No Plan? Florida Will Make One For You!

No plan? Florida makes one for you! Atty Lewis’s monthly legal column in the Sanford Herald this month discusses intestacy – what happens if you don’t make a plan?  The State of Florida dictates who gets your assets via probate court – make a plan and avoid this issue for your loved ones!

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(386)237-5408 – Wills, Trusts, Probate

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Attorney Lewis Discusses Employment Law in Florida

In his latest legal article in The Sanford Herald, Attorney Lewis covers some employment laws governing workers in the State of Florida.

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Employment Law in Florida

Most adult Floridians have a job, and most workers have either a boss or a set of rules that must be followed, or both.  Florida has also codified many laws regarding what an employer can or cannot do, or what regulations or requirements can be placed upon employees.  Most employment laws exist for a good reason, either to protect you as an employee, your rights, the safety and rights of your co-workers, or the well-being of the business.  Sometimes it seems hard to keep up with all of these rules and regulations, and employees often wonder if their rights are being violated or if they are being treated unfairly.  Here is a very brief overview of Florida employment and labor law that may apply to you.

General:

Florida permits preemployment background checks and drug testing.

Florida prohibits texting while driving, and also smoking in any indoor areas of workplaces occupied by one or more persons, which are totally or predominantly enclosed.

Weapons:

Florida permits employees to carry a firearm in their personal/private motor vehicle, even while on the employer’s property.

An employer may not ask an employee whether he or she is carrying a firearm inside a vehicle in the employer’s parking lot, and they cannot search an employee’s vehicle.  Employers cannot prevent any employee from entering their parking lot because they know or suspect the employee’s vehicle contains a legal firearm that is out of sight and is being lawfully carried.

Time off/Leave

Employees are entitled to certain time off or permitted leaves for jury duty, court witness, domestic violence (employers over 50 employees), military leave, and Civil Air Patrol service (employers over 15 employees).

Minors:

When school is in session, 16- and 17-year-olds may not work more than 30 hours in a week, more than 8 hours in a day when school is scheduled the following day, or more than 6 consecutive days. There are no restrictions during holidays and summer vacations.

14-and 15-year-olds may not work more than 15 hours in a week, before 7:00 am or after 7:00 pm when school is scheduled the following day, more than three hours in any school day, or more than 6 consecutive days in a week. During holidays and summer vacations, they may not work before 7:00 am or after 9:00 pm, and no more than 8 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week, and no more than 6 consecutive days.

Any minor who works for more than four continuous hours is entitled to a meal break of no less than 30 minutes.

Final Pay:

If an employee dies before all wages due have been paid, the employer may pay any amount of wages or travel expenses that are due to the following individuals in the following order: Surviving spouse; Child(ren) over age 18; or Parent.

 

Attorney Lewis Discusses Artificial Intelligence and Lawsuits

In his latest article in the Sanford Herald dated September 9, 2023, Attorney Lewis discusses pending litigation regarding artificial intelligence platforms.


Artificial Intelligence Platforms Raise Intellectual Property and Copyright Issues

Over the last 12 months, the Artificial Intelligence “revolution” has grabbed headlines worldwide. Spreading from the financial sector and Silicon Valley into the classrooms across the United States, “AI” is the new buzzword on the lips of both CEOs, teachers, students, and anyone else with a smart device and a sense of curiosity.  This week the New York Times commented publicly that their legal staff is exploring whether to sue leading platform OpenAI and their user interface ChatGPT “to protect the intellectual property rights associated with its reporting.” pending litigation would raise some interesting questions in the fields of both intellectual property and copyright law.

Recently ChatGPT and The Times have been negotiating a licensing deal that would allow OpenAI to compensate the newspaper for using stories from The Times as part of the data scraped to compile “original” text pieces.  Negotiations have soured, and in no small part because The Times (and all traditional media, for that matter) feels threatened by a business directly competing with papers and print media “by creating text that answers questions based on the original reporting and writing of the paper’s staff.”  A lawsuit, if filed, would set the stage for a high-profile court proceeding over copyright and intellectual property rights in this new era where artificially generated stories, books, songs, and content is becoming more common and indistinguishable from man-made works.

Microsoft has invested heavily – billions of dollars – into OpenAI and has begun to use ChatGPT to produce results in its search engine ‘Bing.’ Run a search online on any general topic, and the response is generated from an AI interface that ‘scrapes’ data from numerous online sources and reconfigures it into a cogent, multi-paragraph response.  According to The Times, the scraped data comes from their journalists.  This affects their web-traffic and ability sell advertising based on ‘clicks,’ or visits to their page, and repurposes their work without compensation.  Unauthorized data mining of large libraries of online information by AI platforms has already occurred. In this permissionless online world most of our information now operates within, in moments a large AI platform can download massive amounts of data and repurpose it according to their specific algorithm.

Litigation from a large media company would force the courts to address whether any copyright laws have been violated by these actions.  Under federal law allowing for the destruction of “stolen” work, OpenAI and other AI companies could be directed to destroy their data and limit their response algorithm to using only authorized works.  This standard may pave the way for negotiated compensation of the authors, artist, and content creators.

Movie studios have speculated that they may contractually take an actor’s likeness and utilize it in any manner they see fit via AI platforms.  AI can download a recording artists’ entire library and generate new songs or covers that are indistinguishable from a work created by that artist.  Drawing lines will be difficult for courts but seems more and more necessary as the AI content and platform’s abilities grow.

 

Event Cancellations Place Sanford Leadership Under Scrutiny – City at Crossroads?

This in an op-ed piece originally published in the Sanford Herald on August 23, 2023, discussing friction between the business community and the City of Sanford elected officials regarding the hosting of large-scale events within the downtown entertainment district.

 


The recent decision made last Friday by Hollerbach’s German Restaurant to forego their annual Oktoberfest in the City of Sanford, followed mere minutes later by Sanford Main Street’s decision to cancel their large annual holiday event Jingle Jam, immediately sent shockwaves across social media.  These reverberations continued over the weekend in various mediums, with public sentiment ranging from shock to anger with not a small amount of sadness.  As a Seminole County resident who has split my residency since 2006 between Sanford and neighboring Lake Mary, I have seen firsthand Sanford grow and blossom into an envied event destination.

Over the last decade professionally, I have been fortunate enough to serve on the Board of Directors for the Sanford Chamber of Commerce, as a member of the Sanford Planning and Zoning Commission, own and operate several Sanford-based businesses, and currently sit on the Sanford Main St. board.  Over the past decade personally, I have been fortunate enough to wear many hats on behalf of the City of Sanford, as I have been honored to emcee large political events, give an annual Memorial Day speech, attend and speak at countless City Commission meetings, and write economic development pieces promoting and cheerleading the massive growth the city has seen.

This has all given me a unique and personal perspective regarding the revitalization and development boom in Sanford.  Energy and growth downtown and the events held in the entertainment district are what persuaded me to move my business to Sanford, and to continue opening more.  I am far from unique.  Countless business and residents have been drawn to Sanford to be part of the vibrant, eclectic, event-driven culture that permeates the downtown entertainment district.  Recent transitions within the city have changed this direction, and it seems to many locals that Sanford is moving away from what makes it the thriving locale that attracts crowds, money, and tax revenue.

The press releases from Hollerbach’s, Sanford Main Street, and public social media posts made by board members have, to varying degrees, cited an inability to meet the normal standard for events, rising costs, and “mounting fatigue caused by the ever-increasing regulations” passed by city government as reasons for the cancellations. There have been numerous changes to policies for special events since Mayor Art Woodruff took office.  These include capping the time events can last until at 10:00PM in order to combat chronic noise complaints coming from a vocal minority of residents that live in or around the entertainment district, limiting the amount and frequency of permissible road closures, curtailment of event footprints, and relocating successful events to what the organizers consider less desirable locations in the downtown area.  Other events, such as the very popular Sanford Food Truck Fiesta, have been forced to alter their days and times of operation away from “peak” times either to gain approval from the city or avoid undue scrutiny and blowback.

The inability to hold Oktoberfest and Jingle Jim foreshadows more events soon to follow suit.  For example, within hours of the Oktoberfest and Jingle Jam press releases, Sanford Karts & Kegs announced they “will not be going through the (needed) permitting process due to the climate at city hall.”  Losing events is but the first domino to fall in what may be a prelude to a massive drawback for Sanford.  Many local business owners are concerned their livelihoods are next, as fewer events, especially the large annual festivities that draw huge crowds, strikes at their core.  Small businesses, vendors, and artists survive on this foot traffic.  This also deeply effects charities and non-profits who are the beneficiaries for many of these events. The Ladies 327, a Sanford-based non-profit with over 3000 group members, posted on a community page within hours of these event cancellations, calling it “huge blow” and citing how “losing the funds we raise during these two events is critical to our budget and how we as a non-profit are able to help the community and other organizations in need.” Specifically, their annual “Cops for Christmas” event works with the Sanford Police Department to provide shopping trips for children and families that would not be otherwise able.

Thomas Dillon, a long-time bar manager at Hollerbach’s who recently relocated, chimed in on one of the many social media posts upset at the economic spillover the cancellations will have.  “Virtually every business downtown is independent. No chains at all. This hits real people who live in real homes often within walking distance.  An entertainment district without events is going to wither or the spaces will be taken over by chains that can absorb the cost of opening losses, unlike your neighbors,” says Dillon.  Locals fear a domino effect, where potential business closures may lead to urban blight, lower tax revenues, and a compromised city budget hurting Sanford’s ability to provide services and upkeep.  Other sectors, such as real estate, also may feel the crunch of the event reduction, as AirBnB rentals in the Historic District depend on being able to meet capacity to survive, now a less likely outcome now investors.

Christina Hollerbach, the CEO of Hollerbach’s and Dustin Giortz, a board member and chairman of special events for Sanford Main Street, both criticized City Hall.  While Hollerbach’s press release announcing the cancellation carefully avoided laying blame directly on city hall, citing Hollerbach’s desire to bring their events to neighboring cities, Hollerbach intimated to me that a lack of support from the city was a key factor.  “We are re-evaluating our business model to seek out cities that are welcoming and willing to invest in our events,” she noted, intimating that Sanford City Manager Norton Bonaparte is holding efforts back. “Our city is thriving due primarily to the efforts of the private sector.  I look forward to having a City Manager who can match our energy in the public sector,” stated Hollerbach. “This decision is the result of years of attempting to collaborate and find compromise for growth, however, we are tired of fighting to pay to make the city look good.”

Giortz shared the Main Street announcement and posted on his social media page that “until we have the necessary backing of the city, we are prepared to adjust our business strategy.  The solution lies in our commissioners and them choosing a City Manager that aligns with the vision of its residents. We want officials to support and amplify our vision. While the majority of city representatives stand in solidarity with us, a faction of the commission, and the mayor, seem intent on impeding our collective pursuit of growth.”

Local event planner and businessman Mike Smith, the man behind creations such as Sofas And Suds and The Current Seafood Counter, was likewise critical of the city, stating “The City of Sanford, through listening to a few squeaky wheels and making it much more difficult to put on events, is the driving force behind (event cancellations).” Smith also opined that “With all that there is to work on in our town, why is discouraging popular events (at the request of a handful of locals) so high up on the to-do list?  These events, put on and paid for by local businesses, is the bulk of Sanford’s marketing efforts and have been a big part of this town’s new-found vibrancy.” Both Sanford Mayor Art Woodruff and District 1 City Commissioner Sheena Britton responded to Smith’s social media post.  Woodruff’s response cited that the most recent change that affects fees is the increased pay for fire and police that raised the cost of off-duty pay for police required at events, and noted many people advocated for these raises.  This is factually true, as the raises and increased pay raised event costs, but this in and of itself is not the reason for the cancellations, and his comment left readers and Sanford citizens wondering why they can’t have both adequately staffed and funded services AND events.

Locals also questioned Woodruff on his Mayor page as to what events the city does and does not give money to and the rationale for this, opining that the city shows favoritism as to the ‘type’ of preferred events with their purse.  For example, Sanford annually gives city money to the St Johns River Art Festival. This is an event that closes down 1st Street for three days, and where downtown restaurants and businesses are not asked to participate in any food or drink vending. Outside vendors block access to local Sanford businesses. Closing the street the night before for set up hurts restaurants and bars on 1st St an additional days beyond the long weekend festival.  Although active on the post, Woodruff has not responded to these particular comments.

Commissioner Britton’s comments on Smith’s post drew both ridicule and frustration from readers, as she posted, deleted, and then reposted a response that in parts expressed her frustration at elected officials being blamed for the increasing difficulties, patted herself on her own back for being the one commissioner who advocates for a “vibrant and inclusive Sanford,” and  jabbed at Smith for expecting a quid-pro-quo “personal favor” by lending her support for events, as Smith has supported her personally in the past.  Putting aside the perhaps ill-advised immediate social media response by Sanford’s District 1 commissioner, we can focus on her actions.

Commissioner Britton has made comments on the record during commission meetings which appear anti-event and to go against event organizers.  In one such example which seems absurd when taken at face value, Britton states that events held on the newly installed brick streetscapes are bad because foot traffic from crowds attending events causes the bricks undue wear and tear.  In my non-professional opinion I would blame the constant vehicle traffic and large delivery trucks rolling over the brick-lined street for any wear and tear far more than the sandals and tennis shoes of happy shoppers and festival attendees spending money downtown.  In fairness, it is hard for the event organizer to be confronted with such a response seemingly made to grasp at any possible straw that paints them in a negative light.  According to Smith’s post, Britton also fielded and made issue of a complaint of a city-installed flower bed being stepped on during the most recent Pints & Paws festival downtown, an event that raised over $115,000.00 for local pet rescues.

Of course, Sanford’s leadership is not solely to blame for the event cancellations. Cost increases, especially for insurance and liability, are something all of us in Central Florida are experiencing.  That said, City Hall itself is divided, with certain officials openly questioning the overall lack of leadership and proactiveness which may have set in motion a dangerous series of dominoes.  Should enough dominoes fall, a critical juncture may be reached where small and locally owned businesses with lower margins are forced to close to be inevitably replaced with larger chains, where storefronts turn vacant and urban blight creeps back in, and where home values fall and citizens are left wanting for city services a strapped city budget cannot afford.  People will look back and wonder how a prosperous and thriving community beloved for its events, energy, and growth and a district that is the envy of Central Florida collapsed.  Here is where our leaders need to exercise foresight.  Here is where the City of Sanford either pivots, embraces growth and change, and embraces the net positives of the entertainment district in Historic Downtown Sanford, or perhaps this revitalized city sees its growth wither and die on the vine.