Observations and musings on Jacksonville Politics

Public Defender Storm

The Times-Union wades into the fury over the management of the Public Defender’s Office with a well-researched piece today.

Gone are Ann Finnell and Patrick McGuinness, the subjects of an Oscar-winning documentary for defending falsely accused teenager Brenton Butler in 2000. Butler was exonerated after they convinced a jury that Jacksonville police beat his murder confession out of him, then tipped detectives to the real killers.

Gone, too, is Lisa Steely, longtime chief of the office’s juvenile division and recognized statewide as an expert in delinquency.

And gone is veteran homicide attorney Alan Chipperfield, who was so committed to defending the poor that he took a pay cut to return to the office in the ’90s after a stint with a private firm.

The lawyers learned of the firings when a member of Shirk’s transition team sent White an e-mail Nov. 21, listing them and three other employees who wouldn’t be asked to stay when Shirk takes office Jan. 6.

According to a copy obtained by the Times-Union, the e-mail misspelled two lawyers’ names – McGuinness and Susan Yazgi.

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , , , ,

Mike Weinstein returns to the State Attorney’s Office

From the Times-Union:

Former Jacksonville mayoral candidate and newly elected state Rep. Mike Weinstein will return to the State Attorney’s Office as its executive director next year, he and his new boss confirmed Friday.
Weinstein, who also served as mayoral chief of staff and headed the city’s Super Bowl host committee, will work 10 months of the year, then take two months off without pay in the spring to fulfill his statehouse obligations, said State Attorney-elect Angela Corey.

Weinstein was elected Nov. 4 to represent House District 19 in Mandarin and aspired to become House speaker.

Corey said Weinstein will be in charge of her office’s administrative and budgetary functions, the same position he held under former State Attorney Ed Austin before Austin was elected mayor in 1991.

Filed under: Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, , , ,

What do Duval’s House Republicans think of their Speaker?

I certainly haven’t heard any of the members of the Duval Delegation raise any questions about Florida’s new Speaker of the House, but questions are starting to surface about what he did to deserve his new $110,000-a-year job with a state community college (announced the day he officially took over as Speaker of the Florida House).  Certainly our Duval Representatives have an opinion on this?

Last spring, the agency overseeing Florida’s colleges made a list of budget requests in what was one of the leanest years in modern history. Northwest Florida State College was slated to get $1-million for a building project.

Yet when lawmakers signed off on the budget in May, the school had snagged $25.5-million — the single largest project of any college.

For that, it could thank state Rep. Ray Sansom, the Destin Republican who controlled the House budget.

The assistance, documented in a memo the St. Petersburg Times obtained this week through a public records request, highlights the close relationship between Sansom and the college president, Bob Richburg.

Last week that affiliation burst into public view when Sansom was given a $110,000 job as a vice president at the college.


Filed under: Florida Legislature, ,

More bad press for Waste Management no-bid contract

Is it just me, or does the Mayor’s Office just not get it? 

Repeated bad press has appeared about the folly of entering into a no-bid contract with Waste Management to operate the Trail Ridge landfill, yet the Mayor presses on.  This time, Folio has written a piece on this bad idea – wondering what’s behind this controversial contract and raising some new issues.

Is it just about friends and money?  Folio seems to think so.  Well, so much for the Mayor’s promise in August of 2007 to raise the bar after the Teagle and GreenBean mess that was the subject of a State Attorney investigation and even an FBI inquiry. But Folio raises new issues as well.

Republic Services would like the opportunity to bid on the landfill contract and has hired an attorney to represent them.  If you recall, Republic tried to hire the City’s former general counsel, Dan Richardson, who had negotiated the original landfill contract with Waste Management.  But the General Counsel’s Office pulled the  waiver they had given Mr. Richardson, just as soon as he was quoted saying that it was not the intent of the original contract with Waste Management to cover the entire Trail Ridge site, only the operating portion of the landfill.  Republic has now hired Tom Ingram, a well respected attorney at the law firm of Pappas Metcalf Jenks & Miller.

According to the Folio article, Mr. Ingram has raised new concerns surrounding the no-bid contract.  His concerns center around the Mayor’s attempted use of an exemption clause found in the City’s procurement code.  The exemption allows the city to waive bid requirements IF a piece of legislation authorizes the waiver AND sets aside money for the contract.  It seems that General Counsel’s Office put together a two page list of contracts where the City has availed itself of the exemption provision of the procurement code.  Every single one of the contracts on this two-page list appropriated money, unlike the proposed no-bid contract for the Trail Ridge landfill. 

Mr. Ingram’s position is that without appropriating money, the no bid contract doesn’t qualify for the exemption in the procurement code.  It’s entirely another matter as to whether or not the exemption is good public policy in the first place. I (and many others) would argue that it isn’t.  Folio asserts that the city’s use of the exemption is the sort of fact that Mr. Ingram is likely to bring up in his client’s lawsuit against the city, should the City Council approve the no-bid contract. 

Mr. Ingram also questions whether the City can legally waive the purchasing code in order to award the contract to a specific contractor.  It seems that the First District Court of Appeals ruled in 1992 that the city can’t waive code in order to help a particular recipient get a contract.  In that case, the court ruled such a waiver “would render the competitive bidding process a nullity.”  Interestingly enough, the case in which this ruling was made stemmed from a lawsuit over the City’s original contract with Waste Management, according to Folio.

As previously noted, Council President Fussell has scheduled a meeting on December 4th with city representatives to discuss the no-bid contract.   Unfortunately, the meeting is not public since apparently no other council members were invited. 

Business as usual for this administration.

A final question to ponder: 

How many of us would be okay with the City awarding a contract to a company to build the courthouse (a project half the price of the landfill agreement) without putting it out to bid?

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, Mayor of Jacksonville, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Matt Shirk: Is it time to consider changing Florida’s system?

With the election of Matt Shirk as Public Defender and the subsequent firings in the Public Defender’s Office now making the rounds on national criminal defense blogs, is it time for us to consider changing Florida’s system of electing public defenders?  Several national blogs and their posters have suggested just that (here, here, here, and here). (Tip of the hat to Spidey for providing some links in a comment to another Jaxpolitics post on Shirk.)


In Florida, the Public Defender’s Office is responsible for providing legal counsel, when appointed by the Court, to those accused of criminal offenses who cannot afford to hire a lawyer. The office can be appointed to defend individuals charged with felonies, misdemeanors, or criminal traffic offenses in the Circuit and County Courts. It also defends children charged in Juvenile Court, and individuals facing involuntary commitment for mental treatment under the Baker Act. The Public Defender is elected for a four-year term with no limit on the number of terms.

The Bill of Rights, adopted in 1791 as the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, established that persons accused of committing a crime have the right to be represented by lawyers. Since that time the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted that right to mean that if a defendant cannot afford to hire an attorney, the court will appoint one to represent him or her.

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the right to counsel applies in all cases where the defendant faces a jail term, no matter if the case is a felony or a misdemeanor. Subsequently, an overwhelming need for lawyers brought about rapid growth in the number of public defenders around the country. (Thanks to Public Defender Moorman’s (10th Judicial Circuit) website for the background information.)

Florida is only one of two states (the other is Tennessee) to elect public defenders. Several Nebraska counties and San Francisco, CA (along with a few other cities) also have elected public defenders.  So, does the rest of the country know something we don’t?

The Issue

Let’s be honest.  How many of us regular folks who aren’t involved in the justice system, are willing to support someone in an elected office who will strongly fight for the rights of an accused person?  How many of us are willing to put our votes behind spending money to defend murderers and drug dealers?  As evidenced by the recent election in Jacksonville, evidently not enough of us.  Yet, with an elected Public Defender the integrity of our justice system requires us to do just that if we are to maintain a healthy legal system. 

Matt Shirk’s campaign, election, and subsequent actions have certainly brought criticism of Florida’s elected system to the forefront and a vigorous debate is ensuing here in Jacksonville.  However, he certainly isn’t the only elected Public Defender facing criticism.  So is Diamond Litty in the 19th Judicial Circuit.  Litty evidently has insisted for years that she cannot get involved in a case for 21 days after someone is arrested, while other Public Defenders’ Offices require their lawyers to visit clients within 24 hours.  Ms. Litty’s practice results in her clients sitting in jail for weeks for such things as disturbing the peace or violating open container laws.


Some States maintain centrally administered, statewide systems, while other jurisdictions have locally-elected public defenders, like Florida.  Some jursidictions have appointed public defenders.  However, many jurisdictions rely exclusively on private contract attorneys, assigned counsel systems, or similar arrangements outside a public defender office for indigent defense services.  There are also publicly funded but privately operated public defender offices, such as those operating in West Virginia.  It would be well worth our time to consider different options to our current system of electing public defenders. 

In addition, many Public Defenders Offices throughout the nation are now overloaded with cases and have serious funding issues that must be addressed.  Currently, public defenders in 7 states (including Florida) are either refusing to take on new cases or have filed lawsuits due to overburdened case loads which prevent them from providing effective assistance of counsel.  (A column at TalkLeft discusses the current status of Public Defenders Offices in these 7 states  and federal funding efforts.)


As another poster on The Agitator pointed out, there is an opportunity for us to begin discussions and engage Florida’s lawyers on the subject – the Florida Bar’s mid-year meeting occurs in Miami in January.

In the meantime, Mr. Shirk would do well to remember this creed.

The Public Defender’s Credo 

I am a Public Defender
I am the guardian of the presumption of
innocence, due process and fair trial.
To me is entrusted the preservation
of those sacred principles.
I will promulgate them with courtesy and respect
but not with obsequiousness and not with fear.
For I am partisan; I am counsel for the defense.
Let none who oppose me forget that
With every fibre of my being I will
fight for my clients.
My clients are the indigent accused,
They are the lonely, the friendless.
My voice will be raised in their defense.
I will resolve all doubt in their favor.
This will be my credo; this and the Golden Rule.
I will seek acclaim and approval
only from my own conscience. And upon
my death, if there are a few lonely people who have benefited,
my efforts will not have been in vain

Jim Doherty
Public Defender
Chicago, Illinois

Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , , ,

Jacksonville: The Nation’s Foreclosure Capital

Flog shares with us the prediction (from Forbes) that we are on track to lead the nation in foreclosures.  (Yet our Mayor declares that we are defying the national economy?)

Forbes Magazine is predicting that Jacksonville will have the highest foreclosure rate in the nation next year because of tanking home prices and accelerating job losses. In a real estate article titled, “America’s Next Foreclosure Capitals,” the magazine said Jacksonville’s foreclosure rate would increase by 15.4 percent in 2009. The magazine compiled its list using the mortgage write-off rate in the 50 largest foreclosure markets, based on data from Moody’s Economy.com and Equifax. In Jacksonville in 2008, the mortgage write-off rate was 2.39 percent, meaning that $2.39 of every $100 of the mortgage market has vanished due to foreclosures. 


Filed under: Jacksonville, , ,

Cashin’ In at the JAA

Folio Weekly has a top-notch expose out this week on John Clark, the head of the Jacksonville Aviation Authority.  Serving as the head of an independent agency is quite lucrative—at least in Jacksonville, Florida.  Mr. Clark’s compensation ranks him as the highest paid airport executive in the state, even higher than Atlanta’s airport.  (And, in case you are wondering, Jacksonville comes nowhere close to competing with Atlanta, Miami or Orlando in terms of volume.)  According to Folio, Mr. Clark’s compensation includes:

  • Base salary of $241,000 (with an automatic 5% annual increase through 2012)
  • $850 monthly car allowance
  • $750 monthly cell phone/business expense allowance ($50 annual increase)
  • 100% coverage of health insurance premiums
  • Membership dues to the River Club or University Club
  • $15,000 annual retirement contribution
  • Business travel expenses, as needed, which included such things as $10,491 to attend this year’s London Air Show and $11,304 to attend an Airports Council International meeting in Shanghai

Folio pointed out that Mr. Clark recently ordered staff cuts at JIA, presumably to preserve the 30% operating margin that triggers an automatic 30% bonus payout to him ($72,300).  The City Council, particularly Clay Yarborough, Glorious Johnson and Bill Bishop, appear to have taken an interest in reigning in JAA by attempting to restrict his dictatorial powers to move around his budget.  With JAA operating at such impressive margins, perhaps its time for it to start contributing to the City’s general fund, much like another independent authority (the JEA) does…

Filed under: Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , , , , , , , ,

Hot City Council Topics

The Times-Union has coverage of the hot topics considered at last nights City Council Meeting.  What passed?  Commercial trucks parked in residential neighborhoods (Side note:  Council President Ronnie Fussell needs to work on respecting the public comment time.  I was shocked by the number of times he interrupted speakers [voters] in an attempt to undercut or belittle their opinions.)  What didn’t pass?  Cruise ships in Mayport and bailout money to the Gator Bowl Association.  Rest assured; however, it was just the required “public hearing” of these bills.  Don’t assume the Council actually took those opinions to heart.  Full report after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Jacksonville City Council, , , , , , ,

Where’s Matt Shirk?

Remember the children’s picture book “Where’s Waldo?” where you look among thousands of people and objects on the page to try to find Waldo?

Well, it seems as if everybody in Jacksonville is asking: “Where’s Matt Shirk?” even First Coast News. It seems that he is referring all his calls to Angela Corey. What’s up with that?

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Filed under: Jacksonville, , , , ,

Dialing for Dollars

Things are already heating up in the race to fill Jim King’s State Senate seat when he retires in 2010.  It may be two years away, but the two declared candidates, Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham (R) and former Florida State Representative Aaron Bean (R), have already been busy raising funds for what will probably be the hottest race in town.

Art Graham has already raised over $50,000 from such reliable sources as Auld & White Contractors Inc, John D Baker II, John D Clark III, Fidelity National, J B Coxwell and Howard Korman.  (Real Estate may be a depressed industry at the present time, but the current economic state notwhithstanding, Mr. Graham seems to be having no problem convincing the industry to pony up cash.)

Mr. Graham’s haul; however, pales in comparison to Aaron Bean’s staggering $164,000+.  That’s right, two years before an election to a post that pays less than $50,000, Mr. Bean has already collected six figures.  Aaron Bean’s donor list reads like a “Who’s Who” of Florida lobbyist and powerful PAC’s.  He has the unquestioned support of Florida’s medical and dental community with thousands of dollars raised in contribution from their respective political action committees.  The question Mr. Graham might want to ask of Mr. Bean is “Who raised more contributions from the actual residents/voters of the district?”  In that respect, Mr. Graham might have a shot.  Aaron Bean, despite his long-time Fernandina Beach residency, seems more focused on raising Tallahassee, South Florida, Georgia and New York dollars than those of his former constituents in the Florida House.

Filed under: Florida Legislature, Jacksonville, Jacksonville City Council, , , ,

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