There was a time when many complained that big business ran Florida via lawmakers. Then it was said the insurance industry took over the helm, again via smart and savvy lobbyists who communicated with agreeable lawmakers…now there’s a new “rumor” of who’s in charge in Tallahassee: trial lawyers.
Staring back in 2015, trial lawyers started to make their collective impact via the Florida Justice Association. The FJA spent $4.5 million via its political committee, Florida Justice PAC, supporting various political candidates and other committees. They did very well losing only one race out of 24. And it turns out, they were backing the right candidate then too, despite the loss: Democrat Dwight Bullard to the now disgraced Republican Frank Artiles.
Trial lawyers didn’t have to wait long to see if the investment paid off. After the announcement of the 2016-18 Senate committees, it was clear the answer was a resounding “yes”. The committees were so clearly stacked in favor of trial lawyers, other industries and the lobbyist representing them collectively cringed.
The Banking and Insurance committee was led by Republican Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami). One of the nine members of the Banking and Insurance committee also included Gary Farmer (D-Ft. Lighthouse Point), former president of the Florida Justice Association and an admittedly proud trial lawyer. Adding Sen. Farmer to this particular committee is the same as letting the fox guard the henhouse.
Senators Greg Steube (R-Sarasota), Randolph Bracy (D-Orlando) and Debbie Mayfield (R-Vero Beach), received funds from the trial lawyers during their respective campaign seasons and joined Flores and Farmer on the committee.
To help keep count, that’s four lawmakers who received donations from the trial lawyers and were appointed to a powerful committee, for Session 2017, which was riddled with insurance issues that directly impact citizens and their hard-earned money, such as: assignment of benefits, personal injury protection (better known as PIP) and worker’s compensation. All three of these issues, if the bills are written a particular way, could lead to more work for trial lawyers.
The insurance and business industries and the lobbyists representing them were not excited about the writing on the wall.
“It’s just egregious,” said a lobbyist for a large insurance carrier in Florida. “We have a House leader who promises transparency and a respectful process that’s going to benefit the people of Florida. But in the Senate, it’s all about the trial lawyers.”
President Negron was asked the following questions:
Did you make any extra effort to assist trial lawyers in Florida in getting specific bills passed that would benefit them or any killed that would hurt them and their respective practices? Also, did you set up any committees to include lawmakers who regularly side with trial lawyers?
President Negron’s response:
“I am unrelenting in my dedication to the fundamental constitutional freedoms guaranteed to all our citizens and the right of those citizens to due process and fairness in our civil court system.
Accordingly, I am pleased that the Legislature passed Senate Bill 312 by Senator Baxley (Eyewitness Identification), which creates lineup procedures to ensure that our criminal justice system protects victims and defendants alike. I also supported Senate Bill 128 by Senator Bradley (Self-defense Immunity), which places the burden of proof on the government to overcome a claim of self-defense. Equally important is Senate Bill 436 by Senator Baxley (Religious Freedom in Schools), that protects the right of students of any faith, or no faith, to freely express their opinions in the public square.
I also believe in an independent, co-equal judicial branch where citizens and parties are able to peacefully and fairly resolve their civil disputes. The courthouse should provide a level playing field for everyone, where judges and juries make decisions everyday based solely on the relevant facts and applicable law. I think it is important for the women and men in the Senate who have leadership roles and serve on committees with jurisdiction over civil and criminal justice to demonstrate a commitment to fairness and equality for all litigants.”
The questions were of the “yes/no” variety. This is a classic case of “Ignore the questions and say what you want.”
While Sen. Baxley had a successful session, most can’t say they did.