Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Rick Scott Signs Terrible Law Expanding Florida DCF’s Power

Leaping from overreaction overreaction


One of the least desirable features of a representative democracy is that often, poorly thought out legislation is rammed through with little thought as a gross overreaction to immediate public outrage. Such is the case with the child welfare law signed into law by Florida Governor Rick Scott today. The gist of this story is that the Florida Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) has come under substantial public criticism for an investigative series of stories first published by the Miami Herald which revealed that 477 children have died child abuse related deaths in the last five years. The report criticized the agency for, among other things, failing to notice obvious signs of abuse in children under their care. Predictably, the response that has been ramroded through the Florida legislature is to, essentially, give lots more money and sweeping new authority to the agency directly responsible for the SNAFU that caused the public uproar in the first place:

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott signed a sweeping bill Monday aimed at overhauling the child-welfare system after hundreds of child abuse-related deaths in the past five years.
The new law calls for a fundamental shift in the way the Department of Children and Families investigates and responds to cases. It clearly states that protecting a child from abuse is paramount and more important than keeping a family together. In the past, DCF has placed a premium on putting fewer children in foster care and, instead, offering family services while the child remains at home.
* * *
The law will fund jobs for 270 additional child protective investigators to reduce caseloads. It also establishes a response team to quickly investigate child abuse deaths when the child had previous incidents with the system and adds a small amount of funding for at-risk families with young children. Child advocates said substance abuse treatment issues are at the heart of many child deaths.


The DCF, like the federal TSA, is wildly more popular as an abstract idea than it is as an agency, in particular among anyone who has the misfortune to run afoul of their workings in any sort of personal way. In the abstract, people like the idea that there should be an agency tasked with preventing child abuse and neglect. Where the rubber meets the road, however, nightmares almost invariably happen. Part of it has to do with the nature of the job – any time a stranger is tasked with confronting a parent about the way they are raising their child, ugly personal confrontations are bound to happen. Worse, in many cases, the social workers at DCF have to encounter legitimate, heart-rending abuse and witness children kept in conditions that would rend the heart of all but the most calloused of people. The combined pressures tend wash out the sort of thoughtful, compassionate, qualified social workers and instead self-selects for social workers who are either unqualified or incapable of finding employment elsewhere, or who dispositionally enjoy personal conflict, or who are at least mostly calloused to the suffering of children. In other words, the exact people who should be kept as far away from having the power to remove children from their families as possible.

As a result, state DCFs (or DCS as it may be known in your state) too often become neverending cavalcades of horror stories where hordes of legitimate abuse cases go inadequately or incompetently investigated, all while DCF caseworkers become unwitting foot soldiers in countless divorce vendettas. As just one example of the problems infesting state child welfare agencies, it has long been shown that minority families are disproportionately likely to be reported to DCF for investigation; but moreover, even among the reported population, are disproportionately likely to have their children removed to foster care - which is not the hallmark of an agency that is thoughtfully pursuing their work.
At a glance, many aspects of this legislation, such as improving training and quality of case workers, are admirable and cannot be gainsaid. But the bolded portion above, combined with a clear and sweeping monetary incentive to root out and find more abuse, will be the root of untold measures of evil. One of our most treasured principles as a Republic is the principle that, where possible and in the absence of a compelling contrary interest, children shoudl be raised by their parents. Florida’s DCF now has a clear statutory provision to the contrary along with a huge budget and a mandate to find more abuse will, in the hands of an agency that has engendered well deserved distrust among almost everyone who has come in contact with them, lead to disaster.
Any conservatives who are lauding this decision should ask themselves this fundamental question – do you think this legislation, in the hands of the same DCF, will lead to less abuse? Or more horrors like those suffered by Justina Pelletier and her family?
Perhaps this is a question Rick Scott should have asked before signing this ill-advised legislation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Disappearing DCF child-death reports: Security or secrecy?

Florida’s Department of Children and Families is under pressure over the tragic number of children dying while under state protection.
A team of reporters from The Miami Herald has been investigating how a decade-long shift toward “family preservation” to cut the number of abused and neglected children in state custody, coupled with a cut in services like drug and alcohol rehabilitation, has led to a corresponding rise in the number of dead children.
The Herald pressed for public records on each and every child death in Florida since 2008, and found 477 of them as of November, as part of its important “Innocents Lost” series. In March, the reporters went back to update their findings statewide. They discovered 145 more. They also found something odd out of the state’s West Palm Beach office, a regional office that had previously documented more child deaths than any other statewide. Between November and March 31, the Herald found the West Palm Beach office had filed zero child death incident reports.
Antwan Hope died under state protection.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t for a lack of child deaths. There had been 30 in the region, 15 from Palm Beach County. DCF’s Southeast Regional office — which covers Palm Beach, Broward, Martin, St. Lucie and Okeechobee counties — had suspended the filing of the incident reports. Meanwhile, the deaths continued. Drownings. Sleeping suffocations. Trauma.
A Riviera Beach newborn was found smothered to death during the night in December, apparently by her sleeping mother. Soon after, the Herald found, an administrator in West Palm Beach sent this email to her staff:
“Please do not file this in the system. No incident reports right now on death cases. … Will advise why later.”

DCF’s new interim Secretary Mike Carroll, promised to look into the missing reports, and his deputy secretary was dispatched to West Palm Beach earlier this month to investigate. Yet when the Herald asked for documents on that administrative inquiry, even handwritten notes, the agency said no public records had been created.
Carroll, to his credit, put his findings on the record in a June 6 official letter to the West Palm Beach office director, Dennis Miles. He applauded Miles for showing the “courage and leadership” to admit a mistake and take responsibility, and suspended him for two days. He said it was clear that no records had been destroyed, but found operating procedures were not followed. Incident reports and analysis are to be entered into the state’s system within one day.

Nubia Barhona, who died while under state protection.

Carroll added this finding: “I have determined that this was not in an effort to shield information from anyone,” but rather an attempt to address data security problems.
Miles goes further. He says he stopped the filing of the incident reports because they were being broadcast, unredacted, to a broad list of current and former DCF personnel — a serious security and privacy breach, since they contained some private medical and active criminal investigation records. Miles said he didn’t want to send them until the state solved its data security problem. That’s been fixed, he said.
Do you think this second DCF scandal evokes the secret Veterans Administration waiting lists that may have been created in Phoenix and elsewhere to hide how badly stretched the VA was in serving veterans in need of appointments? Or do you accept the assertiong that this was about data security, not secrecy?


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Rick Scott's fundraising flap shows that behind every great donor there's a potential crime

Gov. Rick Scott’s campaign last week provided a political corollary to HonorĂ© de Balzac’s saying that “behind every great fortune there is a crime.”
Behind every great donor there is a potential crime.
It’s especially true in scammer-rich Florida.

 Had Scott’s campaign-finance team realized this, someone might vetted (or Googled) James Batmasian. He pleaded guilty in 2008 to failing to collect and pay $253,000 in federal withholding taxes regarding his Boca Raton investment company’s employees. Batmasian spent eight months in prison, paid a $30,000 fine and had his law license suspended in Florida.
Perfect guy to headline a $10,000-per-donor fundraiser, right?
The Florida Democratic Party thought so.
“Birds of a feather . . . Rick Scott to fundraise with ex-felon tax cheat,” Joshua Karp, the Democrats’ spokesman wrote in a Thursday morning email blast that conflated Batmasian’s past — as first reported by Mother Jones online — and the 1997 record $1.7 billion Medicare-fraud fine paid by Scott’s former hospital company.

Behind each opponent’s misstep is an opportunity.
Scott quickly pulled the plug on the fundraiser and sought to focus attention on Democratic opponent Charlie Crist’s record as governor, when unemployment and budget shortfalls reached record highs.
“This event has been canceled,” Scott’s campaign spokesman, Greg Blair, said in an email. “All the name calling and mudslinging in the world can’t hide Charlie Crist’s record of failure or the fact that he is too scared to debate his primary opponent.”
Karp got in a final email dig regarding Scott’s cancellation: “If you ask him why, he’ll probably just plead the Fifth.”
Indeed, this Scott’s fourth fundraising woe, and the governor won’t directly answer questions about any of them:


Read more here: http://miamiherald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics/2014/06/rick-scotts-fundraising-flap-shows-that-behind-every-great-donor-theres-a-potential-crime.html#storylink=cpy

Monday, June 9, 2014

Former Florida Judge Disbarred After Lying About ‘Personal And Emotional Relationship’ With Prosecutor

Former Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner was found guilty Thursday of lying on the stand by the state's Supreme Court after denying her illicit relations with prosecutor Howard Scheinberg. Gardiner engaged in 949 phone calls and 471 text messages with Scheinberg during a capital murder trial.


She appeared to enjoy prosecutors more than her job.
A former Florida judge has been disbarred after an investigation revealed her "personal and emotional relationship" with a homicide prosecutor while he was trying a death penalty case before her.
Former Broward Circuit Judge Ana Gardiner was found guilty Thursday of lying on the stand by Florida's Supreme Court after denying her illicit relations with prosecutor Howard Scheinberg.

Howard Scheinberg

A recommended one-year suspension as punishment was swiped away by seven high court justices who instead unanimously voted to permanently revoke her ability to practice law, Reuters reported.
WPLG Gardiner and Howard Scheinberg, pictured, exchanged 949 phone calls and 471 texts during the death penalty trial, an investigation found. Despite this, Gardiner denied their relations.
That punishment followed the discovery of 949 phone calls and 471 text messages between Gardiner and Scheinberg over the course of five months during the 2007 capital murder trial of Omar Loureiro.
The justices ruled that Gardiner's relations with Scheinberg threatened her judgment while a man's life was in her very hands.
"Considering Gardiner's dishonest conduct and the harm that her actions have caused to the administration of justice in a capital first-degree murder case, we conclude that disbarment is the appropriate action," Reuters reported the Supreme Court’s order.
WPLG In a surprising twist, Gardiner has reportedly since married her defense attorney in the Bar investigation, David Bogenschutz, while Scheinberg is serving a two-year suspension.
Gardiner argued that nothing has ever interfered with her job while tearfully testifying at her Florida Bar trial in November.
"I've given everything up, including one of the things I love the most — my job," Local 10 reported her saying.

In a surprising twist, Gardiner has since married her defense attorney in the Bar investigation, David Bogenschutz, Local 10 reported.
She must also pay $8,117.18 in court costs.
Scheinberg is serving a two-year suspension.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Watch A Florida Judge Beat Up A Lawyer In The MIDDLE Of Trial

A fight between a judge and a public defender broke out in a courtroom in Brevard County Florida on Monday.

Judge John Murphy

Judge John Murphy was allegedly trying to get public defender Andrew Weinstock to waive his client’s right to a speedy trial.
Video footage shows Murphy telling Weinstock, “You know, if I had a rock I would throw it at you right now. Stop pissing me off. Just sit down.” Weinstock responds, “You know I’m the public defender. I have a right to be here and I have a right to stand and represent my client.”
Murphy then invites Weinstock to go out to a hallway in the back so they could settle their dispute with fists. Murphy is heard saying, “If you want to fight, let’s go out back and I’ll just beat your ass.”

Must watch video on this link.