Monday, October 31, 2011

Sarasota law firm takes term limits case on pro bono basis

The citizens finally have some legal muscle to make sure they are not steamrolled by the county commission majority trying to circumvent Sarasota's voter-approved 8-year term limits.

The Sarasota-based law firm of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A., has decided to take on the Sarasota County term limits case on a pro bono basis. One of their first actions is to send an open letter to County Attorney Stephen DeMarsh, with copies to all the commissioners.

Heretofore, this blog has assumed that the county must wait for an expected Supreme Court decision to render Sarasota County term limits enforceable. However, in this letter, the lawyer argues that the 4th DCA case that affirmed the constitutionality of county term limits applies to Sarasota right now even though Sarasota is in a different appellate district. Here's the letter:


Mr. DeMarsh,

Last week you stated to the County Commission that the decision of the Twelfth Judicial Circuit decision in Moore finding the term limit provision in the County Charter unconstitutional is binding in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. I also believe that you read from the proposed ballot language which echoed that opinion. There was a lengthy discussion between you and Commissioner Robinson relating to the impact of the recent appellate decision in Snipes v. Telli, 67 So. 3d 415 (Fla. 4th DCA 2011), upholding term limits provision in a county charter as constitutional. Commissioner Robinson stated that the term limits provision in our Charter is not constitutional. You actually stated that the Moore decision “is the law.” For the reasons set forth below, I respectfully disagree.

As I understand it, the Snipes decision is binding on any judge in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit at the present time.

It is a well established principle of Florida law that a decision of an
appellate court is binding on a trial court in the absence of a contrary
decision by the appellate court in the trial court’s district.
See, e.g., Pardo v. State, 596 So.2d 665, 666 (Fla. 1992) (“This Court has stated that the decisions of the district courts of appeal represent the law of Florida unless and until they are overruled by this Court. Thus, in the absence of interdistrict conflict, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts.”) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); Brannon v. State, 850 So.2d 452, 458 (Fla. 2003) (“If there is no controlling decision by this Court or the district court having jurisdiction over the trial court on a point of law, a decision by another district court is binding.”). See also 12A Fla. Jur 2d Courts and Judges § 177 (“In the absence of interdistrict conflicts, district court decisions bind all Florida trial courts. A circuit court wheresoever situated in Florida is equally bound by a decision of a district court of appeal regardless of its appellate district. Thus, in the absence of a contrary opinion of its own district court of appeal, a circuit court is bound to follow an opinion of another district court of appeal.”).

Thus, as of today, the Snipes decision is binding on every Circuit Court Judge in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. Any contention otherwise is grossly misleading. More important, any ballot language indicating a reliance on the Twelfth Circuit Court decision in Moore is misleading. In the event you disagree with this assessment, please inform me immediately as I am perfectly comfortable seeking an expedited judicial resolution to resolve any differences of opinion.

Law Office of Andrea Flynn Mogensen, P.A.
200 S. Washington Blvd., Suite 7

Sarasota, FL 34236

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