Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Politics

Florida Supreme Court says 'no' to overruling governor's citrus canker veto

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — Homeowners in Broward and Lee counties who lost their citrus trees to canker or the state's eradication program were told by Florida's highest court Thursday that because of the governor's veto, they'll have to go back to court to get the money they are due.

The 6-1 ruling by the Florida Supreme Court continues the legal limbo that has trapped homeowners for the last decade as they try to get redress after the state destroyed their healthy citrus trees as part of its ailed Citrus Canker Eradication Program between 2000 and 2006.

After years of litigation, the Legislature for the first time set aside the money in June — $20.9 million to 70,036 Broward tree owners and $16.4 million to 167,677 homeowners in Lee County.

But Gov. Rick Scott vetoed the $37.3 million, ignoring the order by the court that the state pay the money on the grounds that destroying the trees without adequate compensation was an unconstitutional "taking" and instead argued that the veto was warranted "because of ongoing litigation."

Outraged property owners representing counties with 94 percent of the lost trees joined five class-action lawsuits to seek compensation. In four of the cases, the court has ordered the state to pay more than $100 million in judgments, attorneys fees and interest. One case, involving Miami-Dade residents who lost 40 percent of the healthy trees removed in Florida, is still pending. The bench trial in that case ended in June 2016, but the judge has not ruled.

Homeowners petitioned the court last month to invalidate Scott's veto, but the court rejected their request, saying the better approach is to return to the lower courts to compel the state to pay.

"We hereby dismiss this petition without prejudice to seek redress in the pending circuit court actions," the majority wrote, adding that: "Nothing about the start of the new fiscal year prevents the respective circuit courts from issuing the relief requested, if those courts determine that relief is commanded by the facts and law."

However, Justice Barbara Pariente, who concurred with the majority that the high court could not invalidate a veto, wrote a separate opinion with a scathing criticism of the governor.

"Adding further insult to injury, the Governor's veto was based on misinformation that the litigation in these cases was still ongoing when that was not the case," she wrote. "... These petitioners have the right to full compensation. The time has come for the State to pay up." Justice Peggy Quince concurred.

Justice Fred Lewis was the lone dissent on the court. He also blasted Scott for failing to understand the Florida Constitution but also accused his partners on the court of abdicating their responsibility by elevating the governor's veto over the constitutional right for compensation when the state takes property.

"This is a sad day for Florida citizens with a majority and concurring opinion that refuse to protect the right of compensation for the massive government taking of property from Florida citizens," Lewis wrote. "The right to own private property and the corresponding right to receive full and complete compensation when private property is taken by a government is a foundational cornerstone of this democracy."

He criticized the court's majority and Pariente's opinion for using "artful and eloquent words ... to give an illusion of protecting a sacred constitutional right then to only crush that right by refusing to require payment of that compensation."

He said the governor's argument in support of a veto was "misdirected" and failed to understand both the separation of powers and the constitution.

"This is not a game, and our citizens should not be toyed with as if a yo-yo, and yet that is exactly what this veto accomplishes,'' Lewis wrote. "Now, with the opportunity to stop this 10-year game of yo-yo, this Court abdicates its responsibility when it allows state actors to disregard their constitutional obligation by playing further games of delay and obfuscation. Justice demands that it stop now."

Lewis also lampooned the governor, a lawyer, and his understanding of the law.

"The Executive's response oozes executive power in what he terms his unfettered veto. However, the Executive forgets or has failed to read the first lines of the Florida Constitution: 'All political power is inherent in the people. The enunciation herein of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or impair others retained by the people.'

"We simply cannot allow another 10 years to go by for the Executive to continue playing games of hide the money through a veto power and word games in the courts," Lewis concluded. "Furthermore, every day that goes by, the State owes more and more in post-judgment interest for a judgment that has long been final."

During the citrus eradication program, state agriculture inspectors deployed crews with chain saws to chop down 577,253 orange, grapefruit and key lime trees throughout the state — even if the trees showed no signs of infection.

Lawmakers added the money to the budget for only two of the four counties in which judgments have been rendered. They did not include money for homeowners in Orange and Palm Beach counties.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas

Comments
Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

Trump offers support for Moore in Alabama Senate race despite misconduct allegations

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to offer support to Republican candidate Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate race, saying the former state judge "totally denies" allegations that he sexually molested underage girls years ago."He d...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

Before budget ax fell, Visit Florida executives ran up hefty travel bills

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott’s tourism chiefs at Visit Florida spend a lot of public money taking trips to exotic places to promote Florida as a top worldwide destination.Four former top-level staff members at the state’s tourism promotion and its c...
Published: 11/20/17
Updated: 11/21/17
2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

2nd woman accuses Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A second woman has accused Minnesota Sen. Al Franken of inappropriate touching.Lindsay Menz tells CNN that Franken placed his hand on her bottom as they posed for a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, two years into Fran...
Published: 11/20/17
Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

Senator Nelson on tax reform bill: Small business will ‘get it in the neck.’

TAMPA — A week ahead of the expected vote on a controversial tax reform bill, U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., visited Tampa to deliver a message to small businesses: This bill will hurt you."Small businesses are the economic engine of F...
Published: 11/19/17
Updated: 11/20/17
As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

As clock ticks on tax bill, White House signals a compromise

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is willing to remove a contentious provision taking aim at the Affordable Care Act from the GOP tax overhaul plan if politically necessary, a move ...
Published: 11/19/17

Many Christian conservatives are backing Alabama’s Roy Moore

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama’s Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn’t fit the evangelical mold. ...
Published: 11/19/17
Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

Senate ethics, relatively silent, could face busy year

WASHINGTON — It’s been nearly six years since the Senate Ethics Committee conducted a major investigation of a sitting senator. Next year, the panel could be working nonstop, deciding the fate of up to three lawmakers, including two facing allegation...
Published: 11/18/17
PolitiFact: Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here’s why

PolitiFact: Why do we celebrate Thanksgiving? Here’s why

Before gobbling turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie — or engaging in a well-informed political spat with your family — some of you might wonder where the Thanksgiving tradition originated.We wondered, too. So we talked with historians to get the facts s...
Updated: 7 hours ago
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y.Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t eno...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/20/17
Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

Hillsborough seeks payback for ethics complaint but history shows that could be pricey

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners recently decided to go after the pocketbooks of several residents who filed unsuccessful ethics complaints against one of their colleagues.If history is any indicator, the maneuver is more likely to cost taxp...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/19/17