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.
Oct. 13, 2009
NEWS-JOURNAL WINS TOP AWARD FROM FLORIDA BAR-- Daytona Beach News-Journal, http://www.news-journalonline.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
The Daytona Beach News-Journal received top honors from The Florida Bar during its 54th media awards Monday night [Oct. 12] in Tallahassee. The top prize was given in the category of newspapers and periodicals over 50,000 circulation for Staff Writer Deborah Circelli's April 27, 2008, report on the questionable treatment of inmates with mental illnesses in the Volusia County jail. Three other newspapers were also recognized for outstanding journalism highlighting Florida's system of law and justice, including the Daily Business Review, the Ocala Star-Banner and the St. Petersburg Times. The St. Petersburg Times received honorable mention for newspapers and periodicals over 50,000 circulation.
STUDENTS FACE MEDIA, LOCAL LEGAL COMMUNITY FOR SCHOLARSHIPS-- Jacksonville Daily Record, http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com, Oct. 12, 2009.
With more cases being assigned to mediation and fewer being heard in a courtroom, a local law office decided to create a competition to give law students some valuable courtroom time. With a desire to "provide students with the opportunity to practice in a courtroom setting," said Robert Spohrer, president and senior partner of Spohrer & Dodd, the firm decided to sponsor the Spohrer & Dodd Trial Advocacy Scholarship Competition. Ten Florida Coastal School of Law students from the school's mock trial team were selected to compete based on the score from an earlier intramural mock trial competition and presentation of a closing argument to Assistant Professor Annette Ritter, director of the trial practice and mock trial programs at FCSL. The 10 who were chosen were required Wednesday [Oct. 7] to present closing arguments regarding a product liability case involving a Halloween costume catching on fire worn by a five-year-old girl.
FBI AGENTS SOUGHT RECORDS ON $3.6 MILLION, SOURCES SAY-- Daily Business Review, http://www.dailybusinessreview.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
The FBI is seeking to trace the whereabouts of $3.6 million from accounts overseen by prominent Miami lawyer and forensic accountant Lewis Freeman, who judges have often appointed to help recover money for victims of fraud, according to sources. FBI agents earlier this month executed search warrants at the Miami and Plantation offices of Lewis B. Freeman & Partners, confiscating documents and computer files. No charges have been filed. As a court-appointed receiver, Freeman is responsible for millions of dollars flowing in and out of companies in bankruptcy and other troubled businesses. It is unknown if the FBI is looking at records pertaining to one or more receiverships. Lewis B. Freeman & Partners' biggest current case is Hess Kennedy, a defunct Coral Springs law firm that pocketed money from consumers looking for debt settlement services.
--Lawyer Ethics/Legal Discipline--
A DOZEN DISBARRED BY COURT, NONE FROM JACKSONVILLE AREA-- Jacksonville Daily Record, http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com, Oct. 12, 2009.
The Florida Bar, the state's guardian for the integrity of the legal profession, announces that the Florida Supreme Court in recent court orders disciplined 27 attorneys, disbarring 12, suspending eight and placing five on probation. Some attorneys received more than one form of discipline. Seven attorneys were publicly reprimanded. One was ordered to pay restitution. None of the attorneys that were disciplined are from the Jacksonville area or belong to The Jacksonville Bar Association.
--Civil Justice Issues--
HOLLOW VICTORIES NO DETERRENT TO SCAMS-- Sarasota Herald-Tribune, column, http://www.heraldtribune.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
The column by Sarasota Herald-Tribune columnist Tom Lyons states: ". . . As you may have read, Wanda Costa had been facing foreclosure on her North Port home and the potential loss of all her equity. Through companies called Foreclosure Prevention Corp. and Profitmax, savvy associates Gideon Rechnitz and Thomas Cook had claimed to have a good plan to help Costa keep her home at least long enough for her to sell it, [Costa's attorney Elizabeth] Boyle explained. At their urging, Costa signed all kinds of documents, handed over power of attorney and put herself in their hands, based on their advice and salesmanship. . . . Soon, they were the ones seeking to evict Costa from what had become their house, says Boyle, a lawyer who does legal work for people with little money, through Gulfcoast Legal Services. The jury awarded Costa $93,000. . . . I congratulate the jury on the attempt and I hope it helps. But here's what I really wonder: If a jury can figure out that Costa was scammed, why the heck can't law enforcement and prosecutors do the same?"
1ST DCA REJECTS NCAA'S LATEST REQUEST-- Tallahassee Democrat, http://www.tallahassee.com, Oct. 13, 2009. [Also: NCAA LOSS FLORIDA'S WIN-- The Tampa Tribune, editorial, http://www.tbo.com, Oct. 13, 2009; NCAA THROWN FOR LOSS AMID FLORIDA'S 'SUNSHINE'-- Naples Daily News, editorial, http://www.naplesnews.com, Oct. 11, 2009].
From the Tallahassee Democrat: The National Collegiate Athletic Association's appeal for another hearing in an open-records case has been denied. In an unsigned, single-page order posted late Monday [Oct. 12], the 1st District Court of Appeal turned down the NCAA's request for a review by the 1st District Court of Appeal panel that ruled against the national organization and also denied certification of the case to the Florida Supreme Court. The court ruled Oct. 1 that records in Florida State University's ongoing appeal of athletic sanctions are public documents and must be released, upholding a lower court's ruling. It's still unclear precisely when the documents may be released.
--Criminal Justice Issues--
FOUR SUSPECTS FACE DEATH PENALTY IN BILLINGS DEATHS-- Pensacola News Journal, http://www.pnj.com, Oct. 13, 2009. [Also: STATE SEEKS DEATH FOR TWO OKALOOSA RESIDENTS, TWO OTHERS IN COUPLE'S KILLING-- Northwest Florida Daily News, http://www.nwfdailynews.com, Oct. 13, 2009].
From the Pensacola News Journal: The State Attorney's Office announced Monday that it plans to seek the death penalty against four of the eight suspects in the deaths of Byrd and Melanie Billings. Six men and a teenager are charged with first-degree murder in the Billingses' deaths. An eighth person - a woman - is charged as an accessory after the fact. The Billingses were killed July 9 in their Beulah home during a home invasion and robbery. The state's intention of seeking the death penalty creates an administrative issue for the court because two of the defendants' attorneys are not qualified to try death penalty cases. One defendant's attorney, Sharon Wilson, said she allowed her qualification to lapse because of her displeasure with the state's $15,000 cap on reimbursement to court appointed attorneys who try death penalty cases. Cheryl Alverso, a former assistant public defender now in private practice, plans to withdraw as the attorney for another defendant because she is unqualified to represent him in a death penalty case. Other conflicts could prevent Office of Regional Conflict Counsel, which represents clients in cases with multiple defendants, from representing any of the defendants.
WOLFINGER OPPOSED TO CASH FOR DILLON-- Florida Today, http://www.floridatoday.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
State Attorney Norman Wolfinger angered William Dillon's attorneys with a letter saying he won't support compensation for the man who spent 27 years in prison before release based on DNA testing. The letter went to Special Master Kent Wetherell, who heads up the "claim bills" for the Florida Senate. Dillon was convicted in 1981 of the murder of James Dvorak during a robbery. DNA testing performed last year on a T-shirt prosecutors said was worn by the killer found none of Dillon's DNA. Blood on the shirt belonged to the victim, results showed, but the sweat stains were from someone other than Dillon. Last November, the state granted Dillon a new trial, then dropped all charges a few weeks later. Dillon is seeking a special law from the Florida Legislature to be compensated. State prosecutors said they dropped charges against Dillon because they could no longer present enough evidence to convict him. They never said Dillon was cleared, however. The compensation law passed in 2008 requires exoneration, and Wolfinger said he supports that process.
FLORIDA A LEADER IN PUTTING KIDS IN JAIL FOR LIFE-- The Miami Herald, column, http://www.miamiherald.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
The column by Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm states: ". . . If Florida stands alone amid the states in its fervor to lock up juveniles for life, even for nonlethal crimes, then we're also set off from the rest of the world. Amnesty International, in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, stated: "Every other country in the world has rejected the practice of giving this sentence to offenders who were under 18 at the time they committed a crime.'' The Supreme Court, during this fall's term, will hear arguments over whether life sentences for kids convicted of crimes like armed robbery, rape and burglary so violates civilized norms that it constitutes cruel and usual punishment."
JOINT INVESTIGATION FINDS NO CRIMINAL WRONGDOING AT PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION-- The Miami Herald/St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau, http://www.miamiherald.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs said Monday [Oct. 12] that a joint investigation between his office and state police into the state's public utilities regulator has not turned up any criminal wrongdoing. Meggs said investigators from his staff and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have interviewed the five current and former members of the Public Service Commission and their staff about potential open- meeting violations. Because the PSC serves as a quasi-judicial panel, state law prohibits commissioners from having any direct conversations between each other and officials from the utilities they regulate about any matter pending before them. FDLE spokeswoman Heather Smith confirmed that the investigation is still ongoing but "we are not able to provide any detail about the interviews we are conducting or the information we are passing on to them,'' she said.
MCCOLLUM SEEKING TO 'BUST THE MYTH' THAT NEW TECHNOLOGIES SKIRT SUNSHINE LAW-- The Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com, Oct. 13, 2009.
Attorney General Bill McCollum on Wednesday [Oct. 14] will convene the first of three sessions designed to teach public officials that when they use instant messaging and social networking to discuss public business, it's still a public record. The seminars will bring together some of the state's premier open government experts -- and the technology staff at several state agencies -- to discuss how best to retain communication between public officials in the era of social networking and electronic instant messaging. McCollum's chief of staff, Joe Jacquot, said that it has become "something of an urban legend'' for state workers to assume that just because they're communicating via text messaging or private BlackBerry messaging codes known as PINs that their records cannot be recorded under the state's Sunshine Law. McCollum appointed Jacquot last month to explore the open government requirements of using emerging technology.