Legal Updates

FLORIDA-GEORGIA WATER DISPUTE The decades-long dispute between Florida and Georgia over water rights is heading to the Supreme Court.  Florida continues to assert that Georgia illegally diverts water from the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers, depriving the Apalachicola Bay of needed fresh water.  Unable to resolve the conflict under the provisions of a 1997 pact between Alabama, Florida and Georgia, the dispute has been in the courts for years.  Georgia’s position, which seems to be supported by the Army Corps of Engineers, is that the lawsuit is premature since the Corps is currently conducting a review of water flow within the region.

SAME SEX MARRIAGE  The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta dealt a blow to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi when it rejected her request to extend the ban on same-sex marriage. A U.S. District Court judge had previously granted a ninety-day hold on the order overturning Florida’s gay marriage ban in anticipation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s guidance. On December 16th, Bondi requested that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, the circuit justice for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals,extend the stay on the lower court ruling that is preventing gay couples from marrying in Washington County. On December 19th, the U.S. Supreme Court denied Bondi’s request to extend the stay, which will expire on January 5, 2015.

HIV DISCLOSURE LAW Florida’s Supreme Court will rule on a unique case involving the transmission of the HIV virus.  A Manatee County woman, who is gay, was convicted of violating a 1986 law making it a felony to have sexual intercourse without disclosing her HIV positive status.  An appeals court overturned the conviction on the basis that Florida law implies that sexual intercourse occurs only between a man and woman.  A conflicting opinion was rendered in a Key West case last month, setting up the conflict for resolution by the Supreme Court.

REDISTRICTING CASE DOCUMENTS   On November 13th, Florida’s Supreme Court issued a rare unanimous ruling which required the release of 538 pages of documents that Pat Bainter, a Republican operative and owner of campaign consulting firm Data Targeting, had spent two years attempting to keep secret.  The judges ruled Bainter had waited too long to assert his First Amendment rights.  Bainter appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Justice Clarence Thomas refused to intervene.  The records were released on November 25th.

The documents revealed that GOP operatives submitted proposed maps using seven members of the public in order to create the allusion of public participation.  One of those maps was the basis for the final congressional district map.

CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING LAWSUIT    After Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis approved the re-drawn congressional districts in August of this year, the plaintiffs in the case appealed to the 1st District Court of Appeal.  In a divided 2-1 ruling, the Appeals Court elected to fast-track the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

MEDICAID CHILD LAWSUIT A class-action petition filed in 2005 by the Florida Pediatric Association continues to move forward.  The suit, which alleges the State has not provided adequate medical and dental benefits to children under the Medicaid program, is based on low reimbursement rates for pediatricians.  The federal judge recently ruled that ACHA will not be able to introduce additional evidence based upon changes made to the program.  The judge ruled there was not enough information to determine the impact of those changes.

DRUG TESTING WELFARE RECIPIENTS In 2011, the Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a law requiring drug testing of individuals seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.  Luis Lebron, a navy veteran, college student and father, refused the test and filed suit against the State.  A U.S. District Court judge ruled in his favor and the decision was appealed by the State.  Two weeks after hearing arguments, judges of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling that the practice is unconstitutional.  The decision likely represents the end of legal action, and a defeat for the Governor.

STAND YOUR GROUND  A Jacksonville woman whose assault case became a symbol of Florida’s stand your ground law, accepted a plea deal which will result in her being released in January.  The woman was found guilty of firing a warning shot during a confrontation with her estranged husband, sentencing her to twenty years in prison.  Her defense originally was centered on the stand your ground argument, but the judge in the case refused to allow that defense.  The deal means she will have spent a total of 1,095 days in prison.

DIGITAL DOMAIN BANKRUPTCY Florida has been seeking legal action to recover economic incentives given to Digital Domain, a visual effects and digital production company which is currently in bankruptcy.  The State has been successful in getting the case transferred from bankruptcy court to state court, which should help it move forward more quickly.  In related news, the State of Delaware won its case to recoup incentives and require Digital Domain to pay back $18 million.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA LOTTERY An administrative law judge recently rejected the Florida Department of Health’s plan to conduct a lottery to determine which nurseries are authorized to grow and dispense the medical cannabis Charlotte’s Web.  The Department must start from scratch to establish new procedures.   The Department has until December 15th to appeal the ruling.

GUN SILENCERS  In November, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission lifted the ban on sound-suppressing devices while hunting.  In response to this action, three Floridians filed a challenge with the Division of Administrative Hearings seeking to overturn the rule and reinstate the ban.

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