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Florida in brief

By Times staff and wire reports

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2001

Harris under fire for low election hearings turnout

Harris under fire for low election hearings turnout

Public hearings called to let Floridians talk about the state's new elections law have been anything but public, says state Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami.

Meek said members of the public have been mostly unaware of the hearings because Secretary of State Katherine Harris failed to adequately advertise them.

Only four people showed up in Miami for the first of six hearings last week, Meek noted. He said that's because Harris advertised them only in the Florida Administrative Weekly, an online legal publication not widely distributed.

Meek called on Harris to schedule another hearing in Miami so people could express their feelings about new legislation adopted to try to correct problems that surfaced in last year's bitter presidential recount battle. It establishes standards for counting votes and determining voter intent.

A spokesman for Harris said the Miami hearing was promoted in a Miami Herald story.

"Sen. Meek falsely accuses the Division of Elections. . . . The division complied with all legal notice requirements," Harris said in a statement.

One of the hearings is scheduled for 5 p.m. today in Tampa, at the Tampa Port Authority Building, 1101 Channelside Drive.

High court to hear appeal of parental notice law

TALLAHASSEE -- The legal fight over a 1999 parental notice abortion law is being kept alive by the Florida Supreme Court.

The court agreed to take an appeal of the constitutional battle over the law, which requires doctors to notify parents of girls under 18 before performing most abortions. The law has not yet been enforced.

A dozen abortion clinics, doctors and groups challenged the law, and a Tallahassee trial judge agreed with them in May 2000 that it violated the privacy rights of teenagers seeking abortions.

The 1st District Court of Appeal overturned that decision in February, saying the law was constitutional because the state had a compelling interest in not preventing parents from overseeing their children's medical care.

The high court issued a 4-3 order in late October accepting the case and setting oral arguments for March 4.

3 convicted in murders targeting drug witnesses

MIAMI -- A reputed cocaine kingpin's brother-in-law and two others were convicted of murder Wednesday for arranging the killings of three witnesses against a multibillion-dollar drug ring. They face likely life sentences.

"It's the ultimate corruption," U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis said of the attacks allegedly orchestrated by Sal Magluta, some from behind bars. The charges were an outgrowth of an investigation dating back to 1987 when Magluta and partner Willie Falcon first came under scrutiny during Miami's heyday as a capital of cocaine smuggling. The ring reputedly made $2-billion in profits.

The three defendants were not the actual killers. Admitted hit team members who testified for the government are lining up for cuts in their 20-year sentences.

The victims were an attorney and two drug dealers.

Eduardo Lezcano, Magluta's brother-in-law, was convicted of recruiting, paying and supplying guns to the Colombian hit teams. Co-defendants Jairo Castro, then a nightclub valet, and Yuby Ramirez, a 30-year-old mother of two, helped hit team members. Falcon and Magluta were acquitted of drug charges in 1996 after the jury foreman took a bribe, and both face new trials next year on charges growing out of their drug trial: jury tampering and drug money laundering. Magluta is also charged in the witness killings.

Ousted Manatee judge must pay for inquiry

BRADENTON -- Former Manatee County Judge Matt McMillan has been ordered to pay more than $14,000 for an investigation that led to his removal from office for ethics violations.

The Florida Supreme Court ordered the Judicial Qualifications Commission to charge McMillan for deposition costs and court reporter fees for the four-day inquiry.

McMillan was officially removed from office Oct. 5 for ethics violations during his 1998 campaign and for setting bail in a DUI case in which he was a witness.

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