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Jax Daily Record Monday, Aug. 30, 201012:00 PM EST

Local attorneys defend Florida Secretary of State

Legislative and congressional district lines at issue

by Joe Wilhelm Jr.

Staff Writer

Two Jacksonville attorneys are defending the interim Florida Secretary of State in a suit that aims to remove two citizen initiative amendments that would change the way the state Legislature creates and modifies congressional and legislative districts.

Attorneys Michael Tanner of Tanner Bishop and John Mills of The Mills Firm are defending Dawn Roberts, Interim Florida Secretary of State, in a suit filed by U.S. Representatives Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville, and Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from Miami, in a Leon County Circuit Court.

Brown, Diaz-Balart and the Legislature filed the suit to prevent Roberts from putting two citizen initiative amendments on the November ballot. These amendments, known as Amendments 5 and 6, would govern the manner in which the Legislature creates and modifies congressional and legislative districts and were approved by the Florida Supreme Court in January 2009.

The amendments are sponsored by and are supported by former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Bob Graham, the League of Women Voters, the Florida NAACP and Democracia Ahora.

Tanner and Mills have challenged the jurisdiction of the circuit court to hear pre-election challenges. The Florida Supreme Court had previously rejected similar challenges to these amendments in its advisory review in 2009.

“It is our position that the exclusive jurisdiction to hear challenges to amendments going on the ballot is in the Supreme Court,” said Tanner. “Our position is that if the congressmen, the House and the Senate had an objection with those amendments going on the ballot, they need to go back to the Supreme Court and raise those issues.”

The same day that the Leon County Circuit judge concluded that it could hear the challenge, Tanner and Mills filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Florida to stop the case. The court granted their emergency request to at least temporarily stop the proceedings in circuit court and is now considering the briefs. A decision is expected soon.

“It’s extremely significant in two separate regards,” said Mills. “First the amendments themselves, if passed by the voters themselves, could have a lasting impact on the political landscape. Second, if successful on our jurisdiction challenge, that will be precedent-setting for all future initiative petitions.”

This is not the first time Tanner and Mills have handled high-profile litigation.

Most recently, the Tanner Bishop firm partnered with the City of Jacksonville Office of General Counsel to defend the interests of the City in a lawsuit brought by Trail Ridge Landfill Inc. and Waste Management Inc. in U.S. District Court over rights to operate the Trail Ridge Landfill in Duval County. That case was resolved by a settlement, approved by Jacksonville City Council, earlier this year.

In 2006, Tanner Bishop represented, a citizens’ initiative group, in its efforts to place a referendum on the Duval County ballot for the return of a U.S. Navy master jet base to the former Cecil Field Naval Air Station (now Cecil Field and Cecil Commerce Center operated by the Jacksonville Aviation Authority and the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission.)

Mills assisted Tanner Bishop in the appeal of that case to the 1st District Court of Appeals, which directed that the referendum must be placed on the ballot for the November 2006 general election.

Mills has been an appellate lawyer in North Florida since 2002.┬áHe won a landmark immigration decision regarding the rights of Cuban immigrants in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 and assisted in this year’s successful challenge in the Supreme Court to the practice of imposing life sentences on juvenile offenders for a non-homicide crime. He is currently defending more than $40 million in verdicts in appeals by tobacco companies and is leading a high-profile challenge to the constitutionality of special legislation protecting tobacco companies.

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