By Mark D. Killian
The Bar's new Legal Needs of Children Commission has taken its first
steps toward improving the quality of life of Florida's children who come in
contact with the justice system.
Eleventh Circuit Judge Sandy Karlan called the 29-member panel to order
October 28 in Tampa and tasked the panel of lawyers, judges and
children's advocates with identifying the unmet legal needs of children and
then developing solutions for meeting those needs.
"We are not going to say we just need more money in this program or we
need more judges on this court," Judge Karlan said. "We are going to
come up with comprehensive solutions and proposals to some of these
issues that haven't been tried before."
The two-year goal of the commission, Karlan said, is to assist the children
that appear in the state's courtrooms, whether they be victims, witnesses,
"I hope this is a commission that will have a long-term effect on the
community and the state," Karlan said.
The commission was created by Bar President Edith Osman to assess
how the needs of children in all the courts division are being met and filled
its ranks with people she said are committed to making things easier for
children who come in contact with the system.
"I know that you are going to bring to it all the energy and all the
knowledge you have," Osman told the group, noting that she is confident
the panel's solutions the will be something that The Florida Bar will be able
to share with the rest of the nation.
"The time is now to work to best serve the children," said Judge Kathleen
Ann Kearney, secretary of the Department of Children and Families.
Kearney said she is thrilled to sit on the commission and that its creation
was long overdue.
"It's not so much what you say to a kid but how you say it," said
commission member Azim Ramelize, a former New York gang leader who
was shot and crippled in street violence when he was 17 years old. "Kids
have become lost and we need to let them know we are care about them."
Now an assistant general counsel with the Department of Juvenile Justice
in Dade County, Ramelize said working to meet the needs of children is
not just a job for him, "but a passion."
Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis also said he is excited about the
group's potential for addressing the unmet legal needs of children and that
the court fully backs the effort.
The group began its work by breaking out into four subcommittees to
begin identifying the legal needs of children. Those subcommittees include
Family/Domestic Violence, Dependency, Civil/Probate/Tort, and
Karlan said after the legal needs are identified, the group will look to see
which of those needs are not being met and then propose corrective
programs or procedures to meet those needs. Karlan expects it to take
about a year to identify the unmet needs and complete an interim report.
The second year, she said, will be spent designing, recommending and
implementing programs to meet those needs.
Karlan said after the initial meeting, the group has learned that many
issues which deal with children in the courts "cross one another and that
there are some universal issues that we can address."
Karlan also invited the Bar's membership to assist the commission by
detailing experiences and providing information about the problems they
have seen while trying to help children involved in the court system.
"We are not limited and that is really what I see as the power of this
group," Karlan said.
Those with information for the commission may write to the Legal Needs of
Children Commission, c/o Karen Kelly, 651 E. Jefferson Street,