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Judge: $150M initially for victims in Florida condo collapse

Judge: $150M initially for victims in Florida condo collapse

Victims and families who suffered losses in the collapse of a 12-story oceanfront Florida condominium will get a minimum of $150 million in compensation initially, a judge said Wednesday.That sum includes about $50 million in insurance on the Champlain Towers South building and at least $100 million in proceeds from the sale of the Surfside property where the structure once stood, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman said at a hearing.“The court’s concern has always been the victims here,” the judge said, adding that the group includes visitors and renters, not just condo owners. “Their rights will be protected.”The $150 million does not count any proceeds from the numerous lawsuits already filed since the June 24 collapse, which killed at least 97 people. Those lawsuits are being consolidated into a single class action that would cover all victims and family members if they choose, the judge said.“I have no doubt, no stone will be left unturned,” Hanzman said of the lawsuits.So, far 96 victims have been identified, many of them using DNA analysis. Relatives and friends of three missing people say they are awaiting word on loved ones believed to have been in the building, meaning the overall toll could potentially go up to 98. Officials have not yet announced an end to the recovery effort.On Wednesday, 24-year-old Anastasia Gromova was identified, according to her family and police. The young Canadian had just been accepted to a program teaching English in Japan and was visiting the condo for one last hurrah with friend Michelle Pazos. Gromova’s body was recovered three days ago and was one of the last to be identified.Her grieving family rushed from Canada after the collapse and had spent weeks in agony waiting in Miami.“It just makes it real and hard but on a different level. At least we can move on now.” her sister Anna Gromova told The Associated Press, describing her sister as a bright star that fell fast. “We will remember her forever.”Her parents said she was bright, always on the go, constantly smiling and unafraid to take on difficult challenges.“It’s hard because you knew the loss was preventable and still nothing was prevented,” her sister said.Meanwhile, the site of the tragedy has been completely cleared of debris under the watchful eye of investigators from the National Institute of Standards and Technology — the agency leading a federal probe into the collapse, according to a receiver handling the finances on behalf of the condominium board.Rubble considered key evidence is being stored in a Miami-area warehouse, with the rest in nearby vacant lots, said the receiver, attorney Michael Goldberg. All of that will be preserved as possible evidence for the lawsuits and for other experts to review, he said.“It may take years for their report to become public,” Goldberg said of the NIST probe.The building was just undergoing its 40-year recertification process when it collapsed. That came three years after an engineer warned of serious structural issues needing immediate attention. Most of the concrete repair and other work had yet to be started.There remain differences of opinion among condo owners about what to do with the site. Some want the entire condo rebuilt so they can move back in. Others say it should be left as a memorial site to honor those who died. A third suggestion is to combine both.Owner Raysa Rodriguez, whose unit was on the ninth floor, said she couldn’t imagine going back into a building in a place where so many friends died.“I personally would never set foot in a building. That’s a gravesite,” Rodriguez told the judge. “I wake up in the middle of the night thinking of everyone who perished.”Oren Cytrynbaum, an attorney who is informally representing some fellow condo owners, said it was important to think creatively about the building sale, including whether requirements might be added such as a memorial of some kind for future developers.“It shouldn’t be a traditional land sale,” Cytrynbaum said. “We’re not on one path.”Hanzman, however, said time is of the essence because victims and families need money to begin rebuilding their lives.“This is not a case where we have time to let grass grow underneath it,” he said.Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has offered a tract of land in his neighboring city for construction of a Surfside memorial.“All options will be considered,” the judge said, adding that any memorial must be paid for with public dollars. “It’s going to have to be funded by the general public, not these particular victims.”——Associated Press writer Kelli Kennedy contributed to this report from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Court blocks order lifting CDC virus rules on cruise ships

Pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships will remain in place after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulationsBy CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs WriterJuly 18, 2021, 4:15 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Pandemic restrictions on Florida-based cruise ships will remain in place after a federal appeals court temporarily blocked a previous ruling that sided with a Florida lawsuit challenging the regulations.The one-paragraph decision by a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was filed at 11:50 p.m. Saturday, just minutes before a Tampa judge’s previous ruling on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention restrictions was set to take effect.The judges’ issuance of a temporary stay keeps the CDC regulations regarding Florida-based cruise ships in place while the CDC appeals the June decision by U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday.The lawsuit, championed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, claims that the CDC’s multiple-step process to allow cruising from Florida is overly burdensome, harming both a multibillion-dollar industry that provides some 159,000 jobs and revenue collected by the state.A spokeswoman for DeSantis did not immediately respond Sunday to an email and a text message seeking comment. In court filing, attorneys for Florida urged the 11th Circuit to reject the CDC request to keep its rules intact for now.“The equities overwhelmingly favor allowing the cruise industry to enjoy its first summer season in two years while this Court sorts out the CDC’s contentions on appeal,” Florida’s lawyers argued.The CDC, however, said keeping the rules in place would prevent future COVID-19 outbreaks on ships that are vulnerable to the spread of the virus because of their close quarters and frequent stops at foreign ports.“The undisputed evidence shows that unregulated cruise ship operations would exacerbate the spread of COVID-19, and that the harm to the public that would result from such operations cannot be undone,” the CDC said in a court filing.The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships.Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met. Those included virus mitigation procedures and a simulated cruise to test them before embarking regular passengers.Merryday’s decision concluded that the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they should merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines. Several cruise lines have begun preliminary cruises under those guidelines, which the Tampa judge agreed with Florida are too onerous.“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote in June, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”The 11th Circuit’s brief decision did not include any opinions from the judges, which the panel said would be released later. The decision noted that one appeals judge dissented.Disney Cruise Lines held its first simulated sailing under CDC rules Saturday when the Disney Dream departed from Port Canaveral, Florida. The passengers were volunteer Disney employees.

Claims of murder plot against GOP candidate in Florida court

Claims of murder plot against GOP candidate in Florida court

Claims by one Republican congressional candidate that another GOP hopeful plotted to kill her have landed in a Florida courtroomBy CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs WriterJune 22, 2021, 6:20 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Claims by a Republican congressional candidate that another GOP hopeful plotted to kill her landed Tuesday in a Florida courtroom.Anna Paulina Luna, who plans to run for Florida’s District 13 seat after losing a race for the slot in 2020 to Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, contends in court documents that GOP challenger William Braddock is stalking her and wants her dead. Luna has filed a petition for a permanent restraining order. Pinellas County Circuit Judge Doneene Loar had previously granted a temporary restraining order for Luna and a conservative activist and friend of hers, Erin Olszewski, after the allegations surfaced.In court Tuesday, Braddock, who has already filed as a GOP candidate, told a judge he opposes the injunction and wants to “obtain, review and validate” any evidence against him. He did not directly address the accusations but has denied them in the past and called them politically motivated.“I don’t know what they have,” he said in court.Loar agreed to delay the hearing until July 9 to allow both sides to exchange evidence. She said the temporary restraining orders against Braddock and Olszewski will remain in effect, and she cautioned him to not violate them.In her petition, Luna claims she received text messages recently between Braddock and some associates in which he allegedly said he wanted to “take me (Luna) out.” She also said others told her “that means he intends to kill me.”“I do not feel safe and I am currently in fear for my life from Mr. Braddock,” Luna said in her petition.The case took a darker and somewhat bizarre turn last week when Politico reported that Olszewski had secretly recorded a phone call with Braddock earlier this month in which he says the alleged “Russian and Ukrainian hit squad” could kill Luna within 24 hours.“Luna’s going to go down and I hope it’s by herself,” Braddock says in the recording, according to Politico, which said it had obtained the recording. “For the better or the good of the majority of the people, we’ve got to sacrifice the few.”According to the report, Braddock described the “hit squad” as being armed for “close-battle combat” to make sure nothing was left to chance.“No snipers. Up close and personal. So they know the target has gone,” Braddock said, according to the Politico report. The online news site quoted Braddock as saying he hadn’t heard the recording and that there there was no proof it was him on it.The recording was not mentioned in Luna’s petition or in Tuesday’s hearing, which was conducted by video conference. Politico said Olszewski turned the recording over to law enforcement officials, who declined to release any information to The Associated Press, citing an ongoing information. No criminal charges have been filed. Olszewski did not respond to phone calls and emails from the AP.In 2020, Luna lost by about 24,600 votes to the far better-known Crist in the District 13 congressional race in Pinellas County. Crist, a former Republican Florida governor who has held several other high-profile offices, is running for governor in 2022 as a Democrat.A slew of candidates are running for the district, which could be key to determining which party controls the U.S. House after next year’s elections.Among the other candidates in the race are Democratic state Reps. Ben Diamond and Michele Rayner. More candidates are expected to join the campaign.

Judge rules for Florida on CDC order blocking cruise ships

Judge rules for Florida on CDC order blocking cruise ships

A federal judge has ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to sail due to the coronavirus pandemicBy CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs WriterJune 18, 2021, 11:17 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A federal judge on Friday ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to resume sailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote in a 124-page decision that Florida would be harmed if the CDC order, which the state said effectively blocked most cruises, were to continue.The Tampa-based judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the CDC from enforcing the order pending further legal action on a broader Florida lawsuit.“This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to the CDC,” Merryday wrote.Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody praised the decision in a statement Friday.“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” said Moody, a Republican. “The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely.”While the CDC could appeal, Merryday ordered both sides to return to mediation to attempt to work out a full solution — a previous attempt failed — and said the CDC could fashion a modification in which it would retain some public health authority.The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships. Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement that framework imposed onerous bureaucratic requirements on the industry, such as requiring a “vaccine passport” for passengers and that cruise ships conduct a simulated voyage before embarking passengers.“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” DeSantis said.Laziza Lambert, spokeswoman for the Cruise Lines International Association, said the trade group was reviewing the ruling and what it means for resuming cruises from U.S. ports. Carnival Corp. said it too was reviewing the decision.“The health and safety of cruise passengers, crew and the communities we visit remains the top priority for CLIA cruise line members, and cruise ships are well on their way to offering the traveling public a high level of COVID-19 mitigation,” Lambert said in a statement.Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have been gearing up to return to sailing under the CDC’s four-part framework. Merryday’s decision means the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they would merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines.However, Merryday delayed the effect of his order until just after midnight on July 18.This would be similar to CDC guidelines for the reopening of other industries such as airlines, casinos, hotels, sports venues and subways, Merryday wrote. Otherwise, the cruise industry would face a daunting task to restart operations.“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”—————Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this story.

Judge rules for Florida on CDC order blocking cruise ships

Judge rules for Florida on CDC order blocking cruise ships

A federal judge has ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to sail due to the coronavirus pandemicBy CURT ANDERSON AP Legal Affairs WriterJune 18, 2021, 10:29 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — A federal judge on Friday ruled for Florida in a lawsuit challenging a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention order making it difficult for cruise ships to resume sailing due to the coronavirus pandemic.U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday wrote in a 124-page decision that Florida would be harmed if the CDC order, which the state said effectively blocked most cruises, were to continue.The Tampa-based judge granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the CDC from enforcing the order pending further legal action on a broader Florida lawsuit.“This order finds that Florida is highly likely to prevail on the merits of the claim that CDC’s conditional sailing order and the implementing orders exceed the authority delegated to the CDC,” Merryday wrote.Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody praised the decision in a statement Friday.“Today’s ruling is a victory for the hardworking Floridians whose livelihoods depend on the cruise industry,” said Moody, a Republican. “The federal government does not, nor should it ever, have the authority to single out and lock down an entire industry indefinitely.”While the CDC could appeal, Merryday ordered both sides to return to mediation to attempt to work out a full solution — a previous attempt failed — and said the CDC could fashion a modification in which it would retain some public health authority.The CDC first flatly halted cruise ships from sailing in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which had affected passengers and crew on numerous ships. Then the CDC on Oct. 30 of last year imposed a four-phase conditional framework it said would allow the industry to gradually resume operations if certain thresholds were met.Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a statement that framework imposed onerous bureaucratic requirements on the industry, such as requiring a “vaccine passport” for passengers and that cruise ships conduct a simulated voyage before embarking passengers.“The CDC has been wrong all along, and they knew it,” DeSantis said.Cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean have been gearing up to return to sailing under the CDC’s four-part framework. Merryday’s decision means the CDC can’t enforce those rules for Florida-based ships and that they would merely be considered nonbinding recommendations or guidelines.However, Merryday delayed the effect of his order until just after midnight on July 18.This would be similar to CDC guidelines for the reopening of other industries such as airlines, casinos, hotels, sports venues and subways, Merryday wrote. Otherwise, the cruise industry would face a daunting task to restart operations.“Florida persuasively claims that the conditional sailing order will shut down most cruises through the summer and perhaps much longer,” the judge wrote, adding that Florida “faces an increasingly threatening and imminent prospect that the cruise industry will depart the state.”