School boards continue battle over controversial law

School boards from across the state have gone to the 1st District Court of Appeal as they continue to challenge a controversial 2017 law that includes steps to boost charter schools.

Eleven districts signed on to notices filed last week indicating they will appeal an April 17 ruling by Leon County Circuit Judge John Cooper that upheld the law.

As is common, the notices do not detail the arguments the school boards will make at the Tallahassee-based appeals court.

The legal battle centers on a measure, commonly known as HB 7069, that was a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and became one of most-controversial issues of the 2017 legislative session.

The wide-ranging law included changes such as requiring county school boards to share local property-tax revenues with charter schools for building-related expenses.

It also set the stage for adding new charter schools — dubbed “schools of hope” — that will serve students whose traditional public schools have been considered low-performing.

School boards filed the lawsuit last year arguing, at least in part, that HB 7069 infringed on their constitutional authority to operate public schools within their districts.

But Cooper rejected the school boards’ arguments.

One notice of appeal was filed last week by the school boards in Alachua, Bay, Broward, Hamilton, Lee, Orange, Pinellas, Polk, St. Lucie and Volusia counties, according to documents posted on the Leon County clerk of courts website.

Another notice was filed by the Collier County School Board, which intervened in the case after it was originally filed in circuit court.

FEMA approves $2.6M for Hurricane Matthew recovery efforts

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved $2.6 million in grants for the City of Jacksonville and St. Johns County to help the recovery efforts following Hurricane Matthew.

The grants are intended to reimburse costs incurred for debris removal following the storm that swept Florida’s east coast in October 2016. The City of Jacksonville will receive a grant for $1,161,542, while St. Johns County will receive $1,464,072.

LINK: Additional information about grant program

Each grant amounts to at least 75 percent of the federal cost share of debris removal. The remainder will come from non-federal sources.

To date, FEMA has approved more than $277 million for the state of Florida under the Public Assistance grant program as a result of damage from Hurricane Matthew.

Corrections agency wins First Amendment dispute

Invoking Oscar Wilde’s “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” an appellate court brushed aside First Amendment concerns and sided with the Florida Department of Corrections in a long-running dispute about a monthly magazine targeted to inmates.

The ruling last week by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a previous federal court decision in the case, which has dragged on for more than a decade and was filed by Prison Legal News over a publication allowed in institutions in every other state but banned by Florida corrections officials.

The publisher of the magazine maintains that prison officials’ censorship is a violation of the First Amendment. But, agreeing with a 2015 decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, the appeals court found the publication poses a security threat.

“From time to time we have all followed the advice of Oscar Wilde and gotten rid of temptation by yielding to it. Yielding to the temptation to commit an act that the law forbids can lead to bad consequences, including imprisonment. Prison officials have the duty to reduce the temptation for prisoners to commit more crimes and to curtail their access to the means of committing them,” Ed Carnes, chief judge of the Atlanta-based appeals court, wrote in a decision joined by judges Joel F. Dubina and Anne C. Conway.

The Florida corrections agency’s rules are “aimed at preventing fraud schemes” and other criminal activity, “but inmates continually attempt to circumvent” the measures, Carnes wrote in Thursday’s 48-page opinion.

The agency “continually strives to limit sources of temptation,” including preventing inmates from receiving publications with prominent advertisements for prohibited services, such as three-way calling and pen-pal solicitation, “that threaten other inmates and the public,” the judge wrote.

“The impoundment of Prison Legal News is not a silver bullet guaranteeing that inmates will not break the rules and commit crimes while incarcerated. But the record shows that a ‘reasonable relationship’ does exist between the department’s decision to impound the magazine and its prison security and public safety interests,” he wrote.

The Constitution does “place some limits on the measures that corrections officials may use” to prevent prisoners from committing crimes, Carnes wrote.

But the court must give “wide-ranging” and “substantial” deference to the decisions of prison administrators because of the “complexity of prison management, the fact that responsibility therefor is necessarily vested in prison officials, and the fact that courts are ill-equipped to deal with such problems,” he wrote, citing another prison-related case.

Paul Wright, the publisher of the magazine, told The News Service of Florida he intends to continue his legal odyssey by appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is a prison system that routinely murders people, rapes them and brutalizes them and they do so with impunity. They have a total disregard for the Constitution as a whole, so it should be no surprise that they have disregard for the First Amendment,” Wright said. “A huge part of their success in maintaining these dreadful conditions is basically keeping the media and the public unaware of what’s going on in their facilities and keeping prisoners ignorant of the rights and remedies under our legal system.”

While Carnes acknowledged that prisoners have constitutional rights, he pointed to previous U.S. Supreme Court opinions that require “deference to prison officials’ decisions.”

Florida corrections officials must show “more than a formalistic logical connection between impounding” the magazine and “a penological objective,” Carnes noted, again citing a separate inmate-related decision.

“But that does not mean that this court sits as a super-warden to second-guess the decisions of the real wardens,” the judge wrote.

The department changed its rules about censorship at least five times since the onset of the battle with Prison Legal News, which filed a lawsuit against the agency in 2004. The case was dismissed the following year after a judge ruled it moot because the department had promised to deliver the publication to inmates.

But after adopting a rule concerning “Admissible Reading Material” in 2009, the agency again began impounding the newsprint publication. The rule banned publications that contain certain advertisements — for three-way telephone calls, the purchase of products or services in exchange for postage stamps, pen-pal services and conducting businesses while incarcerated — if the ads are “the focus of, rather than being incidental to” the publication. The rule also banned materials if the advertising for the prohibited services “is prominent or prevalent throughout the publication.”

Wright accused prison officials of targeting the 28-year-old publication — which has about 7,000 subscribers nationwide, including more than 200 in Florida — because it includes articles critical of the corrections department.

“The whole advertising thing is a red herring. They’re really objecting to our editorial content and using that as a pretext to censor us,” he said.

Various media organizations, including the Florida Press Association, and 16 law professors filed friend-of-the-court, or “amici,” briefs supporting Prison Legal News’ lawsuit, arguing in part that the corrections department’s position could threaten the distribution of newspapers inside prison walls.

But Carnes scolded the amici for “claiming clairvoyance” and “predicting the Supreme Court will overrule its precedents,” saying “our duty is to follow Supreme Court decisions, not to use them to map trends and plot trajectories.”

Carnes also mocked lawyers for the Lake Worth-based Prison Legal News for suggesting that the state could mimic New York officials by attaching a flyer to the publication reminding inmates not to use the prohibited services.

“Really? If all New York has to do to prevent inmate misconduct and crime is gently remind them not to misbehave, one wonders why that state’s prisons have fences and walls. Why not simply post signs reminding inmates not to escape? If New York wants to engage in a fantasy about convicted criminals behaving like model citizens while serving out their sentences, it is free to do so, but the Constitution does not require Florida to join New York in la-la-land,” Carnes wrote.

Wright said he and supporters expected the appeals court’s decision.

“The only thing I was surprised about was how much Judge Carnes seems to dislike us and dislike New Yorkers,” he said.

The appeals court also upheld a partial victory for Wright by agreeing with the lower-court judge that state corrections officials violated Prison Legal News’ constitutional due-process rights by failing to provide notification when copies of the monthly periodical were impounded.

Lawyers for the corrections agency had advised the publication to sue the mailroom workers who failed to provide the notice, according to court documents.

“No. PLN (Prison Legal News) doesn’t have to hunt and peck throughout Florida’s correctional system for negligent mailroom workers to sue,” Carnes wrote. “The buck stops with the secretary.”

Cherish Perrywinkle’s mom volunteers for polygraph on ‘Dr. Oz’

The mother of an 8-year-old Jacksonville girl who was abducted, raped and murdered in June 2013 said she has endured not only the loss of her daughter but the condemnation of the public, many of whom blame her for the girl’s death.

Rayne Perrywinkle shared her heartbreaking story exclusively with Dr. Oz, including what she says everyone has gotten wrong about her.

To prove that she has been telling the truth about what happened to her daughter, Cherish, on that fateful night, Perrywinkle offered to submit to a drug and polygraph test for “The Dr. Oz Show.”

Perrywinkle hopes to change the verdict about her in the court of public opinion, now that a court of law has convicted Donald James Smith in the rape and murder of her little girl.

Smith, a registered sex offender with four decades of arrests, had been released from prison just 21 days before he met Perrywinkle and her three daughters at a dollar store in Jacksonville on June 21, 2013.

He overheard Perrywinkle say she couldn’t afford dresses for her children and offered to take her to a Walmart, where his wife would meet them with a $100 gift card.

But there was no wife, and no gift card.

Perrywinkle has admitted that she ignored her initial instincts and chose to believe Smith was a good person, just trying to help her out.

It was a deadly mistake.

Video footage shows Perrywinkle and her children shopping in the Walmart, loading their cart with items as they wait for Smith’s wife to show up. He stalled until the children were hungry and tired and then offered to buy them hamburgers.

Cherish went with him, and security video shows her skipping out the door of the Walmart behind Smith.

It was the last time she was seen alive.

Cherish’s tortured body was found the next morning in a wooded marsh near a church.

Smith has since been convicted of kidnapping Cherish, raping her and strangling her. He was sentenced to death.

Descriptions of the girl’s injuries and autopsy photos left the medical examiner and jury in tears during Smith’s trial. The jurors found him guilty in just minutes.

But the lives of all those impacted by Cherish before, during and after her tragic death have been forever altered.

Perhaps none more so than the mother who gave the wide-eyed, beautiful girl the name that now evokes one of the most disturbing crimes in Jacksonville history.

Watch Perrywinkle’s interview on Dr. Oz at 10 a.m. Tuesday on Channel 4.