by Gwynne A. Young
It seems like just yesterday that I was making my installation speech in Orlando. Everyone told me this year would fly by, and they were right.
It has been my privilege to work with a fantastic team. Jack Harkness, the Bar staff, the Board of Governors, and the Bar’s many able volunteers have helped the Bar have a very good year.
During my predecessor Scott Hawkins’ year, we planned a nonpartisan merit retention program to educate Florida voters on the history of merit selection and retention and its role in promoting a fair and impartial judiciary.
Through our statewide speakers’ bureau, we made over 123 presentations. I personally spoke to dozens of Bar and civic groups. Between July and October, I met with 15 editorial boards. Bar leaders, including me, were interviewed by newspapers, business magazines, and radio and television stations statewide.
We conducted a merit retention poll, which had excellent participation and was widely reported in the media. We distributed 350,000 voter guides (in English, Spanish, and Haitian/Creole). Our information was included in more than a million voter guides delivered by the League of Women Voters. The “The Vote’s in YOUR COURT” website — providing access to our video, voter guide, judicial biographies, and other educational information — received over 100,000 hits. Through engaging content and strategic Facebook and Google advertising, the program’s website generated more than 10,300 fans and prompted more that 39.6 million impressions.
Eighty-five percent of the voters who cast ballots in the 2012 presidential race also voted in the merit retention election, as compared to 75 percent in the 2008 presidential race. I firmly believe the Bar’s education program played a big role in these results. Thanks to Francine Walker, Moore Communications, and the able steering committee
The Bar will continue its efforts to educate the public on the role of judges and the courts in our democracy through support of the Benchmarks adult civics and education program and the Justice Teaching youth education program.
It was a good year for the judicial branch in the legislature, as the majority of the courts’ requests for additional dollars were approved. The courts received a total increase of 4.2 percent over their current budget. Most importantly, court employees will receive raises for the first time since 2006. The courts also received significant funding for mortgage foreclosure assistance. Additionally, the courts received $1.8 million extra to cover criminal conflict counsel payments exceeding the statutory caps. Thanks to Steve Metz, our legislative team, and to Sen. Joe Negron, Sen. Rob Bradley, and Rep. Charles McBurney for their leadership on court funding issues.
The legislature agreed to provide $1 million in funding for the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act (FACLA) and to provide $10 million from the national mortgage settlement for legal aid to low-income families facing foreclosure. The next effort will be to convince the governor to approve these items.
Thanks to Metz, our legislative team, and to many others who made this possible, including Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Sen. Rob Bradley, Sen. Andy Gardner, and Rep. Ed Hooper.
Following a comprehensive review of the Bar’s diversity programs, the Board of Governors approved the merger of the Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion with the Equal Opportunity Law Section to create the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which will focus on the missions of both predecessor entities.
The Board of Governors approved the establishment of a Leadership Academy, the brainchild of President-elect Gene Pettis, which will help train new leaders for The Florida Bar. Response to this program has been very positive.
The Bar continues to provide online assistance to its members, including 17 free CLEs, a link to a complete list of e-filing resources, and a link to the e-filing portal. We will have a three-session e-seminar series at The Florida Bar Annual Convention in Boca Raton in June. We have hired a technology consultant to review the Bar’s use of new technologies and to provide recommendations for members’ technology use and training needs.
We have two mobile device apps for access to The Florida Bar News and a quick member search. We will have a dynamic app for Annual Convention, which will include the schedule of all events and much other valuable information.
While we hone our core expertise, we do need to prepare for the changes in how legal services are delivered. At The Florida Bar, the conversation on how to help lawyers during times of great change is ongoing.
We are looking forward to reviewing the ABA’s report on the future of the practice of law, which is expected to be released in August.
As I come to the end of my term as president, President-elect Pettis, President-elect Designate Greg Coleman, and I are in agreement that we should establish a commission to review and make recommendations as to how The Florida Bar should move forward to address these issues.
At my installation, I recognized my law partner and mentor Reece Smith who had been sworn in as Florida Bar president 40 years to the day before I took office. He was a remarkable man, the only person to have served as president of his local bar, The Florida Bar, the American Bar, and the International Bar. He was a tremendous role model for all of us and a major influence on me and my decision to run for Florida Bar president. He died on January 13 and will be greatly missed.
Thanks again to each of you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your president. It has been the most rewarding experience in my professional life. Thanks to my law firm, Carlton Fields, for its incredible support. Without that support, I could not have taken on this job. I know that with President-elect Gene Pettis and President-elect Designate Greg Coleman, I leave The Florida Bar in good hands. It was a very good year indeed.