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Appellate court tosses out Bondi's prison privatization appeal

“Failure to follow procedural rules” is what it took for a long-standing battle, over the constitutionality of a prison privatization plan, to come to an end.  That’s what a Florida appellate court stated Tuesday when a rejected a request by Attorney General Pam Bondi to overturn a lower court’s ruling, which blocked the plan.

Last year, leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature, like Senate President Mike Haridopolos, urged Attorney General Pam Bondi to appeal Leon County Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford’s ruling, blocking the privatization plan.

Fulford said it violates Florida’s constitution because it was slipped into the budget and it should have been a stand-alone bill.

But, because Bondi’s office appealed the ruling on behalf of the Legislature and NOT the Department of Corrections, Bondi’s earlier client, the 1st District Court of Appeals Tuesday dismissed the case.

“The Legislature has operated in a manner of that it believes it’s above the other branches of Government and that’s simply not true,” said Matt Puckett, the Executive Director of the Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA).

Puckett's group filed the suit against the Florida Department of Corrections to block the plan to privatize 29 South Florida prisons.

After the PBA won the suit, the Department of Corrections declined to move forward with the appeal.

Puckett says the ruling by the three-judge panel reaffirmed his group’s argument that the Attorney General did not have the authority to appeal the lower court’s ruling, just because Republican leaders within the Legislature asked.

“I think it’s confirmation that the Legislature did an overreach. They did it inappropriately. For the officers in South Florida, it means their jobs are not in jeopardy, and we’re thrilled that it worked out that way,” said Puckett.

During last month’s oral arguments , Jon Glogau with the Attorney General’s office acknowledged that it was already too late to carry out the privatization plan because the budget provision issued by the Legislature would have expired on June 30th.

However, Glogau still wanted a ruling to set a precedent for future budgets.

“What exactly would you win if you won today? What would the practical consequences be?” asked Chief Judge Robert Benton.

“We would get an opinion that vindicates the Legislature’s authority,” Glogau responded.

Despite Tuesday’s dismissal of the appeal, appellate Judge Ronald Swanson says the Court’s decision is based on procedural rules, not the constitutionality of using budget proviso language.

Bondi’s office spokeswoman Jenn Meale says the Attorney General’s office respectfully disagrees with the Court’s decision.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.