Broward judge faces allegations in ‘secret settlement’
Broward County Circuit Judge Laura Watson could face disciplinary action after an investigative panel alleged that she acted improperly while representing medical providers in cases against Progressive Insurance Companies, according to records released Monday by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission alleged misconduct by Watson in a 2004 “secret settlement” with Progressive while she was an attorney in private practice. Watson’s firm and other firms represented about 440 health-care providers in cases against Progressive over unpaid personal-injury protection auto insurance claims, according to the investigative panel’s report. That led to hiring other law firms to also pursue what are known as “bad faith” claims against Progressive.
But the panel alleged that Watson’s firm and the other firms pursuing PIP claims secretly reached a $14.5 million settlement with Progressive without notifying the bad-faith attorneys and without getting fully informed consent from clients. Watson was elected last year.
In college towns, poverty dips without students
A report by the U.S. Census shows that two Florida cities with large concentrations of college students experience big declines in poverty rates when college students aren’t counted.
The poverty rate in Gainesville, home of the University of Florida, declines 15.5 percentage points when college students not living with relatives are excluded. In Leon County, home of Florida State University, the dip is 11.5 percentage points.
Both cities have poverty rates significantly higher than the national average of 15.2 percent.
Including college students, more than one-third of all residents in Gainesville live below the poverty line. In Tallahassee, it’s under one-third.
Residency ‘litmus test’ proposed for lawmakers
The Legislature may be asked to consider imposing stronger residency requirements, amid allegations that a number of sitting lawmakers are loosely following the current rules.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said legislators should have a “litmus test” of sorts regarding residency beyond what is already in state law. Besides directing their top attorneys to recommend standards for residency, Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, have asked Secretary of State Ken Detzner to compile a list of where all 160 legislators are registered to vote.
Gaetz advises parasailing industry to talk regulations
Long-discussed efforts to impose regulations on the parasailing industry may finally be getting off the ground. Senate President Gaetz has encouraged parasailing operators to meet with Sen. Maria Sachs to discuss and possibly help craft a regulatory bill she intends to reintroduce for the 2014 session.
Sachs, a South Florida Democrat, intends to refile a bill similar to her proposal (SB 64) last session that would have required parasail operators to carry $2 million in insurance, prohibited operations when wind gusts exceeded 25 miles per hour or when wind speeds exceeded 20 mph for more than two minutes, or in rain, fog or when lightning was within seven miles. The state has recorded 20 serious parasailing accidents and six deaths since 2000.
State lawmaker to White House for Voting Rights talks
After the U.S. Supreme Court last month struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, state Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, went to the White House for talks about voting issues. The talks were expected to include President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, civil-rights leaders and local and state officials.
Williams, chairman of the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, issued a statement before the meeting urging Gov. Rick Scott to not renew efforts to “purge” the voting rolls of suspected non-citizens. Last month’s Supreme Court ruling meant that Florida no longer has to submit changes in elections laws to the federal government for review.
Post staff and wire services.