On February 1, 2018, Cohen Milstein’s Theodore J. LeopoldDiana L. Martin, and Poorad Razavi and Fair Elections Legal Network, a national voting rights organization, achieved a major victory on behalf of former felons in Florida in Hand et al., v. Scott et.al, who claimed their constitutional rights had been infringed by Florida’s Clemency Board.

U.S. District Court Judge Mark E. Walker ruled that the process by which Florida’s Clemency Board grants or denies former felons’ restoration of voting rights applications is unconstitutionally arbitrary and violates the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment right of free association and free expression, as well as the Fourteenth Amendment. 

On March 27, 2018, Judge Mark Walker issued a permanent injunction, requiring Florida’s Executive Clemency Board to establish a new voting rights restoration process for former felons by April 26, 2018.

In November 2018, while that order was on appeal before the Eleventh Circuit, Floridians, overwhelmingly voted to allow for automatic restoration of voting rights to former felons. 

Case Background

On March 13th, 2017, Cohen Milstein and Fair Elections Legal Network filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against Florida’s Executive Clemency Board on behalf of seven convicted felons, and all those similarly situated, who have been released from incarceration, thereby repaying their debt to society, and whose applications for restoration of voting rights in the state of Florida were arbitrarily denied.

Florida is one of four states in the U.S. that denies the right to vote to all former felons until they petition for rights restoration. Almost 1.5 million Floridians are currently disenfranchised even after completing their sentences. Convicted felons who have completed their sentences and want to restore their right to vote must successfully petition the Executive Clemency Board to have their right to vote reinstated. The Executive Clemency Board is comprised of the Governor of Florida, the Attorney General, the Chief Financial Officer and the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The restoration application must be approved by a majority of the Board members and the Governor must be included in the majority.

The class action suit, filed in Tallahassee, alleges Florida’s voting rights restoration procedure is arbitrary in that there are no laws, rules, or regulations to guide the Executive Clemency Board’s decisions to reinstate or deny reinstatement of the fundamental right to vote, in violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The complaint seeks to reform Florida’s clemency process by properly restoring the rights of the Plaintiffs and other convicted felons who have completed their sentences, including parole and probation, and have, thereby, repaid their debts to society.

Cohen Milstein attorneys, Theodore J. Leopold, Diana L. Martin, and Poorad Razavi, and Jon Sherman, Senior Counsel at Fair Elections Legal Network, represent James Michael Hand, Joseph James Galasso, Harold W. Gircsis, Jr., Christopher Michael Smith, William Bass, Jermaine Johnekins, Kevin Michael Grenier, and Yraida Leonides Guanipa, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated.

The case is styled: Hand, et al. v. Scott, et al., Case No. 4:17-cv-00128-MW-CAS, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.