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Claim Your Stuff

July 31st, 2014 by flanews

You could be entitled to some money or valuables that you never knew existed. Matt Galka tells us about the state’s unclaimed property, and the items they’re getting ready to auction off.

The vault in Tallahassee is a little different than Al Capone’s. Inside dozens of boxes are millions of dollars worth of valuables – and they all belong to Floridians.

“Every item here came from a safe deposit box, somewhere in a bank in the state of Florida,” said Bureau of Unclaimed Property Chief Watler Graham.

Every year, unclaimed property is turned over to the office of Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.  The state waits at least 5 years before they auction it off.

“Florida traditionally is a state where people from other parts of the country come to retire. Maybe their children and other relatives are still in other parts of the country, and maybe they didn’t know about this particular account or this particular safe deposit box,” said Graham.

The annual auction held next week in Orlando will feature just about everything. From a nearly hundred year old gold flute to a gold pocket watch from 1856. There will even be baseball cards featuring Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.

If the owners eventually come forward, they’re entitled to the auction money, too.

The CFO’s office estimates they have more than a billion dollars of unclaimed property or cash. They gave back almost $240 million of that last year alone.

Auction and unclaimed funds go into a trust that supports public schools.  If you want to know if you have any money or valuables floating around out there, go to www.fltreasurehunt.org and search your name.

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Charlotte’s Web Proposed Rule Still Raising Questions

July 30th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida regulators hold their second rule making hearing for growing and distributing Charlotte’s web marijuana on Friday. The low THC marijuana is supposed to be available early next year, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us,  the latest proposal appears to restrict distribution, which could create challenges, legally and for patients.

A day long hearing earlier this month to set rules for growing and distributing low THC marijuana know as Charlotte’s web drew a standing room crowd full of questions and concerns. “It seems a little irrational” said one speaker of the proposed rule.

Now the Department of Health has published a second draft proposal. The second effort is still raising eyebrows among interested growers. “I think they’ve made some strides, positive strides” says grower advocate Jeff Sharkey.

The new plan continues to divide the state into five regions of different sizes. North Florida has two regions totaling 4 million people, but central Florida would have only one region, and one grower, for 8 million residents. Sharkey says that could make obtaining the substance difficult for patients. “Having one dispensary in central Florida for 8 million people is very hard order, particularly when you are trying to get this pharmaceutical to patients who need it quickly.”

The plan also sticks with a lottery to pick 5 out of 50 people who could qualify to grow. The hope is that lottery will keep those who don’t get picked from suing.

Taylor Biehl says the lottery leaves to much to chance without considering the merits of each proposal. He also says Amendment two’s likely passage in November will be a game changer. “I certainly think that in anticipation of amendment two passing in November, that things will come to a standstill. There will be a lot of protests and litigation.”

The second rule making hearing is set for Friday. Licenses must be awarded by the first of the year.

To qualify for a license to grow medical marijuana in Florida, ,a nursery must have been in continuous operation for at least 30 years and be at least 25% owned by a Floridian.

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Least Popular Wins?

July 30th, 2014 by flanews

Florida’s Gubernatorial race will be one of the most watched in the country. As Matt Galka tells us, the two likely candidates aren’t exactly winning popularity contests.

With less than 100 days to go before Florida’s Gubernatorial election, it’s looking like the likely frontrunners could use a friend.

“Voters don’t like either of the major candidates,” said Quinnipiac Pollster Peter Brown.

45% of voters surveyed in the most recent Quinnipiac poll give Governor Rick Scott a negative approval rating.  42% of voters have an unfavorable view of likely Democratic foe Charlie Crist.  Both have approval ratings of just 40%.

If these numbers hold, the pair could become the least liked pair of candidates in governor’s race in the past 10 years, according to data website fivethirtyeight.com.

But FloridaState political science professor Charles Barrilleuax says that the numbers do little more than make politicians feel bad.

“People recognize it and it may give them a real sense about the candidates but the date suggests it doesn’t seem to effect their voting very much, or doesn’t effect their voting in a statistically significant way, and it doesn’t effect turnout,” said Barrilleaux.

Spending indicates that both candidates care about the numbers. The GOP has spent more than $16 million on ads, with Democrats spending around $3 million.

And with plenty of time left to sling mud, expect the spending to go up…and the popularity to go down.

Registered voters are used for Quinnipiac Polls which doesn’t mean everyone surveyed will turn out to vote.  Experts say that because there is no presidential election and it’s tougher to get people to cast ballots, voter turnout could end up favoring Republicans.

 

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Docs vs. Glocks

July 29th, 2014 by flanews

A federal appeals court has ruled that a law restricting doctors from talking about gun ownership with their patients is constitutional. As Matt Galka tells us, medical professionals are saying this is a violation of rights – and harmful to a patient’s health.

‘Docs vs. Glocks’ was coined after a 2011 law passed banning doctors from talking with patients about gun ownership.  The NRA heavily backed the proposal.

“When you take your children to a doctor, it’s because they’re sick or they need medical care. You don’t take your child to a doctor to have the doctor express his or her political views about guns,” said NRA spokeswoman Marion Hammer.

A lower court judge found the law unconstitutional in 2012.  Now, a federal appeals court ruled the other way. Healthcare professionals say the number of gun related accidents is reason enough to have a conversation with their patients.

Accidental shooting deaths killed at least 17 kids last year in Florida.  Dr. Louis St. Petery says it should be no different than talking to a parent about car seats for safety.

“Prevention is the name of the game, so, for prevention of diseases there are immunizations which have done a terrific job, but for children, now the biggest killers are accidents,” said Dr. St. Petery.

Pro-gun groups say the law protects patient’s privacy. Physicians don’t need to know what they own.

“They’re not firearms instructors, they’re not safety instructors, they’re trained in medicine. That’s why we go see them,” said Hammer.

Florida’s American Civil Liberties Union bashed the appeals court decision.

“These conversations are needed, and we can’t allow the legislature to block these conversations just because it’s a conversation about guns,” said Howard Simon, ACLU Florida’s Executive Director.

The ban on the law will be kept in place until the entire appeals process has been completed.

The physician’s and gun control groups involved in the lawsuit have said they will appeal the federal court’s decision. The ruling does allow doctor’s to give patients pamphlets or brochures on safety.

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Floridians High on Medical Marijuana

July 28th, 2014 by flanews

Floridian’s support of medical marijuana is at an all time high according to a new Quinnipiac University poll.  As Matt Galka tells us, the numbers suggest November’s ballot initiative to legalize pot for patients will pass overwhelmingly.

A burning question this November – will Floridians legalize the use of medical marijuana.  If you believe in QuinnipiacUniversity poll numbers, then that answer is ‘yes.’

“Old, young, male, female, black, white, 18 or 65 year-olds. There’s very strong support,” said Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown.

The Q poll showed that 88% of the 1251 voters surveyed supported medical marijuana, including 83% percent of Floridians over 65, and a sky high 95% percent of voters 18-29.

The survey didn’t specifically ask about November’s ballot initiative because it wanted to keep the questions the same from each state polled.

Florida Smart Justice Alliance president Barney Bishop is part of the Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot Coalition. He says the survey questions and the issue in November are totally different.

“Quinnipiac stupidly keeps asking the wrong question, you don’t ask the question ‘are you in favor of medical marijuana because that’s not the question that’s going to be on the ballot,” said Bishop.

The group says the amendment will put a pot shop on every corner, for everyone, and not just the seriously ill.

“This is a failed constitutional that is really just a shill, a thin facade for legalizing marijuana, and the vast majority of people in Florida are opposed to the legalization of marijuana,” said Bishop.

60% of balloters would need to vote yes for the amendment to pass.

There’s still a large gap in support over recreational marijuana use. Overall, 55 % of voters surveyed supported it, but much of the support came from the 18 to 29 year old crowd.  Voters over 65 opposed legal recreational pot.

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Do the Sales Tax Holidays Work?

July 25th, 2014 by flanews

Another sales tax holiday hits Florida next week, and don’t tell the kids because it’s for back to school supplies. Matt Galka tries to find out if the sales tax breaks really work.

The legislature and Governor promised to save Floridians 500 million dollars this year. Part of it is through sales tax holidays

“House bill 5601, which does a lot of things, including putting 121 million dollars back in Florida family’s pockets,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida) in May.

The first sales tax holiday was for hurricane supplies in the first week of June.  Florida’s revenue estimating conference says shoppers saved about $2.7 million in sales tax this year. But supply store manager Tyler Gouldbourn didn’t notice.

“Despite the tax break I did not see a large increase in business related to generator sales or really even inquiries related to generator sales,” said Gouldbourn, the manager of All Pro Equipment in Tallahassee.

The Florida Retail Federation says that the next sales tax holiday is where they expect the most bang for the buck.

A back to school break starts August 1st.  Customers will be free of Florida’s six percent sales tax on clothing, footwear, and accessories that cost less than $100 dollars.

“The legislature estimates that the tax holiday alone will save Floridians about 40 million dollars statewide this year. It could easily be much higher when you add on the sales and markdowns,” said John Fleming with the Federation.

The FRF says an economics study from four years ago provides the answer as to whether the holidays work. It compared the tax free shopping from 2010 to 2009 – when there was no sales tax holiday.

“What we saw was that the sales did go up for the entire month in the year that we had the tax holiday, much more than they would have been we think without the tax holiday,” said Fleming.

The study also showed that the state made about 115 million dollars more that year in tax revenue during the three day tax free period. Meaning shoppers were more inclined to buy items that weren’t tax free.

The school supply sales tax holiday runs from August 1st through the 3rd.  In September, Floridians will have the chance to buy energy efficient appliances tax free for a three day period.

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Gay Couples ask Attorney General to let them be Married

July 24th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

A half dozen couples who were married in other states, or who want to be married in Florida, are asking Attorney General Pam Bondi to drop her appeal of last weeks court ruling that found the state’s ban on gay marriage unconstitutional.

One week to the day since a judge ruled Florida’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional, A half dozen couples delivered seven thousand petitions to the Attorney General. They want her to drop her appeal of the decision.

“How many of you want to get married to each other?” we asked. Wo Wo, Everybody. Some of us are.” How many are people are legally married in other states?” as hands from most went up in the air. Nancy Brown says marriage in Florida would be special.

“We live here. We’ve been here our entire lives, we want to get married with our friends and family.”

Several of the couples have been married 30 years or longer. “And we’ve been together 40 years” responded one woman.

Still they want their union recognized by their home state. Sheila Ortiz Taylor says not being legally married is sending the wrong message to her kids and grandkids. “We want to be recognized as citizens of Florida.”

“It’s very simple. It’s not complicated at all” says partner Joy Lyn Lewis.

As the group posed for pictures, the language of the state Constitution over their shoulders guaranteed equal civil and political rights to all. Robin Gray says the words should have meaning.“Well, they shouldn’t be hollow words. Equal rights should be afforded to all people who choose to get married.”

The Attorney General has said in court filings that voters had the right to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and she says they have the right to change it in the future if they want.

And Chris and Sean Cooey believe that  change is inevitable. “And we shouldn’t have to be tied down by legal loopholes, or an appeal from the Attorney General for us to be able to start a family” says Sean of their five year partnership.

The Protection of Marriage Act was approved by 4.8 million voters in 2008.

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Unless the Protection of Marriage Act in the Constitution is ruled unconstitutional under Federal law, changing it would require 60 percent of the electorate.

 

 

 

 

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Stop the Vote

July 24th, 2014 by flanews

Illegally drawn congressional maps could cause a delay in some Florida elections. As Matt Galka tells us, it’s in the judges hands now.

A successful lawsuit against the Florida legislature found that the Republican Party illegally drew maps to benefit itself. So now what? The League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs say the election needs to be delayed.

“We have a map that has been found to be unconstitutional, it’s not just two districts, if you read the judge’s decision the entire map has been found to be unconstitutional, in effect there is no map right now, and Florida voters deserve to have map put in place,” said the group’s attorney, John Devaney.

Attorneys proposed postponing the congressional primary that is scheduled for August 26th back to mid or late September.  But lawyers for the legislature say that’s impossible.

“To now change districts would create chaos in the election process,” said Attorney Raoul Cantero.

Lawyers also suggested that circuit court judge Terry Lewis redraw the maps. They don’t want lawmakers to get another shot because they already drew them illegally.

With thousands of absentee ballots already out, Florida’s Supervisors of Elections could be put in a tough spot.

“We mailed out our 15,000 absentee ballots to our voters three days, it’s going to be difficult doing a recall on that. Do we print out all the ballots again? It causes confusion,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.

Proceeding with elections as planned and holding a special congressional election was an option thrown around. Either way, the League’s attorney scoffed at the idea that nothing can be done this year.

“Go hire some more coders, lets work together to make sure voters do have a map,” said Devaney.

The judge says he’s extremely skeptical about bout changing the districts before the elections happen. A ruling is expected next week. Attorneys for the legislature said they would most likely appeal a decision that calls for the maps to be redrawn before the elections.

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Crist Leads Scott in Quinnipiac Poll…for Now

July 23rd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Charlie Crist leads Rick Scott 45-40 in a new poll by Quinnipiac University out today. But the lead disappears when Libertarian candidate Adrian Wyllie is put into the mix. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, voters are also tired of negative ads and don’t really like either major candidate

If the election were held today, the Governor’s race would be too close to call. While Charlie Crist has a slight lead over Rick Scott in a two way matchup, the addition of Libertarian Adrian Wyllie to the mix takes independent voters from Crist. Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown says Wyllie is gaining from voter dissatisfaction. “And that is almost a certainly a reflection of some unhappiness in the electorate with the tone of the campaign” says Brown.

Millions have already been spent on mostly negative ads.

The poll suggests voters have had enough.

Both Scott and Crist are rated favorably by just 40 percent….but 45 percent give Scott Unfavorable marks while 42 percent give thumbs down to Crist. Brown says the divisiveness is having an impact.  “You can’t throw mud without getting some on yourself, and that seems to be what’s happening to Mr. Crist and Mr. Scott” says Brown.

An important thing to remember about this poll is that it is of registered voters…not likely voters.”

The poll is also skewed heavily with independents..32%  Rick Scott’s campaign was quick to point out the poll had just 28% Republicans while in the 2010 election, GOP voters made up 44 percent of those who went to the polls. Quinnipiac’s Brown dismissed the criticism.

“We do not weight that to any standard, because there is no standard. Party identification is a changing standard…ah, a changing number.”

The only place Scott gets high marks is for leadership.

Voters also say they don’t trust either candidate to be honest and trustworthy…another function of negative advertising.

We reached out to the Adrian Wyllie campaign for a response to the poll. This is what they said “”What these poll numbers show is that the people of Florida are quickly being disenfranchised by the two party system and their presumed nominees, Rick Scott and Charlie Crist, while our message is resonating well.”

I’m Mike Vasilinda in Tallahassee, where a new poll shows shows Charlie Crist leading Rick Scott…maybe. I’ll tell you what it really says.”

 

 

 

 

 

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Florida is the ‘Scariest State’

July 23rd, 2014 by flanews

You’re living in the scariest state in the country according to a national real estate poll. As Matt Galka tells us, it wasn’t crime that did the state in, but the weather.

People in Florida should be scared. That’s because we live in the scariest state in the country according to a national real estate study from Estately.com.

Florida ranked 1st in three common “fear” categories. We should be on the lookout for hurricanes, tornadoes, and sharks, according to the poll.

Sam Miller with the Florida Insurance Council says that’s at least partially valid – the state just finished paying off claims from the last hurricane that hit nearly a decade ago.

“It took us 9 years to retire the debts from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, it’ll take another decade next time if not longer,” said Miller.

Severe weather and other coastal factors are part of the deal for living in Florida. But experts say don’t let what goes on in the movies skew your perspective on the state.

The poll says Florida is most likely to get hit by a “sharknado.” While that’s clearly tongue in cheek, the state consistently leads the country in shark attacks.  Biologist Tom Harah says they’re not as common as you think, though.

“You’ve got a 1 in 1 point three million chance of getting struck by lightning in the United States, and you’ve got a one in sixteen million chance of getting bit by a shark, not even seriously injured,” said Harrah, who works with the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab.

As far as being the scariest state, the National Weather Service says the fears are overblown.

“I’m not sure that I’d say it’s the scariest, I think anywhere you live there are going to be certain dangers,” said NWS Meteorologist Katie Moore.

According to the study, Florida was in the middle of the pack for fear of murder…but top 10 for fear of incarceration.

Reporting in Tallahassee, I’m Matt Galka

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Florida vs. New York Showdown

July 22nd, 2014 by flanews

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer is sparring with the Governor of New York over which place is best for businesses. Matt Galka breaks down the state vs. state smackdown.

Florida’s top financial man is throwing down with the Empire State. CFO Jeff Atwater is blasting New York and their Governor over both state’s business climates. Atwater came out swinging against some New York TV spots.

The $113 million dollar TV and radio ads hype up New York’s new business incentives.. It’s an effort to draw employers back…but Atwater says the ads are deceptive.

In the letter penned to Governor Cuomo, Atwater says the images can’t be supported by facts, especially compared to Florida. He also mentions Florida being the 2nd best place to do business in America compared to New York’s 49th ranking.

A Cuomo spokesman said the CFO must be pretty bad at math if he doesn’t understand that new businesses in certain New York zones won’t have to pay state taxes.

The Florida Chamber stood by Atwater’s statements that Florida trumps New York when it comes to business.

“It’s fun to go to New York once and a while to have a slice and see a show, but Florida has a lot more to offer and we got to encourage those New Yorkers to keep moving down,” said David Hart with the Chamber.

It’s estimated that Florida will deliver another knock out blow to N.Y. later this year, when the sunshine state takes over as third most populated state in the country.

Atwater has some supportive jobs numbers to back him up. Florida lead the country in job creation last month.

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Latest Campaign Tactic: File a Complaint

July 22nd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The number of ethics and elections complaints rise sharply in election years. 8 complaints have been filed by one side or the other in the hotly contested Gubernatorial race, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the complaints are seldom upheld or effective campaign strategy.

This billboard was the subject of a complaint against Charlie Crist’s campaign. It alleged the sign was an in kind campaign contribution. Another was filed against a similar TV spot.Both were thrown out. So was a complaint against Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work Committee. It was over how money was handled.

More than 8 complaints have been filed against the two campaigns.

That complaints from both sides are being dropped shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Lat year more than half of all complaints were found insufficient.

Lawyer Mark Herron frequently handles complaints before the ethics and elections commissions. He calls them a distraction. “It energizes the base, but I don’t think it wins or loses elections, but it does divert from the important issues they should be discussing” says Herron.

Former Governor Bob Martinez was honored for civic participation at the Historic Capitol Tuesday…

Mac Stipanovich ran both his successful and unsuccessful campaigns. “And I don;t believe that any campaign I was involved in has ever filed a single ethics complaint. You know, It just embitters everyone.”

Martinez says the escalating complaints are a sign of the times.“It’s better news sometimes to find the faults of another person, but I think part of it is that maybe candidates haven’t adjusted to the information that’s out there.”

Under Florida law, filing a knowingly false complaint can result in the filer paying the legal fees for the other  party. That seldom happens.

Florida’s Ethics Commission has a meeting scheduled for this coming Friday.

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Once a Democrat, Bob Martinez says Party Swapping Won’t Hurt Crist…But

July 22nd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

mail 1

New mailers hitting Democrats mail boxes this week chastise former Governor Charlie Crist for positions he took as a Republican which he has now modified as he runs as a Democrat. Former Governor Bob Martinez was a Democrat for years and became a Republican less than a year before seeking and winning the state’s top job. Martinez was in Tallahassee today where he was asked by reporters if he thought the Crist party change matters to voters. “The bigger issue for Charlie will be changing positions. I think the average citizen doesn’t keep score of how you were registered to vote. They keep score on what you stand for” says the former Governor.

The mailers are from a third party group widely believed to be funded by large sugar interests. Crist faces little know former State Senator Nan Rich in the August primary.

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Energy Conservation Showdown

July 21st, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Once every five years, regulators set conservation goals for Florida utilities. This year, the companies are asking to have their conservation goals reduced. The move has angered conservationists,  and hundreds of them showed up at the Public Service Commission on Monday.

Mary Sheppard came from Bradenton.We asked why?

“Because I like clean air” she told us.

Mary was joined by a hundred or so others who chanted “clean energy now” and who want Florida utilities to conserver more and offer more conservation programs…Instead, the utilities are seeking to cut conservation by 90 percent or more.Retired Air Force officer Neil Cosentino of Tampa says its all about money. “A for profit power station or company makes money by making more power. Our whole theme is to reduce power.”

State Representative Dwight Dudley says Florida energy policy is in the stone age. “We know what the game is. It’s a simple game. They’re trying to take more money from us” Dudley told the crowd.

The Sierra Club sponsored the rally and is running television in two Florida Markets.

A portion of the ad encourages listeners to “Tell the Public Service Commission to protect consumers, not big power companies.”

But customers who want more conservation can’t tell the Public Service Commission their feelings. They can sit and listen, but they can’t speak.

We asked PSC Chairman Art Graham why they can’t speak. He told us “They can speak all they want.”

Q: “They’re not being allowed to testify.”

“They’re more than welcome to send written comments in.”

Q: “But that’s not the same as looking you in the eye and saying this is what we want.”

“They’re more than welcome to send in written testimony.”

The hearings continue through Wednesday, with a decision on conservation coming later this fall.

In Florida, regulated power companies are guaranteed a ten percent profit on every dollar they spend generating energy.

 

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Law School Slaying

July 21st, 2014 by flanews

The shooting death of an internationally known FloridaState law professor has many asking “why?” As Matt Galka explains, police are still looking for that same answer.

Renowned law professor Dan Markel was gunned down in his home Friday.  Attorney and neighbor Reggie Garcia says the world lost a great man.

“He was just a fun laid back guy, I mean not a lot of my professors brought me baked goods from their favorite deli in New York. You’ll certainly hear this directly from the students but they loved him,” said Garcia.

Markel was apparently shot in broad daylight around 11 a.m. Friday morning. The Toronto native and Harvard graduate later died from his injuries.  Police are saying this wasn’t a random act of violence.

“We believe he was the intended victim in this case. Targeted is a hard word for us, again, we have to make sure that we leave all of our avenues open, but we are doing everything we can to bring this case to a close for the Markel family and for Mr. Markel himself,” said Tallahassee Police Department spokesman Dave Northway.

Looking for any piece of information that could be helpful, police started canvassing the neighborhood around Markel’s house. Police went door to door asking neighbors about any information they had. Jill Harper summed up the mood of the community.

“Fear, there have been some car break ins and home break ins,” said Harper, a neighbor that lives down the street.

Markel was a father to two young sons and was going through a divorce at the same time he was murdered.  Police wouldn’t say if his estranged wife, also a distinguished academic, had been questioned.

“I cannot give the details of who we’re interviewing,” said Northway.

Markel joined FSU in 2005. He primarily taught criminal law to hundreds of students from around the state. Markel had been a prominent law writer and blogger around the state and the country. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.

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