Public Interest Law Section News Updates from PILS Chairman Maria Elena Abate

Dec 5, 2008

A Message From PILS Chairman Maria Elena Abate (Above)

Dear Members:

Below is recent news of interest to the Florida Bar’s Public Interest Law Section Members (scroll down to view the complete stories):



Governor Charlie Crist celebrated the investiture of jurist Charles T. Canady to the Florida Supreme Court on December 3, 2008. Canady, 54, was Governor Crist’s first appointment to the seven-member high court and has been serving since September 6, 2008.

“Justice Canady has already proven to be a wonderful addition to Florida’s highest court,” said Governor Charlie Crist. “Today we celebrate his accomplishment and recognize his commitment to the Florida Constitution and our justice system.”

Before being appointed to the Supreme Court, Justice Canady has enjoyed an extensive career in both public and private practice. Prior to his appointment to the Supreme Court, he served as a judge on the Second District Court of Appeal, starting in 2002.

“I am committed to serving in this important post,” said Justice Canady, who was joined in Tallahassee by his wife and two children. “I am grateful to have the confidence and support of Governor Charlie Crist.”

Justice Canady filled the vacancy left by Justice Raoul G. Cantero III, who served on the Florida Supreme Court from 2002 to 2008.



As part of ongoing celebrations for National Adoption Month, announced on November 24, 2008 that Florida is on track to exceed last year’s record-breaking adoption rate by 20 percent. He announced the numbers during a reception held at the Capitol to honor the many Florida families and adoption agencies that have joined to help achieve the administration’s goal of finding loving, permanent homes for children in state care.

“We have seen great progress in our efforts to help children find stable, caring homes, and we could not have achieved so much if not for the families and agencies who have opened their hearts and devoted themselves to this cause,” said Governor Charlie Crist. “On behalf of every child, I want to say thank you. And I know we can make even more progress by continuing to work together for these wonderful children.”

Between July and October of this year, 1,103 children were adopted from state care, compared to 917 adoptions for the same period last year. That is an increase of 20 percent, and it puts Florida on pace to exceed last year’s record 3,674 adoptions – up from 3,079 adoptions in 2006-07.

“Because we know that having a forever family allows a child to thrive and reach their full potential, it is urgent that we find a safe and permanent family for every child in state care,” said Jim Kallinger, Florida’s Chief Child Advocate.  “We are so thankful for the families that have adopted this year and in past years, and hope that others thinking about adoption will hear their stories and want to experience the same joy of welcoming a child into their family.”

Governor Crist has made increased adoption awareness and the well-being of all Florida children a priority since taking office. He created the Office of Adoption and Child Protection to establish a comprehensive statewide approach for promoting adoption, supporting adoptive families and preventing child abuse, abandonment and neglect. He appointed a Chief Child Advocate, Jim Kallinger, to help oversee the Office of Adoption’s efforts.

The Department of Children and Families also has been integral to the Governor’s efforts, finalizing the record number of adoptions and establishing a program that offers employment opportunities to young adults aging out of the foster care system. More than 100 former foster children have been successfully employed.

“Adoption Month has so much meaning,” said George Sheldon, Secretary of the Department of Children and Families. “We celebrate the joys of all the families who have come together through adoption, and we hope more loving people will be inspired to come forward and give a permanent and loving home to one of the wonderful children still waiting for their forever family.

The Office of Adoption and Child Protection established a Child Abuse Prevention and Permanency Advisory Council. The 32 members from across the state are developing a plan for better coordination of the goals, activities and funding to support and promote adoption and prevent child abuse, abandonment, and neglect. The Council’s plan will be submitted to the Legislature and the Governor next month.

The Governor also established the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet to improve cooperation and communication among the state agencies that serve Florida’s children and families. The Cabinet works to promote collaboration, creativity, increased efficiency, information sharing and improved service delivery between and within state agencies and organizations that administer child welfare services. One of the Cabinet’s initiatives is the recent designation of “Children’s Champions” within state agency that serves children. The champions will help ensure the coordination of services and improved communication among all agencies involved in a child’s care.

Through the state’s “Explore Adoption” campaign, the Governor and other state officials are educating the public about the adoption process, and about the children in Florida who need permanent homes. The Governor’s “Explore Adoption” promotes the benefits of public adoption and urges families to consider creating or expanding their families by adopting a child who is older, disabled or part of a sibling group.

Every year, about 3,000 Florida children become available for adoption when a court permanently severs ties to their birth parents due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Of those, 40 percent are adopted by relatives, and another 40 percent are adopted by their foster parents. The remaining children must have recruitment efforts to identify a family previously unknown to them, which is the goal of the “Explore Adoption” initiative. Most of the children who wait the longest are teenagers, are sibling groups or have a physical or emotional disability.

Since Governor Crist launched “Explore Adoption” in May 2008, the state’s adoption hotline, 1-800-96-ADOPT, has received a record number of calls. The new website for “Explore Adoption”,, features real Floridia family stories, the road map to the adoption process, a detailed listing of the benefits to adoption, all campaign materials and much more. The campaign also includes radio and television spots that are airing statewide in English and Spanish, as well as a 30-minute television special featuring the adoption stories of three Floridia families. Recently, the Suncoast Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences nominated the series of five “Explore Adoption” ads created for an Emmy award.



On November 21, 2008, Governor Charlie Crist today announced $10 million in grants to repair and maintain 19 senior centers around the state, including funds for construction of new senior centers in Miami, Gainesville and Apalachicola. Governor Crist and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary E. Douglas Beach announced the grants during a groundbreaking ceremony of the future Doctora Olga Maria Martinez Senior Center in the West Kendall neighborhood of Miami. The Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers will receive $2 million to build the center.

“Senior centers play an essential role in the overall health and community involvement of Florida’s older adults, who have given so much to our state and nation over the years,” said Governor Crist. “These funds will help the centers provide even more opportunities for seniors to stay connected to their communities.”

The new senior center in West Kendall, located at the southeast corner of Hammocks Boulevard (SW 150th Avenue) and 85th Street, will serve a total of 200 individuals daily. The center will include classrooms, activity rooms, a main gathering hall, a lunch meal site, an adult day care center, and staff office space.

The 2008 Legislature authorized the grants, recognizing that senior centers boost the social, physical and intellectual activity of Florida seniors. The grants, for amounts of up to $2 million each, will be used for new construction, repairs and maintenance at senior centers around the state. A similar round of grants totaling $9.1 million also was awarded during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

“One of the most important things we can do for Florida’s seniors is to provide the means for them to stay active and involved in their communities,” said Elder Affairs Secretary E. Douglas Beach. “These grants will make an important difference in the lives of countless older Floridians.”

Senior centers receiving the state grants will be required to provide at least a 25-percent match, bringing the total value of the projects to a minimum of $12.5 million. In addition to construction of the three new senior centers, allowable expenditures include repairs and renovations for such items as ramps, automatic door openers, elevator controls, and fire or security systems, as well as major energy-related renovations such as lighting systems, roof repair and window replacement.

An estimated 380,000 seniors visit Florida’s senior centers each year. The centers provide a place where older citizens can access a variety of recreational, health and social services, including nutritional meals, educational classes, and preventive health screenings. Florida’s 240 centers provide a wide range of activities that enhance the daily lives of seniors and often extend beyond traditional programs and events.

Grants were awarded in three categories: less than $250,000; between $250,000 and $1 million; and between $1 million and $2 million. A list of the senior centers receiving grant awards for the 2008-09 fiscal year follows. More information on Florida’s senior centers is available at

Category I – $0 to $250,000

Brevard County, Brevard Alzheimer’s Foundation Inc., Roof & A/C Replacement, $57,188
Charlotte County, Charlotte County Council on Aging, Bernice Russell Center Meal Site, $14,200
Citrus County, Citrus County Board of County Commissioners, Sunshine Café, $93,209
Duval County, City of Neptune Beach, Neptune Beach Senior Center, $16,500
Duval County, Town of Baldwin, Baldwin Senior Center Expansion, $30,150
Miami-Dade County, City of Miami Overtown, Jazz Village Senior Center, $31,883
Orange County, City of Orlando, L. Claudia Allen Senior Center, $45,000
Sarasota County, Senior Friendship Centers Inc., The Friendship Center, $197,327
Wakulla County, Wakulla County Senior Citizens Council Inc., Wakulla County Senior Center, $19,790
Walton County, Walton County Citizens Advisory Council on Aging, South Walton Senior Center Upgrade, $55,335

Category 2 – $250,000 to $1,000,000

Bradford County, Bradford County Board of County Commissioners, Starke Multipurpose Senior Center, $500,000
Jefferson County, Jefferson County Senior Citizens Center Inc., Jefferson County Senior Citizens Center, $873,427
Nassau County, Nassau County Council on Aging Inc., Nassau County Senior Center, $500,000
Pasco County, Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, Elfers Senior Center, $997,700
Pinellas County, City of Clearwater, The Aging Well Center, $727,500
Putnam County, Florida Institute for Workforce Innovation, Melrose Senior Community Center, $343,245

Category 3 – $1,000,000 to $2,000,000

Alachua County, City of Gainesville and Elder Care of Alachua County, Alachua County Senior Recreation Center, $2,000,000
Franklin County, City of Apalachicola , Apalachicola Senior Center, $1,500,000
Miami-Dade County, Little Havana Activities and Nutrition Centers, Doctora Olga Maria Martinez Senior Center, $2,000,000



The Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention and Florida Office of Drug Control announced on November 19, 2008 that Florida has been awarded $1.5 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to support youth suicide prevention and early intervention programs. Eighteen states were awarded through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act which provides authorization and funding for grants combating youth suicide.

“I am very pleased Florida has secured funding which will assist in improving the quality of life for youth and reducing the public health threat of suicide,” said Governor Charlie Crist.

The Florida A.S.A.P. (Adolescent Suicide Awareness and Prevention) Project is a three-year project, which will enhance that State’s capacity to reduce the rate of suicide in youths between the ages of 10 and 24. The A.S.A.P. project will target Duval County, a large area with a youth suicide rate higher than the national average. Organizations in this county will build upon existing state and community evidence-based and culturally competent youth suicide prevention efforts and partnerships. It will enhance a community infrastructure where suicide prevention is a targeted activity of the community’s Children’s Mental Health Task Force, a working collaboration of over 35 state, public and private organizations. The A.SA.P. Project will include activities such as gatekeeper trainings, adolescent screening programs, social marketing campaigns and crisis support services. Duval County was also a pilot county in the Florida Suicide Prevention Implementation Project.

The A.S.A.P. project is a result of the collaboration between the University of South Florida, Mental Health America of Northeast Florida, and Duval County community partners. The Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention would like to thank these partners for their support and on-going commitment to suicide prevention in Florida.

“This grant will be one of them mechanisms through which we implement the Florida’s Suicide Prevention Strategy at the community level. The opportunity to transform lives depends on empowerment at the local level. The activities that will be carried out with this funding are critical to reducing our state’s high suicide rate,” says Office of Suicide Prevention Director, Erin MacInnes.

Established in spring 2007, the Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention functions as a unit of the Florida Office of Drug Control within the Executive Office of the Governor. The Office serves to develop suicide prevention strategies, manage statewide initiatives, create policy and serve as a clearinghouse of information for the general public. To learn more, please visit



Governor Charlie Crist today announced on November 19, 2008 that Florida’s graduation rate reached its highest point ever last year at 75.4 percent, according to results released today by the Florida Department of Education (DOE). This rate exceeds the previous year’s rate by three percentage points and represents an overall improvement of 15.2 percentage points since the 1998-99 school year. The results indicate that rising numbers of minority graduates continue to play a significant role in the improvement of Florida’s overall graduation rate.

“I am so proud of our schools, teachers, and students for this tremendous achievement,” said Governor Charlie Crist. “By giving our high school students a complete education, we are giving them the foundation they need for a successful future. Their success will make Florida’s workforce and economy stronger.”

“These results reinforce the tremendous academic progress our students have made over the last decade and prove that Florida is home to some of the best teachers in the nation,” said Education Commissioner Dr. Eric J. Smith. “It is vital that we continue to build on our progress by elevating the expectation for our children and preparing them with the skills they need to succeed in today’s global economy.”

Similar to last year, graduation rates for African-American and Hispanic students showed some of the largest growth this year, increasing by 3.8 and 3.1 percentage points, respectively. White students also showed sizeable growth, with a 2.6 point increase in their rate compared to 2006-07.

The DOE bases its graduation rate on data that follows every single student from ninth grade to graduation, a method that more accurately calculates the number of students who graduate high school.  Florida currently stands alone nationally in its practice of compiling and following individual student records to determine a true, four-year graduation rate. In October, the United States Department of Education announced that all states must adopt a uniform graduation rate calculation by the year 2010-11. Consequently, the DOE is reviewing its graduation rate to determine what changes are needed to meet the new federal requirement.
Decreased Dropout Rate

As Florida’s graduation rate continues to rise, its dropout rate continues to decline. According to the results, Florida’s annual high school dropout rate dropped to its lowest point ever this year at 2.6 percent. This rate is a decrease of 0.7 percentage points compared to last year’s rate, and a decrease of 2.8 points since 1998-99.
Increased minority achievement was the leading force behind this decline. From 2006-07 to 2007-08, the dropout rate decreased for African-American, Hispanic, American Indian and multiracial students, with African-American students showing the most significant improvements in dropout reduction.
For more information about Florida’s 2007-08 graduation and dropout rates, visit



Governor Charlie Crist announced the following reappointments and appointments on November 5, 2008:


Lance Block, 52, of Tallahassee, attorney and commission chair, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Marc Buoniconti, 42, of Coral Gables, ambassador of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and president of The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Carol Ann Christopherson, 45, of Jacksonville, president of Florida Service Dogs Inc., reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

James DeBeaugrine, 49, of Tallahassee, executive director of Agency for Persons with Disabilities, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Thomas DeLilla, 58, of Tallahassee, bureau chief of Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Program with Department of Health, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

J. R. Harding, 42, of Tallahassee, partnership specialist III of Division of Vocational Rehabilitation with Florida Department of Education, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Kenneth Littlefield, 64, of Tallahassee, executive director of the Florida Statewide Advocacy Council, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Bambi Lockman, 50, of Tallahassee, bureau chief of Exceptional Student Education with Department of Education, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Carlos Montas, 25, of Miami, advocate, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Trueman Bell Muhrer-Irwin, 25, of Tallahassee, disabled veteran, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

William Peeler, 62, of Lake City, supervisor of veteran claims examiner with Lake City Veteran Affairs Medical Center with the Department of Veteran Affairs, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Cheryl Stone, 57, of Orlando, medical technologist with Florida Hospital and consultant with Metroplan Orlando, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Gregory Venz, 38, of Tallahassee, assistant general counsel with Department of Children and Families, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Remer “Chip” Wilson, 58, of Jacksonville, statewide disability coordinator for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, reappointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Darcy Abbott, 51, of Tallahassee, Medicaid services administrator for long term and behavior health care with Agency for Health Care Administration, succeeding Sybil Richard, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Charles Corley, 50, of Tallahassee, deputy secretary and chief of staff with Department of Elder Affairs, succeeding Jenny McNeely, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Henry Dittman, 65, of Crestview, retired, succeeding William Perry, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Christine Eckstein, 38, of Sanford, homemaker, succeeding Barbara Day, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Susanne F. Homant, 62, of Tallahassee, president and chief executive officer of the Able Trust, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Judy Meyer, 65, of Tallahassee, administrator with Agency for Workforce Innovation, succeeding Cynthia Lorenzo, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.

Audria Moore, 43, of Fort Pierce, public information officer with Fort Pierce Police Department, appointed for a term beginning November 5, 2008, and ending July 1, 2009.