TALLAHASSEE – A lawyer for former state lawmaker and U.S. Rep. David Rivera has argued before the Florida District Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional for the Florida House speaker to penalize Rivera with fines for ethics violations while serving as state legislator from 2002-2010.
The long-running ethics case against Rivera alleges he was improperly reimbursed for state travel and did not adequately disclose financial information.
The Florida State Commission on Ethics last year supported a judge's recommendation that Rivera should pay more than $58,000 in fines and restitution. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli made the decision to impose the penalty. Rivera appealed the case.
Rivera’s attorney Leonard Collins argued recently before the 1st District Court of Appeals that it is unconstitutional for a state speaker of the House to be able to penalize a former member.
“This is a good civics lesson in terms of what the powers of the legislative branch are, what the powers of the speaker of any House of any legislative branch in the country are, and what the limits on those powers may be,” Collins told the Florida Record. “There is a statute in Florida that allows the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate to penalize a former member if the Florida Commission on Ethics makes a recommendation that they should be penalized."
Collins argues they don’t have the legal authority to issue a penalty against a former member.
"The reason is they don’t have that ability because the speaker of the House or the president of the Senate is really more acting like a judge than a member of the legislature, who votes on policy that is considered by the legislature," he said.
In addition, Collins argues that even if the entire House issued a penalty against Rivera, it is still unconstitutional for the House or Senate to issue a particular penalty against an individual without a judicial trail, which Rivera wasn’t given.
“It was an administrative hearing,” Collins said. “That’s different. We are saying the whole House can’t delegate a power to the speaker of the House because the whole House couldn’t penalize him."
Rivera is currently seeking re-election to the Florida House.