Lunch n’ Learn: Essential Components of a Quality Early Childhood Program

Join Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, P.L.
on Tuesday, November 8, 2011, Noon — 1:00 pm

Kluger Kaplan’s Offices
201 S. Biscayne Boulevard, Seventeenth Floor Miami, FL

Sandra Huzenman, M.S., Early Childhood Director of the Gordon Schools of Beth David Congregation, will highlight key components that define a quality preschool program:

• Considerations for selecting a preschool for your child;

• The latest trends in early childhood education including the classroom itself as a teaching tool;

• Transferable skills for creating meaningful learning opportunities at home

Sandra Huzenman is the Early Childhood Director of the Gordon Schools of Beth David and is an adjunct professor of Early Childhood Education. She holds a master’s degree in pre-k/primary education from Barry University and has more than 25 years of experience in the field. She has presented at conferences of the National Association for the Education of Young Children and is Co-President of the Jewish Council of Early Childhood Education at CAJE Miami (Central Agency for the Advancement of Jewish Education).

The event is free of charge and lunch is included.
Pre-registration is essential: info@bethdavidmiami.org.

S. Florida judges brace for a possible fallout of the foreclosure mediation program

Weeding out borrowers who have abandoned their homes and enforcing a “good faith” requirement on lenders may improve a foundering statewide foreclosure mediation program. Read the full story from the Palm Beach Post here.

By Kimberly Miller

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Palm Beach County Chief Judge Peter Blanc said weeding out borrowers who have abandoned their homes and enforcing a “good faith” requirement on lenders may improve a foundering statewide foreclosure mediation program.

Last week, a judicial committee recommended the mandatory program be eliminated, suggesting instead that each of the 20 circuit courts be allowed to opt-in to a newly created uniform plan.

While Florida’s Supreme Court justices mull the advice to end their once-heralded 2009 program, chief judges statewide find the ball may soon be in their court as to how to handle foreclosure mediation in the face of bank resistance and weak homeowner participation.

“I agree the process can be approved, as can just about any process,” said Blanc, whose 15th Circuit Court has a backlog of about 23,700 foreclosure cases in Palm Beach County. “It also seems to me that we should spend some time trying to address some of the factors mentioned that can have a negative impact on the mediation success rate.”

The report noted several reasons mandatory mediation has not lived up to expectations, including lenders’ failure to send representatives with full authority to negotiate a settlement and a refusal to consider more than a narrow range of settlement options.

Another concern is that borrowers under siege by companies offering foreclosure prevention assistance were uncertain of the legitimacy of the court-ordered program and didn’t respond to invitations to participate.

Just 14 percent of all eligible borrowers participated in mediation.

Banks pay up to $400 per case for mediation managers to locate borrowers and have them participate in financial counseling – a requirement under the program. Another $350 is paid by lenders to complete mediation.

Blanc said excluding borrowers who have walked away from homes, in effect, giving up the property, could make the program more efficient.

“At the same time, finding a way to enforce a good faith requirement on lenders to fairly consider the full range of settlement options, including short sales and deeds in lieu of foreclosure (not just refinancing), could both streamline the process and improve the outcomes,” Blanc said.

Statewide, 3.6 percent of all cases referred to mediation in a yearlong period beginning in March 2010 ended in a written agreement between the lender and homeowner.

The judicial assistant for Broward County Circuit Court Judge Peter Weinstein said today that he hadn’t read last week’s recommendation yet and couldn’t comment.

Miami-Dade County Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Bailey, who sat on both the 2009 committee that originally recommended mandatory mediation as well as the recent committee that suggested it be optional, said it would be inappropriate for her to comment while the report is pending a Supreme Court response.

“As far as the mediation concept, it was excellent, that wasn’t the problem,” said Chief Judge Steven Levin, who leads the 19th Circuit Court, which includes Martin and St. Lucie counties. “Certainly it has its advantages and has worked to solve cases, but whether that’s enough to keep the program is based on numbers,” Levin said.

Proponents of the program disagree.

Jeffrey Kasky, a Pompano Beach-based attorney and mediator, said a paperwork exchange at mediation often leads to a loan modification within three months.

“In many mediations the borrower says it’s the first time they’ve ever gotten the full attention of the lender,” he said.

Appeals court won’t stop Hillsborough judge from considering Islamic law

In a case that has attracted national attention, a Florida appeals court appears to have cleared the way for a Hillsborough judge to use Islamic law to decide a key issue in a lawsuit involving a local mosque. Read the full story here.

By William R. Levesque, St. Petersburg Times Staff Writer

TAMPA — A Florida appeals court appears to have cleared the way for a Hillsborough judge to use Islamic law to decide a key issue in a lawsuit involving a local mosque.

In a case that has attracted national attention, the 2nd District Court of Appeal on Friday denied without comment a petition to prevent Judge Richard Nielsen from invoking Islamic law.

The petition, filed by the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, contested a March ruling by Nielsen announcing his intent to use “ecclesiastical Islamic law” in the case.

Nielsen limited his use of Islamic law to deciding whether arbitration by an Islamic scholar mediating a dispute between the mosque and ousted trustees followed the teachings of the Koran.

The arbitration itself is in dispute, with mosque officials saying it never took place.

The arbitrator ruled in favor of several men ousted as mosque trustees, a decision that, if upheld, could wrest control of $2.2 million in mosque coffers.

Like everything else in the litigation, the meaning of the appeals court ruling is in dispute.

Attorney Paul Thanasides, representing the mosque, said an appeals court decision without a written opinion means the court wasn’t addressing the merits of the case.

Thanasides said the U.S. Constitution and Florida law prevent Nielsen from following Islamic law. On Monday, he filed a motion with the judge asking him to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction.

“Florida law is clear that courts may not decide corporate governance disputes involving religious organizations,” the motion said.

Lee Segal, a lawyer representing four ousted trustees, said the appeals court ruling was a “big-time” win for his clients and vindication for Nielsen, who does not comment on pending cases.

“This basically puts the case back in front of Nielsen, who has a good handle of what the issues are,” Segal said.

He noted the judge could still rule against his clients if he determines that Islamic law was not, in fact, followed.

“There’s still lots of barriers for us to cross,” Segal said.

The case touched off a storm of criticism against Nielsen earlier this year.

Web commentators have misidentified the judge as a liberal trying to subvert U.S. law. Nielsen is, in fact, a conservative Republican appointed to the bench by former Gov. Jeb Bush.

At the time of Nielsen’s original decision, the political atmosphere was already charged with debate that Islamic law had gained a toehold in U.S. courts.

Even before Nielsen’s ruling, two Florida lawmakers, Sen. Alan Hays and Rep. Larry Metz, announced legislation to prevent the use of any foreign legal code being applied in state courts.

The legislation was not adopted by Florida lawmakers.

In May, the Center for Security Policy released a study that evaluated 50 appellate court cases in 23 states involving issues related to Islamic law.

The study noted Islamic law has been “formally recognized” in state courts.

The cases involved mostly Muslim women and children “who were asking American courts to preserve their rights to equal protection and due process,” said the center’s president, Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

“When our courts then apply sharia law in the lives of these families, and deny them equal protection, they are betraying the principles on which America was founded,” he said.

To others, Nielsen’s decision has been widely misunderstood. Markus Wagner, a professor of international law at the University of Miami School of Law, said courts often refer to religious codes in arbitration cases.

If two sides in an arbitration, for example, agree to use Jewish law, then a judge could properly use the Talmud in deciding a case, Wagner said.

“On the legal side, it’s just not all that unusual,” he said.

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@sptimes.com.

Caesars scores interim win in Octavius trademark lawsuit

Caesars Entertainment Corp. of Las Vegas has scored an initial legal victory over a Florida man who claims to own the trademark to the name “Octavius Tower.” Read the full story from Vegas Inc. here.

Caesars scores interim win in Octavius trademark lawsuit

By

Caesars is preparing to open its expanded 668-room Octavius Tower at Caesars Palace — the sixth hotel tower at the resort on the Las Vegas Strip.

Marcel July of Port Charlotte, Fla., and his company, Octavius Tower LLC, claim to own the “Octavius Tower” trademark and have been ordering Caesars to stop using that name for the tower, the first portion of which opened in 2009.

Caesars responded with a federal lawsuit in Las Vegas in April against July accusing him of trademark fraud.

The lawsuit charged that two days after Caesars announced plans in July 2007 to build Octavius Tower, July registered website domain names using the Octavius Tower name and the Caesars name, including octaviustower.com and caesarstower.com.

As the lawsuit progressed, July sought an injunction against Caesars Entertainment to block it from use of the “Octavius Tower” phrase.

U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro on Monday denied his bid for an injunction, ruling July had failed to meet his burden of proof that an injunction is warranted.

Navarro noted in her order that Caesars Entertainment in July 2007 had filed a trademark application for the Octavius Tower mark as it related to “hotel services,” but later abandoned the application because of delays in development of the tower. A second application was filed by Caesars in December 2010.

July, who says he founded a band called Octavius Tower in 1992, in 2009 received a trademark to the phrase Octavius Tower for “entertainment services.”

July, represented by Las Vegas attorney Michael Sanft of Sanft Law Group, argued in his preliminary injunction request that besides founding the international band in Germany, he had been using the Octavius Tower mark for broad entertainment and merchandising services.

Navarro didn’t buy those arguments, at least for the preliminary injunction stage of the case.

“Caesars makes strong arguments against July’s use of the mark that extinguishes July’s prima facie case,” Navarro wrote in Monday’s order.

The ruling did not close the case — the lawsuit will now likely continue with each side seeking a final order spelling out the rights to the Octavius Tower name.

Caesars is represented in the litigation by attorneys with the Las Vegas law firm Santoro, Driggs, Walch, Kearney, Johnson & Thompson as well as the Atlanta firm Alston & Bird LLP.

Barahona judge goes after gag-order violators

Seeking the source of a courthouse leak, a Miami child welfare judge ordered more than 30 people to appear before her and swear they didn’t violate a gag order. Read the full Miami Herald story here.

By Carol Marbin Miller
cmarbin@MiamiHerald.com

A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge, apparently angry that details of a controversial — and closed — child custody hearing had been disclosed to a reporter, required dozens of state child welfare workers to appear before her to sign statements swearing that did not leak to the newspaper.

The appearances — like the hearing itself — were kept secret from the public.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Maria Sampedro-Iglesia, one of five judges who preside over child welfare cases at the county’s Children’s Courthouse, required 33 investigators, caseworkers and supervisors to appear before her privately to sign sworn statements declaring they did not leak confidential information to The Miami Herald, sources have told the newspaper. The appearances were not part of a formal hearing, and no notice was given publicly that the meetings were to occur. An attorney for court administrators told The Herald Sampedro-Iglesia has not issued any subpoenas in the case since Aug. 1 — meaning the workers could not have been subpoenaed.

Only one of the 33 people compelled by the judge to appear, DCF’s former regional administrator, Jacqui Colyer, refused to sign an affidavit. In response, Sampedro-Iglesia entered an order banning Colyer from her courtroom until the child welfare case is resolved, sources have told the newspaper. Colyer, who resigned from DCF Aug. 9, declined to discuss the matter with a reporter, saying she no longer is involved in DCF’s affairs.

The unusual proceedings are the latest chapter in the equally unusual case involving now-11-year-old Victor Barahona, whose twin sister, Nubia, was killed in February. Victor and Nubia had been adopted from foster care by Carmen and Jorge Barahona, and had been the subject of several complaints to the Department of Children & Families’ abuse hotline both before and after their adoption. Victor was found by a Road Ranger on the side of Interstate 95, drenched in lethal chemicals and clinging to life. His twin was found hours later inside a garbage bag, her emaciated body also awash in toxic chemicals, in the flatbed of her adoptive father’s pickup truck.

Both Jorge and Carmen Barahona are awaiting trial on murder and aggravated child abuse charges at the Miami-Dade County Jail. They have pleaded not guilty.

At the request of state prosecutors, Sampedro-Iglesia ordered Victor to return from Texas — where he was living with an uncle who is seeking to adopt him — to attend a custody hearing in late August. Sources say prosecutors argued that Victor should remain in foster care in Miami, rather than live in Texas with his extended family, which he had grown to love. His uncle had renovated a bathroom so that Victor did not have to be near a bathtub, which was the scene of much of his torment. Police and prosecutors say the boy had been tied up and forced to live in a bathtub with his sister, even being forced to eat in the bathroom.

Both DCF and private foster care case managers assigned to work with the boy argued that Victor should remain with his uncle, and, under both state and federal law, extended family members trump foster parents for custody when all other factors remain equal.

The Herald reported on details of the hearing on Aug. 19. That morning, Sampedro-Iglesia signed an order returning Victor to Texas.

The judge then scheduled an Aug. 26 hearing to determine who had leaked information to the newspaper, but cancelled the hearing after an attorney for The Herald asserted the newspaper’s right to attend the proceeding. An attorney for the Miami-Dade Circuit Court gave the newspaper’s attorney, Scott Ponce, assurances that The Herald would be given notice if the hearing was reset.

In a letter delivered Wednesday to Chief Judge Joel H. Brown, another Herald attorney, Sandy Bohrer, called the proceedings “a star chamber system of justice.”

“Judge Sampedro-Iglesia had no authority to conduct these private proceedings, she did so in violation of Florida law regarding the closure of judicial proceedings, she did so in violation of an agreement between the Court, through its general counsel and counsel for The Herald, and she did so in violation of all notions of procedural justice, all to reach a substantive result for which there is no authority under Florida law,” Bohrer wrote in the letter.

Through General Counsel Linda Kelly Kearson, court administrators have refused to release a copy of Sampedro-Iglesia’s order regarding Colyer, or other records associated with the proceedings, citing the confidentiality of juvenile court records and “the best interests of the minor child” at the center of the case. On Wednesday, Kearson also declined to answer a dozen questions emailed to the court system’s spokeswoman, Eunice Sigler last week.

“Were we to answer your questions,” Kearson wrote, “we would contravene the basic confidentiality principles set forth in [state child welfare law] and the court’s duty to protect the child from further harm, to the fullest extent of the law,” she wrote.

A spokesman for DCF said his agency was still studying a request from the newspaper to review the court order, of which DCF has a copy. “The department always strives to be as transparent as possible and we are processing this request while considering state law and the judge’s order,” said Joe Follick, DCF’s spokesman in Tallahassee.

Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association, said Sampedro-Iglesia appeared to be “very distinctly over-reaching” when she “coerced” people to go to the courthouse to sign statements outside a formal hearing.

“She had no authority,” said D’Alemberte, the former dean of Florida State University’s law school and FSU’s former president, who still teaches there.

“I think the whole thing is simply bizarre. I’ve heard of some things that are damn strange, and this certainly makes the top 10 list,” said D’Alemberte. “The whole idea of closing not only the proceedings, but also keeping the order secret, fundamentally violates everything we know about open courts and destroys the fundamental principal of open proceedings,” he said.

But a former judge and top prosecutor said judges have enormously wide latitude, and Sampedro-Iglesia likely did not exceed hers.

Bob Butterworth, who has been a Broward Circuit Court judge, Broward sheriff, attorney general and DCF secretary during a 40-year career in public service, said Sampedro-Iglesia was well within her authority to seek out the source of leaked information. “I always say: Follow an order, and if you don’t want to, appeal it,” said Butterworth, who was the top administrator at DCF during 2007 and 2008. “Judges have a lot of discretion; they really do.”

Butterworth added: “Judges take gag orders — especially when it comes to kids — very seriously.”