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8 posts from December 13, 2013

December 13, 2013

Citizens awards $6.3 million contract to West Palm Beach law firm

Citizens Property Insurance will pay West Palm Beach attorney Scott Link $1 million annually for three years to oversee claims litigation.

The deal, inked Friday by Citizens Board of Governors, was part of a $6.5 million contract awarded to Link's firm.

State Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, likened the agreement to a "government giveaway" based on political connections. Artiles pointed out that former interim Citizens chief (and Rick Scott ally) Tom Grady once served as counsel for Ackerman, Link and Sartory.

"You can bring [the job] in house for a fraction of the cost," Artiles said at Friday's Board of Governors meeting in Orlando. "Citizens has a fiduciary responsibility to the state of Florida not to waste money on litigation."

But Citizens President Barry Gilway said hiring Link as "coordinating counsel" was the right move. Gilway noted that Link was already overseeing sinkhole claims, and that his efforts had saved policy holders millions of dollars.

"We need desperately the continued advice of the coordinating counsel that's represented in this procurement in order to make an impact going forward," Gilway said.

Citizens Chief Legal Officer Dan Sumner said having a coordinating counsel would save as much as $97 million in defense fees.

The Citizens board approved the contract by a 4-1 vote, with Vice Chairman Don Glisson voting in opposition. Board members Tom Lynch and Freddie Schinz abstained.

The vote drew criticism sharp criticism Friday.

“The giveaways to allies of Rick Scott at Citizens just keep coming, and they all seem wildly inappropriate,” said Sean Shaw, Florida's former Insurance Consumer Advocate. “The $525 an hour Citizens will be paying this attorney might be better spent launching an investigation into how Citizens continues to disrespect policyholders and taxpayers."

Gilway said there had been "no opportunity for bias in the bid" because it was competitively procured.

But even that came under fire. Artiles raised questions about the procurement process, and the process used to award the initial $1.5 million contract to Link's firm to oversee sinkhole claims in 2012. He said the first bid excluded too many qualified firms, and the second put too much emphasis on "coordinating counsel" experience.

Miami commissioner to David Beckham: Show everyone your soccer stadium plan

@PatriciaMazzei

Miami’s Downtown Development Authority thought about rolling out the welcome mat Friday for soccer star David Beckham.

But the agency’s board postponed — for now, at least — voting on a resolution supporting Beckham’s behind-the-scenes proposal to build a stadium on public PortMiami land for a potential Major League Soccer franchise.

Instead, the board limited itself to opposing any private development on the seaport’s Dodge Island that could compete with commercial or residential projects on the mainland. A stadium sounded much more palatable to the agency, said its chairman, Marc Sarnoff.

Sarnoff,a city commissioner, said he has met with Beckham and likes the plan. But no one else on the board has seen it.

In fact, neither Beckham nor his investors have made any public statements or presented any plans outside of closed-door meetings with select politicians.

Miami-Dade County commissioners will take a vote Tuesday to allow Mayor Carlos Gimenez to begin stadium talks in earnest.

“The public deserves to see it,” Sarnoff said of the plan.

“I think Beckham is doing himself a real disservice” by not yet making a public pitch for the much talked about project, he added.

“They should de-mystify it,” he said. “Tell us why it’s a great idea. Tell us that you’re not going to ever ask for public [money].”

Court rules Legislature must testify in redistricting case

The Florida Supreme Court ruled Friday that members of the state Legislature and their staffers must testify in a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters and other groups. They are trying to prove that Republican lawmakers secretly worked to redraw district lines to favor incumbents in violation of the state Constitution's two "fair districts" amendments.

The 5-2 decision by Justice Barbara Pariente said the court has an obligation to balance constitutional protections of citizens against a legislative privilege or shield from being forced to testify as part of the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

"We conclude that there is no unbending right for legislators and legislative staff members to hide behind a broad assertion of legislative privilege to prevent the discovery of relevant evidence necessary to vindicate the explicit state constitutional prohibition against unconstitutional partisan political gerrymandering and improper discriminatory intent," Pariente wrote. "We therefore reject the Legislature’s argument that requiring the testimony of individual legislators and legislative staff members will have a 'chilling effect' among legislators in discussion and participation in the reapportionment process."

The plaintiffs had sought sworn testimony from Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, who was Senate majority leader during the 2012 remapping of districts, as well as at least two legislative staffers.

The case is the League of Women Voters of Florida vs. Florida House of Representatives. Friday's decision quashed a previous ruling by the First District Court of Appeal, which held that legislators have an "absolute" privilege in such cases.

In a blistering dissent, Justice Charles Canady (joined by Chief Justice Ricky Polston) wrote: "For the first time in the recorded history of our Republic, a court has ruled that state legislators are required to submit to interrogation in a civil case concerning their legislative activities." Pariente's majority opinion forcefully rejected what she called Canady's "hyperbolic assertion."

A spokeswoman for Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the Senate was still reviewing the decision and would not have any immediate comment.

-- Steve Bousquet

Ethics Commission scolds state Rep. Erik Fresen for unpaid fine

The state Ethics Commission delivered an unexpected blow to state Rep. Erik Fresen on Friday, rejecting an agreement that he had reached with state Advocate Diane Guillemette over his flawed financial disclosures.

In the agreement, Fresen, a Miami Republican, conceded that there were minor mistakes on the disclosure forms he filed between 2008 and 2011. Fresen said he had since corrected the errors.

But the commission was hung up on an unpaid ethics fine. The $1,500 penalty was assessed in 2003 because Fresen did not file a financial disclosure while serving as legislative aide the year before.

Commissioners said it was "horrific" that Fresen had not paid the fine, and called the case among the worst they had ever seen. One commissioner likened the circumstances to a bank robbery.

"Can we do a public censure?" asked Commissioner Linda Robison. "I find this appalling and I think his constituents need to know he never paid a fine that was assessed."

Fresen's attorney, J.C. Planas, said Fresen was not made aware of the $1,500 fine until 2012. By that time, the penalty was no longer enforceable.

Planas said Fresen would not pay the fine because it had been unfairly imposed.

Continue reading "Ethics Commission scolds state Rep. Erik Fresen for unpaid fine" »

Marco Rubio hits back at "trial lawyer" Charlie Crist over Obamacare note

@MarcACaputo

It's feelin' a little 2010 around here.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist needled the man who beat him three years ago in the U.S. Senate race over Marco Rubio's partipation in Obamacare.

Rubio's office is hitting back at Crist (now running for governor), pointing out in a statement from spokesman Alex Conant that the senator has to sign up:

“As a trial lawyer, Charlie Crist should know the difference between following the law and endorsing it. Maybe this will help: the country is now deeper in debt because of the laws Charlie Crist endorsed, while millions of Floridians are paying more in taxes because they're following the laws Charlie Crist signed as Governor.”

HHS Sec. Sebelius ducks questions about PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year," resignation rumor

@MarcACaputo

In falsely saying people who liked their insurance could keep it under Obamacare, President Obama won the dubious distinction of telling the Lie of the Year, PolitiFact found Thursday. The following day, health secretary Kathleen Sebelius was in Miami to tout the Affordable Care Act.

So we asked her about PolitiFact's findings. She suggested it wasn't much of a lie at first. And then she refused to say whether it was a lie at all.

Later, when asked about rumors that she offered to resign during Obamacare's botched rollout, Sebelius was again mum.

Amid all of this, Sebelius seemed to strain credulity by suggesting that Florida Gov. Rick Scott might be open to still expanding Medicaid under Obamacare. Scott has backed off the call, or at least gone silent. Meantime, the GOP-led Florida Senate is expressing more reluctance than last year. And the Florida House, according to top Republicans there, is still in hell-no mode.  

A partial transcript and video at the bottom (with full story about the visit to follow later):

Continue reading "HHS Sec. Sebelius ducks questions about PolitiFact's "Lie of the Year," resignation rumor" »

Charlie Crist: "Thank you, Senator Rubio, for your endorsement of" Obamacare

@MarcACaputo

Charlie Crist loves the fact that his old opponent, Sen. Marco Rubio, is enrolled in Obamacare (Update: Rubio responds in this separate post). The Crist email:

Senator Marco Rubio’s endorsement of Obamacare for his own family should end the rhetoric coming from Governor Rick Scott and other tea party groups.

As many news outlets reported recently, in addition to enrolling his family through the new exchange, Rubio is also receiving federal subsidies – this is good news for his family.

Continue reading "Charlie Crist: "Thank you, Senator Rubio, for your endorsement of" Obamacare" »

Lawmaker: Citizens $1 million attorney is 'insider government giveaway'

Troubled Citizens Property Insurance is proposing to spend more than $1 million annually on an attorney who, according to the job description, wouldn't spend much time in a courtroom.

On Friday, the Citizens Board of Governors will decide whether to have West Palm Beach attorney Scott Link oversee all claims litigation and manage the law firms that contract with with the insurance company.

Link's hourly fee is $525 -- and is expected to add up to $1.05 million annually.

Critics say that's an outrageous expense for an entity already besieged by allegations of excessive executive spending. They also note that Link once worked with Tom Grady, a former interim Citizens chief and close ally of Gov. Rick Scott.

"This is another insider government giveaway," said state Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami. "Citizens is subsidizing its friends and family using policy-holders' money."

Neither Link nor Grady not returned calls seeking comment.

Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said politics did not factor into the recommendation.

"This contract was competitively bid," Peltier said. "The evaluators were folks within Citizens who are on the ground, trying these cases and paying these claims."

Read more here.