Homeland security agents intercept migrants near Miami Beach

Homeland Security agents intercepted a group of migrants Tuesday who were trying to come ashore on Miami Beach, the agency said.Homeland Security spokesman Nestor Yglesias said the migrants were taken from their vessel and detained. He said the mi…

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Missing child alert issued for 15-year-old girl

A missing child alert has been issued for a 15-year-old girl last seen Monday morning in the Tampa area.

Zoe Warren was reportedly last seen at her school, although WFTS reports she did not actually attend school yesterday.

Authorities say Zoe may be in the company of Jamie Warren, 36. The two are thought to be traveling in a 2009 black Honda Accord with Florida tag DWZRF0.

Warren, who police say is not a habitual runaway, is 5-feet tall and weighs about 100 pounds with dark brown hair.

Police warn the public to not approach the two if they are located.

Anyone with information on Zoe’s whereabouts are urged to contact the FDLE at 1-888-356-4774 or the Tampa Police Department at 813-231-6130.

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Florida Supreme Court reviews appellate ruling over judicial social media use

Are your Facebook friends your real-life friends? Every personal profile user can have a maximum of 5,000 connections. Are all of those connections characterized by loyalty? Those are some of the questions that the Florida Supreme Court will be looking at in a hotly contested case. 

North Miami attorney Reuven Herssein‘s fight over Miami-Dade Judge Beatrice Butchko‘s Facebook friendship with Coral Gables attorney Israel Reyes, a former Miami-Dade judge, is now before the Florida Supreme Court.

The conflict started with a 2015 contractual dispute between Herssein and his former client, the United Services Automobile Association. Herssein is representing his firm. Butchko was presiding over the case when Reyes was representing a USAA employee.

When Herssein cried foul earlier this year, he relied on an 8-year-old Florida Supreme Court committee’s ethics opinion.

“Listing lawyers who may appear before the judge as friends on a judge’s social networking page reasonably conveys to others the impression that these lawyer friends are in a special position to influence the judge,” the committee wrote in the Nov. 17, 2009 opinion.

The case shed light on the potential ethical issues arising around the world over the impact of judges’ interactions on new media. In the United States, each state has different guidelines. Florida law is still unsettled and is at the heart of the appellate battle.

Attorneys face differences by district. The 1st and the 2nd districts haven’t ruled on the issue. The 3rd District ruled Facebook friendships are irrelevant when measuring closeness. The Fourth District considers Facebook friendships relevant and the 5th District could go either way. 

In 2012, the 4th District, which has jurisdiction over Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties, based the Domville v. State opinion on the committee’s 2009 opinion.

“Judges must be vigilant in monitoring their public conduct so as to avoid situations that will compromise the appearance of impartiality,” the judges wrote

Herssein cited the 4th District’s opinion when he argued Butchko should have recused herself the minute Reyes walked in, because they were Facebook friends and this could create an appearance of impartiality. 

Trouble is that in 2014, the 5th District, which has jurisdiction over the Lake, Marion, Sumter, Citrus and Hernando counties, and the 9th, the 7th and 18th circuits, defined the Facebook term “friend” as a “term of art.”

“A Facebook friendship does not necessarily signify the existence of a close relationship … particularly in smaller counties, where everyone in the legal community knows each other,” the judges wrote

Earlier this year, the 3rd District, which has jurisdiction over cases in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, also disagreed with the 4th District and the 2009 Supreme Court opinion, because both ignored the current use of data mining and networking algorithms. 

Aside from revolutionizing marketing and security systems, applied mathematics has also changed the way social media users build personal and professional networks. LinkedIn’s “people you may know” feature, or Facebook’s suggested friends option have changed users’ behavior. 

The court decided the advances have allowed for connections that probably have “nothing to do with close or intimate friendships of the sort that would require recusal.”

Herssein challenged the 3rd District’s ruling, because it conflicts with the principle that judges should be held to a higher standard. This is the foundation for the Florida Supreme Court’s code of conduct, the ethics opinions, and the 2014 decision of the 4th District.

The Florida Supreme Court justices took up the case on Monday and are reviewing the 3rd District’s August decision.

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Hastings under scrutiny after reports of payout over sexual harassment

South Florida congressman Alcee Hastings is under renewed scrutiny after reports that the government paid more than $200,000 to a woman who says Hastings sexually harassed her.

“The fact that those funds were paid out of the Treasury has raised a lot of questions,” Rep. Carlos Curbelo said Sunday on Local 10’s “This Week in South Florida.” 

The Miami Republican said that he was surprised at the payout and that it hasn’t been disclosed until now.

“He needs to come out and explain what happened and why and take appropriate action,” Curbelo said.

Hastings declined to be interviewed, but he released a written statement Monday. 

“This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made,” the statement read. “I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid.”

Winsome Packer said Hastings made unwanted sexual advances from 2008 to 2010 while she worked for the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, a U.S. agency also known as the Helsinki Commission. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the commission. 

In 2010, Packer went public with the accusations, which Hastings denied. A conservative legal group sued Hastings and the commission on Packer’s behalf in 2011. A year later, a court ruling dropped Hasting from the suit, but the case against the commission continued. 

On Friday, Roll Call published a story, citing documents that showed the commission settled the lawsuit with Packer in 2014 for $220,000.

The news comes as lawmakers, media figures and other prominent men accused of sexual harassment are facing intense pressure to step down from their positions of power. 

Last week, Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat, and Rep. Trent Franks, an Arizona Republican, resigned after allegations of sexual misconduct. 

Meanwhile,  the House Ethics Committee launched an investigation into Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican. Records show he used taxpayer funds to pay $84,000 to a former aide in 2014 to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit.

On Monday, several women who have accused President Donald Trump of sexual harassment held a press conference and called on Congress to investigate. The White House called the accusations “false claims.”

In the initial lawsuit, Packer accused Hastings of “unwelcome sexual advances, crude sexual comments, and unwelcome touching.” 

She said Hastings hugged her, pressed his body against her body and pressed his face against her face. 

At one point Packer said Hastings asked her, “What kind of underwear are you wearing?”

A separate House Ethics Committee investigation into Packer’s allegations was dismissed in 2014 because of lack of evidence, but the panel called Hastings’ behavior “less than professional.”

“Despite the fact that the conduct in this case does not rise to the level of actionable violations of the rules, the Committee does not want to leave the impression that Representative Hastings’ behavior was at all times appropriate,” the committee wrote in a report.

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Endangered Florida panther kitten hit, killed by vehicle

An endangered Florida panther kitten has been struck and killed by a vehicle.

It’s the 24th fatal collision this year, out of 29 total panther deaths.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Monday that the remains of the male, 3-month-old panther were collected Saturday near a Naples subdivision.

Florida panthers once roamed the entire Southeastern United States, but now their habitat mostly is confined to a small region of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Up to 230 Florida panthers remain in the wild.

Wildlife officials reported 42 panther deaths in 2016, including 34 fatal vehicle collisions in southwest Florida. That matched the 2015 record for panther deaths.

Seven panther litters with a total of 19 kittens have been documented this year.

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Endangered Florida panther kitten hit, killed by vehicle

An endangered Florida panther kitten has been struck and killed by a vehicle.

It’s the 24th fatal collision this year, out of 29 total panther deaths.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said Monday that the remains of the male, 3-month-old panther were collected Saturday near a Naples subdivision.

Florida panthers once roamed the entire Southeastern United States, but now their habitat mostly is confined to a small region of Florida along the Gulf of Mexico. Up to 230 Florida panthers remain in the wild.

Wildlife officials reported 42 panther deaths in 2016, including 34 fatal vehicle collisions in southwest Florida. That matched the 2015 record for panther deaths.

Seven panther litters with a total of 19 kittens have been documented this year.

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