March 2019 Summaries

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March 6, 2019

SC18-674 Inquiry Concerning a Judge, No. 18-63 Re: Maria Ortiz 

Miami-Dade County - starts at 9:00 a.m.

County Judge Maria Ortiz has been summoned before the Court to receive a public reprimand for misconduct.

SC18-1372 D.M., etc. v. M.D., etc. 

Orange County - starts about 9:05 a.m.

M.D., the father of two children, was convicted and sentenced to prison for receipt of child pornography.  As a result, D.M., the mother, petitioned the trial court to terminate M.D.’s parental rights under a Florida statute providing that a parent’s imprisonment constitutes abandonment of children under certain circumstances.  The trial court denied the petition without making the findings required by statute.  The Fifth DCA affirmed the trial court’s decision, and the mother asked this Court for review, arguing that the Fifth DCA’s decision conflicts with other appellate court decisions.

Appearance for Petitioner: Michael M. Brownlee of The Brownlee Law Firm, P.A., Orlando, 407-843-2111
Appearance for Respondent: Elizabeth S. Harris of Harris Appellate Law Office, Mims, 321-267-1766

SC18-9 Douglas Blaine Matthews v. State of Florida

Volusia County - starts at 9:45 a.m.

Mr. Matthews was convicted of the 2008 first-degree premeditated and felony murder of Kirk Zoeller, manslaughter of Donna Trujillo, and burglary while armed. The jury voted 10-2 to recommend a death sentence, and the trial court sentenced Mr. Matthews to death for Mr. Zoeller’s murder. This Court upheld the sentence and conviction on direct appeal. In the initial postconviction proceedings below, the circuit court granted Mr. Matthews relief from his death sentence and ordered a new penalty phase but denied relief on Mr. Matthews’ claims related to his conviction. In this appeal, Mr. Matthews raises multiple guilt-phase issues, including newly discovered evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel.

Appearance for Appellant: Julissa R. Fontán, Asst. CCRC, Temple Terrace, 813-558-1600
Appearance for Appellee: Lisa-Marie Lerner, Asst. Attorney General, West Palm Beach 561-837-5000

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SC18-747 Tashara Love v. State of Florida

Miami-Dade County - starts at 10:35 a.m. 

In 2015, Tashara Love shot an individual outside a nightclub and was charged with attempted second-degree murder with a firearm. Ms. Love invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law asserting she was immune from prosecution because she shot the victim while defending her daughter. Before Ms. Love’s immunity hearing, the law was amended; shifting the burden of proof from the defense to the prosecution. At the immunity hearing, the trial court determined that, under the old law, Ms. Love did not meet her burden of proving entitlement to immunity. Ms. Love then sought relief in the Third District Court of Appeal, arguing that the State of Florida now has the burden of proof. The State maintained that the new standard of proof did not apply in Ms. Love’s case. The Third District concluded that the new law does not apply retroactively to Ms. Love’s case. Ms. Love asked this Court for review, arguing that the Third District’s decision conflicts with decisions of this Court and other appellate courts.

Appearance for Petitioner: Jeffrey P. DeSousa, Asst. Public Defender, Miami, 305-545-1960
Appearance for Respondent: Amit Agarwal, Solicitor General, Tallahassee, 850-414-3300

March 7, 2019

SC18-357 Cynthia L. Jackson, et al. v. Household Finance Corporation III, et. al.

Manatee County - starts at 9:00 a.m. 

In 2006, Cynthia and Thomas Jackson obtained a residential loan from Household Finance Corporation III and subsequently defaulted on the loan. At trial, Household Finance Corp III sought to admit business records relating to the Jackson’s mortgage account into evidence under the business records exception to the hearsay rule, using testimony from a witness to authenticate the records. The Jacksons objected, but the trial court admitted the records into evidence and ultimately entered a judgment of foreclosure in favor of Household Finance Corp III. The Jacksons appealed. The Second District Court of Appeal found that the trial court properly admitted the records but certified conflict with another appellate court decision. The Jacksons asked this Court for review.

Appearance for Petitioner: Nicole M. Ziegler of Emerson Straw PL, St. Petersburg, 727-821-1500
Appearance for Respondent: Matthew A. Ciccio of Aldridge Pite, LLP, Delray Beach, 561-288-8941

SC18-681 State of Florida v. Vernson Edward Dortch

Okeechobee County - starts about 9:40 a.m.

Mr. Dortch pled no contest to multiple criminal charges and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Prior to entering his plea, the trial court granted Dortch’s motion for a competency examination, but a competency hearing never occurred. Mr. Dortch appealed his convictions arguing the trial court failed to comply with Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure by failing to conduct a competency hearing. The Fourth District Court of Appeal agreed and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The State of Florida appeals the Fourth DCA ruling arguing it conflicts with decisions of other appellate courts.

Appearance for Petitioner: Joseph D. Coronato, Jr., Asst. Attorney General, West Palm Beach, 561-837-5016
Appearance for Respondent: Benjamin Eisenberg, Asst. Public Defender, West Palm Beach, 561-355-7600

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SC18-150 Shawn Rogers v. State of Florida

Santa Rosa County - starts about 10:30 a.m.

Mr. Rogers was convicted of the 2012 first-degree murder of his cellmate, Ricky Dean Martin, who was fatally beaten at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution. The jury unanimously voted to recommend a death sentence, and the trial court condemned Mr. Rogers to death. This is his direct appeal. 

Appearance for Appellant: Richard M. Bracey, III, Asst. Public Defender, Tallahassee, 850-606-1000
Appearance for Appellee: Jennifer A. Donahue, Asst. Attorney General, Tallahassee, 850-414-3300

SC18-291 Jennifer M. Woodward v. State of Florida

Broward County - starts about 11:30 a.m.

A trial judge found Ms. Woodward in criminal contempt of court for misrepresenting events during a probate matter, repeatedly refusing to answer questions under oath, and acting in a disruptive manner before the Court. Ms. Woodward appealed the contempt orders arguing her constitutional rights to an appeal and due process were violated because a transcript of the hearing when her disputed behavior occurred was never produced. The Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s contempt of court ruling. Ms. Woodward asked this Court for review, arguing the Fourth DCA’s decision conflicts with decisions of this Court and other appellate courts.

Appearance for Petitioner: Benjamin Eisenberg, Asst. Public Defender, West Palm Beach, 561-355-7600
Appearance for Respondent: Heidi L. Bettendorf, Asst. Attorney General, West Palm Beach, 561-837-5000

SC17-782 The Florida Bar v. Dennis L. Horton

starts about 12:20 p.m.

The Florida Bar seeks review of a report of referee recommending that Mr. Dennis Horton be found guilty of violating multiple Rules Regulating the Florida Bar including failing to adequately maintain trust accounts and misuse of client funds. The referee recommended Mr. Horton be suspended from the practice of law for twenty-four months. The Florida Bar is seeking disbarment. 

Appearance for Petitioner: Carrie C. Lee, Bar Counsel, Orlando, 407-425-5424
Appearance for Respondent:  Brett A. Geer, Tampa, 813-961-8912