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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. December 3, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Judges needed

Thereis no doubt a need exists, but the question is whether the Florida Legislature will have the money this year to pay for the additional number of judges the Florida Supreme Court says it needs to meet the rising demand for court services.

In its annual report to the Legislature, the stateis high court certified the need for 67 circuit and 41 county judges based on increases in just about every aspect of criminal and civil law. For instance, the court reports a 14% increase in capital murder cases, a 31% increase in non-capital murder cases and a 9% increase in domestic violence cases from fiscal 1999-2000 to 2002-03. The court says the stateis trial court judges handled 46.5% more case filings as of 2002 than the national average.

Locally, the court certified the need for six circuit and four county judges in Hillsborough County and five circuit and four county judges in Pinellas County. It denied a request for two additional judges in the 12th Circuit, which serves Manatee and Sarasota counties.

No help from Hollywood

A Pinellas County jury rejected a claim that two St. Petersburg emergency room physicians acted with reckless disregard in the treatment of a 2-year-old boy who died from a snakebite.

Tampa attorney Kenneth Beytin of Tampais Burton Schulte Weekly Hoeler & Beytin PA persuaded the jury that Drs. Anthony Acosta and Steven G. Epstein acted responsibly while treating the son of Lakewood Ranch residents Victor and Maria Lema. The coupleis son, Derek, died in 2000 from an eastern diamondback rattlesnake bite.

The plaintiffs relied on the expert testimony of Dr. Sean Bush, host of the Venom ER show on Animal Planet, to bolster their claims. Bush, an emergency room doctor in South San Bernardino, Calif., testified that only 10 people die in the U.S. each year from snakebites. He claims the physicians did not treat the boyis low blood pressure quickly enough.

Altamonte Springs attorney Karen Wasson, who represented the Lemas, says the jury declared the physicians met certain thresholds in the care of the boy under state law that protects emergency trauma physicians. She has filed a motion for a new trial.

Youire invited

Pro-life supporters of Terri Schiavo are holding a 41st birthday party for the comatose Pinellas County woman. And theyire inviting the public.

The party, a hot dog barbecue billed as a icelebration of life,i is set for Sunday, Dec. 12 from 2-6 p.m. at Helen Howarth Park in Pinellas Park.

The legal battle over Schiavois medical condition has consumed years of judicial attention in the Pinellas courts.

Party entertainment will be provided by California anti-euthanasia singer Wayne Galley, who will be autographing his iLifei CD at the event. The CD includes a song called iI Am Alive (Terriis Song).i

State and federal courts have determined that Schiavo, who collapsed 14 years ago, is in a persistent vegetative state with no hope of recovery. But Gov. Jeb Bush, former Florida House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and other pro-life politicians have intervened to stop Schiavois husband from removing the feeding tube that has kept her alive.

The stateis highest court is giving Bush time to appeal its latest ruling against pro-life forces to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The sponsors of the birthday party couldnit resist a dig at Schiavois husband in the invitation: iWe are hoping Michael Schiavo will allow Terri to attend her party!i

In the past, he has limited her familyis contact with her.

Florida: Middle of the pack

No wonder Dorothy wanted to take Toto back to Kansas o itis the most economically free state in the nation.

Earlier this month, the Pacific Research Institute, a San Francisco-based think tank, released its 2004 U.S. Economic Freedom Index, a scoring of states that measures the economic effects of regulatory and fiscal policies on each stateis residents.

Authored by a PRI researcher and two Clemson University researchers who did the nationis first economic index in 1999, the index takes into account more than 100 variables that measure such areas of government as taxation, regulation, the judicial system, government employment levels and the amount spent on welfare. From this information, the researchers determined that Kansas is the most economically free state. Kansas was 10th in the 1999 rankings.

Why do the rankings matter? The authors of the index say that a 10% improvement in a stateis economic freedom score yields, on average, about a half-percent increase in annual income per capita. For instance, PRI says, iIf all states ranked as free as Kansas, the annual income of an average working American would rise 4.42%, or $1,161, putting an additional $87,541 into his or her pocket over a 40-year working life. This would be a sizable addition to individualsi private retirement accounts.i

As the table shows, Florida falls nearly in the middle. While the state scores well in the fiscal, judicial, government size and welfare categories, the Sunshine State is regarded as a regulatory nightmare in terms of property rights. No surprise at that conclusion.

Nor is this a surprise: The Northeast states, where taxation and regulation are heavy, have the lowest rankings. Itis no coincidence, either, say the authors, that the least economically free states typically have the lowest economic growth rates and the greatest outmigration of population. To view the entire report, go to


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