On Friday, the Miami Herald reported that State Attorney Ed Brodsky won’t seek maximum sentences for Elissa Alvarez and Jose Caballero, who were convicted on Monday of public lewdness for (no-longer-allegedly) having sex on a public beach in Bradenton, within sight of several families. The two could have faced 15 years in prison, along with sex offender registration.
That they’re going to get less than that (though it’s still unclear how much less) is good news not just for the couple, but for Florida — the announcement will hopefully at least slightly deflate the roiling clouds of gleeful indignation over yet another example of Florida So Crazy.
TIFFANY TOMPKINS-CONDIE/Bradenton Herald
Caballero and Alvarez being handcuffed after their conviction.
Because let’s be real: a solid proportion of the advertising aimed at out of state tourists holds forth the subtle promise that, if you come to Florida, you might end up sticking things into things while covered in sand. (Enticing, right?) Putting a couple away for more than a decade for doing what comes naturally when in the presence of the ocean’s sublime beauty would be, at the very least, horrible PR.
Of course, many people still feel it’s absurd that Alvarez and Caballero face any jail time. And there’s no indication that they won’t have to register as sex offenders, a designation that closes down the possibilities of a person’s entire life with the stark finality of a descending black curtain.
They made a mistake, no doubt. In fact, they come across as grade-A self-involved morons (among other evidence for the prosecution in that case: Caballero was arrested wearing a thong).
But for context, it’s not hard to find examples of felony sentences such as a six years for rape (celebrity category), or 10 years for child murder. Alvarez or Caballero’s sentences ending up anywhere remotely close to those would instantly make prosecutors guilty of worse judgment than the convicts ever showed.
In fact, the sentencing process, rather than any debate over decency, is the real point of concern here. Jurors in criminal trials are tasked with determining innocence and guilt – but have no procedural access to the sentencing guidelines for the charges they’re deliberating.
There are certainly good reasons for that (please, please tell me there are good reasons for that...), but the upshot is that the case says nearly nothing about the moral standards of Floridians. The defense in the case feebly argued that Alvarez was just 'dancing' on top of Caballero, but there were multiple witnesses, and even a cell phone video that’s pretty hard to refute.
Jurors’ only job was to process these facts, not weigh what they thought the response should be. There’s no guarantee that a jury would have gone easy on the couple in sentencing — but whatever sentence comes down, it won’t have been decided by the couples' fellow beachgoing citizens.
In Caballero’s case, it might not even have been decided by a judge. He has a prior felony conviction, and recently completed serving that sentence. Under Florida law, prosecutors could have filed for an automatic 15 year sentence for the new offense, with seemingly no discretion left in the hands of the judge. The Herald reports that Brodsky has withdrawn that paperwork. Let’s hope someone takes the opportunity to make a good decision here.
Last night, the News Service of Florida reported on a damning but brief email exchange between two Republicans — one at the national and one at the state level.
The sender? Tom Hofeller of the Republican National Committee.
The recipient? Tallahassee-based political consultant Rich Heffley.
We'll call them Hoff and Heff. For brevity's sake.
In it, Hoff lauds Heff's success in "guiding the Senate through the thicket" on redistricting, something consultants really really really aren't supposed to do.
The Senate's redrawn maps are the target of a lawsuit launched by voting rights groups claiming they redrew State Senate and Congressional districts to benefit the GOP, even though Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 politely asking them not to do that.
It has not been a good week for Tom Atchison, CEO of New Beginnings, a Tampa homeless program offering food, shelter and counseling for homeless individuals looking to get off the street.
On Saturday the Tampa Bay Times published a lengthy, eviscerating story about Atchison and his program, equating it to indentured servitude. The story essentially accused Atchison of exploiting those he was supposed to be helping by making them work at sporting event concession stands the agency was being paid to staff, then pocketing the money in lieu of giving the workers wages.
New emails have been released outlining a Republican plan to get around gerrymandering laws by having consultants draw up new redistricting maps which would then be submitted by "independent citizens' without obvious ties to the GOP. "Yeah, we're evil," said one representative around a mouthful of tender baby's heart, while pointing at the word "EVIL" printed on his T-shirt. "Kinda thought you knew that."
Martin O’Boyle filed more than 1,300 public records requests with the Palm Beach State Attorney’s office.
The nonprofit Citizens Awareness Foundation was founded to “empower citizens to exercise their right to know,” according to its mission statement. The South Florida millionaire backing the foundation hired one of the state’s most prominent public records activists to run it, rented office space, and pledged to pay the legal fees to make sure people had access to government records, as is mandated by the state’s Sunshine Law.
But a review of court records and internal communications obtained by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting shows that the foundation is less interested in obtaining records and educating the public than in working with a partner law firm to collect cash settlements from every lawsuit filed.
In the upcoming film Kill The Messenger, journalist Gary Webb (played by Jeremy Renner) is asked if he believes in conspiracy theories.
“I don’t believe in conspiracy theories,” Webb replies. “Conspiracies, yes. If I believe it, there’s nothing theory about it.”
Kill The Messenger is the true story of the late Gary Webb, a reporter for the San Jose Mercury News who in 1996 connected the rise of crack cocaine in America to the CIA and its ties with the contras in Nicaragua. Perhaps angry at being scooped, the establishment media — papers like the L.A. Times, New York Times and Washington Post — attacked his reporting (in some cases aided by unnamed government sources) and ultimately hounded him out of journalism.
Conspiracy theories have always been part of American politics, and they always will be, says University of Miami Professor Joseph E. Uscinski, who, along with his UM colleague Joseph M. Parent, has written the new book, American Conspiracy Theories.
And even though you may think only those on the wacko margins believe in such ideas, the numbers indicate otherwise.
REAL PEOPLE: Members of USF’s Relationship Equality and Anti-Violence League, which hosts peer education and awareness events.
Colleges all across the country are taking heat for the way their administrations deal with sexual assault cases, as more and more students speak up about how such cases are handled.
In early May, the Department of Education released a list of 55 colleges that are now under investigation for potential violations of the federal anti-discrimination law under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The law prohibits gender discrimination at colleges that receive federal funding. Sexual harassment and violations are considered forms of sex discrimination, and Title IX requires colleges and universities that receive federal funds to investigate and resolve any sexual assault claims in a timely and impartial manner.
Florida State University is among the schools being investigated, following complaints over handling of the notorious Jameis Winston case. Others on the list include Vanderbilt University, Emerson College, and the University of Connecticut. Twelve more colleges were added in early July.
But where these and other schools are scrambling to update their sexual assault policies and procedures, school officials at the University of South Florida say they have been ahead of the curve for years. USF has had victim advocacy departments on campus since 1992, said Nanci Newton, director of USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy & Violence Prevention.
Rick Scott hasn't been that successful in getting the courts to go along with his desires to drug test welfare recipients or state workers, and his efforts have cost the state over $380,000 in the process.
Last month the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal regarding his 2011 executive offer that would have required random drug tests for as many as 85,000 state workers. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the program was too broad in scope, but did say drug testing without suspicion could be used in certain cases, such as for law enforcement officers or commercial drivers and/or pilots.
And last December a federal judge in Orlando struck down a Florida law requiring applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing.The Governor is appealing that decision as well - at a cost to taxpayers.
A public records investigation by the ACLU of Florida has found that the state of Florida has spent $381,654.45 on the cases, not including staff attorneys’ salaries or court-ordered attorneys’ fees— or the costs of administering the drug testing programs in the first place.
In June of 2012, a Pinellas County jury deliberated for less than two hours before awarding former NBA referee Tim Donaghy $1.3 million in his civil trial against Shawna Vercher and her company, VTi Media. The jury ruled that Vercher had withheld proceeds from the sale of Donaghy’s memoir, Personal Foul, which VTi Media published. With legal fees later added on, VTi was judged to owe Donaghy $1.7 million, and Vercher herself to owe him $1.525 million. Five months later, she declared bankruptcy, and has refused to publicly comment on the case.
Although Ed Jany's departure from the CD13 race comes just two days after a report in theTampa Bay Timesrevealed that he had inflated his education credentials, the Marine Corps Reserve colonel insists that the timing is coincidental, and that if he were a wealthy man or had a "sugar daddy" he could have stayed in the race in the uber-competitive Pinellas County Congressional District that GOP newcomer David Jolly won by less than 2 percentage points two months ago.
"They really sensationalized this thing talking about my resume," said Jany, speaking from his Bayshore Boulevard home in Tampa this afternoon a few hours after the Times' Adam Smith reported that he was leaving the race. But Jany admitted later in the conversation that it was "irresponsible on my part for not vetting" Madison University when it came to getting a college degree. Madison has the reputation for being a diploma mill that doesn't have an actual campus or classes.