profile in state party politics since Democratic Chairwoman Allison Tant tapped her to serve as one of four vice chairs last year.

Susan MacManus, a political-science professor at the University of South Florida who studies state politics, said both parties think they have a shot at the Hispanic vote, and the lieutenant-governor candidates -- Scott tapped former state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera to fill a vacancy as lieutenant governor earlier this year -- are one way to appeal to Hispanics. But MacManus also said Crist's choice of a woman was "shrewd" as women make up a larger share of the Democratic Party than they do the Republican Party.

"(There) is a tendency, particularly of younger women, to fall off in their participation in midterm elections,'' MacManus said. "But having a woman on the ticket as No. 2 was one of the ways that Crist is distinguishing himself from the Republican ticket. So hes trying to take advantage of the gender makeup of Florida and particularly of the Democratic Party, because hes got to get turnout close to what it was during the (2012) presidential election, and thats always difficult in a midterm."

While at a Democratic Party fundraiser last month, Taddeo said she has "great respect" for Rich but said Democrats exude a palpable enthusiasm for Crist, whom many believe has a better chance of ousting Scott.

"Everybody wants a picture with (Crist.) When he walks into a room, everybody's excited. And the excitement is very big," she said.

STORY OF THE WEEK: A Monroe County circuit judge rules that Florida's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: "It looks like a bunch of cockroaches that just got sprayed with Raid. They're spinning around going nowhere fast." -- Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan on "ganjapreneurs" attracted to Florida by a new law legalizing a strain of non-euphoric marijuana and by a proposed constitutional amendment -- bankrolled by Morgan -- that would allow doctors to order traditional medical marijuana for patients.

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