Perhaps in an attempt to find the truth behind what President Trump has decried as “fake news,” requests for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act have soared since he took office, according to an analysis released Tuesday by Syracuse University.
The 63 public record lawsuits filed in April represented a 25-year high, said officials at The FOIA Project at the Newhouse School at the New York university said. Further, with 60 lawsuits filed already in May, it, too, is likely to be another record-setting month, they said.
Information sought includes records on Trump’s executive orders and last month’s missile attack on Syria. Lawsuits have also been filed to get warrant applications for surveillance activities and internal agency communications about China. People and organizations are also seeking paperwork about actions taken by the new director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and border searches by the Department of Homeland Security.
If the pace continues, university officials said they expect more than 579 public records lawsuits will be filed before the fiscal year ends in Sept. 30. By comparison, 512 Freedom of Information Act lawsuits were filed during the last fiscal year of the Obama Administration.
Two former Palm Beach County high school students – one who was horrifically injured when a tire exploded in his shop class at Seminole Ridge High School – are poised to get money from the School Board to pay for their injuries.
In a lopsided vote of 117-2, the Florida House on Wednesday gave the final nod to an unusual bill that directs the School Board to pay Dustin Reinhardt $4.7 million for injuries he sustained in the 2013 explosion in his auto shop class. Now 20 and living in an assisted living facility, Reinhardt lost an eye and suffered severe brain damage in the accident. He has already received $300,000 from the school district.
The bill also allows the School Board to pay $790,000 to Altavious Carter, who broke his neck in a 2005 traffic accident caused by a school bus driver. Carter, now 25, was a 14-year-old freshman basketball standout at the former Summit Christian School when the crash occurred.
Since the Florida Senate passed the measure 31-5 on Monday, the bill is headed to Gov. Rick Scott for his approval.
In Florida, the Legislature must approve any payments over $300,000 before government agencies can pay people who are injured by wrongdoing. The measures are known as claims bills.
In addition to awarding money to the two young men, the Legislature also ordered the Florida Department of Children & Families to pay $3.75 million to Victor Barahona. He was was found near death in a van along Interstate 95 in Lake Worth in 2011. Both he and his 10-year-old twin sister, Nubia, had been sprayed with pesticides. Nubia Barahona didn’t survive.
Officials at DCF admitted ignoring years of evidence of severe abuse and neglect at the children’s Miami home. The adoptive parents, Jorge and Carmen Barahona, are awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges.
Former Florida Sen. J. Alex Villalobos, a lawyer who now works as a lobbyist, persuaded the legislature to combine what had been two separate bills into one measure for Reinhardt and Carter. In his 25 years of watching the legislature, he said he has never seen it combine two claims bills. Without it, he said it is likely Carter, who in 2010 was awarded $1 million for his injuries by a Palm Beach County jury, would have been forced to wait yet another year.
Attorney Brian Denney, who represented Carter, said he was pleased the bill passed both chambers. But, having waited seven years, he said he wasn’t celebrating until Scott’s signature is affixed to the measure.
Carter, who also played at Grandview Prep, earned a college scholarship to play basketball. But, medical experts said, the injuries he suffered will force him to have additional surgery as he ages.
With two days left in the legislative session, a former Wellington youth, identified only has C.H.M, is still waiting to see if the legislature will pass a bill that would allow him to recover $5 million from DCF. A jury in 2013 agreed the state child welfare agency was negligent when it failed to warn his parents that a foster child they brought into their home was a predator.
The money is to help C.H.M. deal with psychological problems he suffers as a result of being sexually assaulted by the foster child, also the victim of horrific abuse.
This year appears to be a good ones for claims bills. In some recent legislative session, none have been approved.
A West Palm Beach strip club owes eight California models as much as $1.8 million for using their photos to lure customers without their permission, according to a lawsuit filed last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court.
In the lawsuit against Ultra Gentlemen’s Lounge, Miami attorney Sarah Cabarcas Osman claims the eight women are top-flight models and business women who never authorized the club on Congress Avenue to use their photos in promotional advertisements.
The club, formerly operated as T’s Lounge, “gained an economic windfall by using the images of professional and successful models for (its) own commercial purposes,” Osman wrote. In addition to not being paid, the woman “sustained injury to their images, brands and marketability by shear affiliation with Ultra Lounge and the type of club (it is),” she wrote.
In an affidavit attached to the lawsuit, a Los Angles modeling agent estimated the club owes the women $1.78 million for using their photos.
The sentence for Keon Dennard Cunnington came as part of a plea agreement from three separate cases from February 2016.
They included an armed robbery with a teen accomplice of two men’s iPhones in Greenacres and a robbery outside the Boca Raton library where the robbers dragged an elderly woman to the ground at gunpoint before making off with a purse, credit cards and other items from her and two other women.
Cunnington, who was listed with addresses in Lauderhill and Clewiston, was also accused of robbing another man of his cell phone at gunpoint while the man was sitting on a bench at Veteran’s Park in Greenacres.
According to arrest records in the library case, Cunnington and the teen followed three elderly women to the parking lot of the public library after dark while riding Hoverboards they’d taken at gunpoint from two riders in Ocean Ridge hours earlier.
The women told police one of the men pulled out a pistol right before they got to their car. He grabbed one woman, 70, and dragged her onto the parking lot floor in an attempt to steal her purse, the report says.
The robbers ran off with one purse with several credit cards and personal items inside. The women had minor injuries.
Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes sentenced Cunnington to a total of eight years in prison on all the charges as part of a plea deal from Assistant Public Defendern Maegan Young and Assistant State Attorney Emily Walters.
Court records show that Cunnington’s case was moved to mental health court for several months after a court-ordered mental health evaluation in August. The records show he was subsequently deemed competent to stand trial in November.
The retrial of the multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Palm Beach County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer in the 2012 shooting death of Seth Adams will be held before a different federal judge as early as July 10.
In an order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley, who presided over the trial that ended last month with a hung jury, assigned the case to his colleague, federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks.
Hurley, who reportedly planned to retire before the summer, had scheduled the second trial to begin Oct. 10. But, in the order, he said attorneys for Adams’ parents and the sheriff’s office indicated they wanted it to be held sooner. Both sides agreed to a July 10 start, he said.
Middlebrooks agreed to hear the case, Hurley wrote. He told the attorneys to consult with Middlebrooks’ staff to see if the trial could be held sooner.
After a month-long trial, the nine jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict about whether Custer used excessive force when he fatally shot the 23-year-old as Adams returned to A One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee Groves, where he lived and worked with his brother and sister-in-law.
Attorney Wallace McCall, who talked to some of the jurors after the trial, said he was told there was one hold out. He had sought $10 million to $20 million for Lydia and Richard Adams, claiming Custer lied when he said Adams attacked him and the sheriff’s office helped him cover up the truth.
The sheriff’s office has said that Custer, who was working undercover on the night of the shooting, was in fear for his life.
When attorneys tell judges they want off a case, they routinely cite “irreconcilable differences,” which typically means they haven’t been paid.
But, when a Jupiter attorney decided he no longer wanted to represent former North Palm Beach jeweler Anthony Simpson, he felt compelled to apologize to the judge and lawyers representing a New Jersey woman who is trying to evict Simpson from his home. Court records show he deeded it to her in 2015 in exchange for $450,000.
“My credibility is all I have and I have been lied to repeatedly by (Simpson),” attorney David Kuschel wrote in a motion filed in Palm Beach County Circuit Court earlier this month. “I did not become an attorney to abuse the judicial system or to lie to other members of the Florida Bar and the Court.”
Like others who have dealt with the former owner of Shamrock Jewelers on Northlake Boulevard, Kuschel said he believed Simpson when he told him he had “a financial backer.” Simpson promised repeatedly that the anonymous benefactor would give him $600,000 to settle the eviction lawsuit filed against him by Jodi Monell, as trustee of two family-owned trusts in Colts Neck, N.J., Kuschel wrote.
Kuschel said he met with people who were interested in buying Simpson’s home but that they didn’t understand the urgency of doing so. “Apparently, (Simpson) also misrepresented facts to the financial backers,” he wrote.
“The undersigned counsel does not know what else he can do, hence withdrawing from this action is my best course of action,” he wrote in the request.
In 2015, Simpson repeatedly told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Erik Kimball he had “an angel” who would repay those who invested roughly $12 million in Rollaguard, a company he formed to produce a high-tech brief case. When the anonymous benefactor never appeared, Kimball put a bankruptcy trustee in charge of Rollaguard and Shamrock, who closed them both.
Trustee Robert Furr has filed dozens of lawsuits trying to recover millions from those who made money on both Shamrock and Rollaguard at the expense of others. Simpson also faces charges in Louisiana for writing bad checks to a diamond broker there.
Circuit Judge Edward Artau has scheduled a hearing on April 17 on Monell’s request to order Simpson out of his Oyster Road home.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, the outgoing U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, has accepted a position as head of the Global Compliance and Investigations team at the international law firm Holland & Knight.
The move, announced in a press release Wednesday, will put Ferrer in charge of corporate compliance and government investigations for the firm’s white-collar defense division.
Company officials said Ferrer, who with seven years as U.S. Attorney was the South Florida office’s longest-serving top prosecutor since the 1970s, will focus on both domestic and international clients.
“Over my many years in the South Florida community, I’ve been very impressed by the caliber and professionalism of Holland & Knight attorneys, many of whom I count as friends,” Ferrer aid in the news release. “The firm has an outstanding reputation in the profession and also embodies a culture that is deeply committed to giving back to the community. I look forward to contributing to its continued success.”
Ferrer will work at the firm’s Miami office, one of its 27 branches worldwide.
Former Statewide Prosecutor William Shepherd, who heads Holland & Knight’s West Palm Beach office, attributed Ferrer’s move in part to an opportunity to reunite with the head of the firm’s litigation section, John Hogan.
Ferrer previously worked with Hogan at the Department of Justice while Mr. Hogan was chief of staff to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
“I think it’s great to have Willy as part of the the team,” Shepherd said, later adding: “He’s a real trial attorney, both from the county attorney’s office in Miami-Dade and as Assistant U.S. Attorney, so he brings new depth to an already strong national team.”
Three Palm Beach County attorneys are among 15 statewide who were recently disciplined by the Florida Supreme Court, according to the Florida Bar. They are:
Jonathan Paltiel Flom, of Palm Beach, lost his ability to practice law in January. He can seek readmission after five years. Admitted to the practice of law in 1993, his license was revoked after he was convicted of money laundering in federal court in New York.
Avery Spencer Chapman, of Wellington, is to be publicly reprimanded and was ordered to attend a trust accounting workshop by the high court in January. Admitted to practice law in 2001, the Bar said Chapman represented a client who wired substantial money into the attorney’s trust account. Chapman was authorized to draw compensation from the account. When the client relationship ended, Chapman discovered a shortfall, which he reimbursed to the client. A Bar audit found no evidence of intentional misappropriation, but that he was negligent with bookkeeping and commingled client trust funds.
Alexandra Rodriguez, of Boca Raton, was suspended from the practice of law for 91 days in January. Admitted to practice in 2007, the Bar says she failed to diligently represent a client after she was retained. She knowingly misinformed the client about the status of a case. When the client confronted Rodriguez about a discrepancy between what was in the court’s file and what she was being told, Rodriguez said she was withdrawing from the case.
A devout Roman Catholic, he has eight adult children.
He will preside in the upcoming health-care fraud trial of Palm Beach County ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen. Separately, Melgen faces corruption charges in New Jersey with his longtime pal U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey.
Some of Marra’s other notable cases include: Joseph Zada, who was convicted of mail fraud for stealing at least $37 million from an estimated 45 victims, including former NHL hockey star Sergei Fedorov. He is also handling a case in which victims of sexual abuse by Palm Beach resident Jeffrey Epstein are accusing federal prosecutors of violating the Victims’ Rights Act by not telling them about the non-prosecution agreement they signed.
In ruling against Trump on Wednesday, in a decision involving Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra made it clear he meant the new president no disrespect when he referred to him simply as Donald Trump or D. Trump throughout the 22-page order.
“At all times relevant to this lawsuit, Donald J. Trump was a private citizen. As a result, the Court will refer to him as such in this decision. In doing so, the Court means no disrespect to him or to the esteemed position he now holds.”