TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – From the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to a Tallahassee courthouse, Florida's high-profile legal battles in 2018 will focus on issues ranging from a water war to medical marijuana.
With thousands of lawsuits moving through state and federal courts, it's impossible to list --- or foresee --- all the major legal disputes that will play out in the new year. But here are five to watch:
WATER WAR: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Monday in a long-running water battle between Florida and Georgia. The crux of the issue: Florida contends that Georgia is siphoning too much water in northern parts of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, damaging the Apalachicola River and the oyster industry in Franklin County's Apalachicola Bay. But a special master appointed by the Supreme Court recommended that Florida should be denied relief. Georgia has argued that limits on its water use would undermine the state's economy, including the growth of the Atlanta area and the agriculture industry in Southeast Georgia.
FIRST AMENDMENT: Each year, the U.S. Supreme Court receives 7,000 to 8,000 appeals and agrees to hear roughly 80 cases. But Palm Beach County government critic Fane Lozman beat those long odds, as the Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 27 in a First Amendment case that stems from Lozman's arrest as he spoke during a Riviera Beach City Council meeting. Lozman accused the city of violating his First Amendment rights by retaliating against him, in part, for his outspoken criticism. Lower courts sided with the city, which argued that a police officer had “probable cause” to arrest Lozman, who had refused to comply with directions from a council member.
HAZING: Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion's death in 2011 during a hazing incident drew national attention and spurred prosecutions of other members of the school's famed “Marching 100.” But the Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments Feb. 7 in an appeal by Dante Martin, a band member who was sent to prison in Champion's death. Martin, who was found guilty of manslaughter, felony hazing resulting in death and two counts of misdemeanor hazing, contends the state's hazing law is unconstitutional, at least in part because it is overly broad. Champion was injured during a band ritual known as "crossing Bus C," which involved band members being struck repeatedly as they crossed from the front of a bus to the back.
MEDICAL MARIJUANA: Florida voters in November 2016 approved a constitutional amendment to broadly legalize medical marijuana. More than a year later, however, legal battles continue about how the state should carry out the amendment. Orlando attorney John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the 2016 ballot initiative, has filed the highest-profile case, arguing that lawmakers violated the constitutional amendment by passing a measure that bars smoking medical marijuana. A Leon County circuit judge is scheduled to hear arguments Jan. 25 about whether she should dismiss Morgan's lawsuit. Other pending cases involve issues such as the constitutionality of a law that calls for issuing a highly coveted marijuana license to a black farmer. Another case challenges the constitutionality of a preference for the citrus industry in awarding marijuana licenses.
EDUCATION FIGHT: In the education world, it's known simply as HB 7069 --- a massive bill that House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, shepherded to passage at the end of the 2017 legislative session. At least 14 county school boards have filed two constitutional challenges to the law, contending in part that it undermines local control of public schools. The pending challenges, filed in Leon County circuit court, focus on issues such as part of the law that requires school boards to share with charter schools a portion of property-tax revenues used for building projects. School boards filed another case directly to the Florida Supreme Court, though justices said last month the dispute should first be heard in circuit court.