In reading certain letters in the News over the last few months and considering this year’s Annual Florida Bar Convention’s theme of “Inclusion: The Path to Unity,” I cannot help but be amazed and appalled that legal discrimination is taking place in law offices throughout Florida in the year 2013.
I am referring to the numerous divorce and family law firms in this state that promote themselves as “men only” firms that outright publicly advertise that they refuse to accept women as clients. How is it possible that in 2013 that a business, open to the public, can refuse services to a class of people simply because of gender — that someone’s mother, sister, or daughter could be refused legal help because she is female?
Thinking to myself that surely this must be some sort of violation of federal or state statute, I did a bit of research and did not come up with much. Apparently, in Florida you can open a law office and decide to refuse to provide legal services to any class of people that you choose. You could have a whites-only law firm, a Christians-only law firm, a heterosexuals-only law firm; the possibilities to discriminate in any way you wish here in Florida are endless.
OK, since lawyers can legally discriminate against women, should they? Can a lawyer refuse to provide services to an entire class of people and be in compliance with the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct? Lawyers throughout the state are doing just that and no one seems to mind. Not only do these “men only” law firms advertise on TV, on billboards, online, and everyplace else that they will not accept a client if she is female, but many firms go further and proclaim to focus on “men’s rights.”
Perhaps there are family law statutes that I have not found yet, but when I read Chapter 61’s dissolution of marriage statutes, they appear to be gender neutral with regard to property, children, spousal support, and so on. Men have the same rights as women. Not only are women refused as clients by certain law firms, but they are led to believe that there are laws specific to men’s rights that these “men’s rights” law firms are particularly skilled in, and no such distinction exists. A woman cannot even schedule a consultation to ask what an attorney means when they say they focus on “men’s rights,” because, by being female, she is refused as a client.
Being female, I would certainly like the phrase explained to me so that I am not just presuming that the phrase “men’s rights” and the discrimination against me is simply an amazing marketing technique that preys on the stereotype that men will lose everything in a divorce, when that stereotype is completely contrary to statute and how family law judges decide cases. Surely a phrase that makes people think that the courts treat men and women differently in family law cases, coupled with discrimination against women, cannot be just an effortless way to make a ton of money from men who do not know the law.
I was not able to attend the Bar Annual Convention, but the convention materials claim that there was to be a focus on equal access and equal opportunity for all within the legal profession. When lawyers can open law firms and refuse to provide legal services to the public based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and so on, clearly the profession in this state has a very, very long way to go to achieve inclusion.
Kellie A. Cameron Baker
I find it funny that if you go the Florida Courts E-Filing Authority website (www.myflcourtaccess.com), the only way to “contact” the authority is by sending a letter to its P.O. box in Tallahassee.
The E-Filing Authority needs to advertise its email address!
Jeffrey M. Hearne
(Editor’s Note: On the Florida Courts eFiling Portal page, there is a “Request E-Filing Support” link, which provides the email address email@example.com.)
In addition to Florida’s Samperio case, I have recently read a number of similar cases from other states. Apparently, in all of them, the United States has appeared to argue that bar admission of illegal aliens is prohibited by federal law.
Under the Younger v. Harris line of abstention cases, it has been settled law for some time that, even if a lawyer-regulating agency is mercilessly violating the constitutional rights of a lawyer, federal courts will not intervene because the sovereign interest of the states in bar matters is sacrosanct.
States rights, comity, and federalism, don’t you know. Foolish consistency is certainly one of my hobgoblins.
Robbinsville, North Carolina
Citizenship Is the Issue
Every member of The Florida Bar must take the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar.
One section requires members to swear: “I will support the Constitution of the United Sates and the Constitution of the State of Florida.”
How can a noncitizen take such an oath when he already swears allegiance to another country? At the very least, he has not been invited yet to swear allegiance to ours since he has not followed the law to do so.
We need to stop making exceptions and administratively bypassing our own laws to suit personal agendas. Are we a nation of laws? More importantly, as lawyers, are we suppose to be the stewards of the law?
John P. Joseph
Two Bar Solution?
The 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C., has come and gone in these pages, with little more than a letter exchange between two New Yorkers about whether The Florida Bar should take pride in the racial and ethnic identification of its president as an African-American.
Attorneys of color do not seem to be weighing in on that issue, or any other with The Florida Bar. What should be clear by now is that the Bar has not and will never be an integrated Bar in the traditional sense of that word.
The time may be at hand to start over. Perhaps there could be a two-Bar solution — two separate but equal organizations. Each would be an arm of the Florida Supreme Court. Each would get half of the fees, instead of the current arrangement. Under a new system, an attorney could choose to be monitored by The Florida Bar or the Alternative Bar.
The Bar previously has been willing to recognize organizations for minority lawyers, to some extent. The Bar gave a whoop and a holler for Evett Simmons, one of its members, when she was elected president of the National Bar Association. Of course, neither Ms. Simmons nor any other African-American woman has headed The Florida Bar, and none is in sight to do so. And the Bar did show equal enthusiasm when Daryl Parks, a black male, headed the NBA a few years ago. But that is all the more reason to set up a separate but equal bar.
On September 1, the News ran a photo of The Young Lawyers Division’s Board of Governors. I counted more than 40 faces. Several were African-American women. I did not see a single African-American male. Beneath that photo was a separate one of 11 male and female members of the Florida Muslim Bar Association.
Elsewhere in the edition, among the 32 faces peering out from the News and Notes section were two African-American women — one of them had been selected as president, the other president-elect of the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., Bar Association. That’s the kind of organization which would benefit from a different dues arrangement.
In News and Notes, there also were two black men — one is the ubiquitous Joseph Hatchett, the first black Florida Supreme Court justice. He was being honored by being given the annual NAACP’s William Robert Ming Advocacy Award. Another black male appeared because he served on a panel about “Voter’s Rights Act—Where Do We Go from Here?”
Where this organization should go is back to the drawing board to take into account that the Bar continues to be separate and always unequal in favor of whites compared to others.
Perhaps this time around, both The Florida Bar and the Alternative Bar can acknowledge that Brown v. Board of Education and its progeny are the law of the land, including in Florida. That U.S. Supreme Court decision was made a few years after The Florida Bar started the clock going on its history. Surely some Bar members were present and voting when the Florida House and Senate approved an Interposition Resolution in 1957:
“Legislature of Florida denies that the Supreme Court of the United States had the right which it asserted in the school cases decided by it on May 17, 1954, the labor union case decided on May 21, 1956, the cases relating to criminal proceedings decided on April 23, 1956, and January 16, 1956, the anti-sedition case decided on April 2, 1956, and the case relating to teacher requirements decided on April 9, 1956, to enlarge the language and meaning of the compact by the states in an effort to withdraw from the states powers reserved to them and as daily exercised by them for almost a century.”
Not only did the 1957 state Legislature disavow the U.S. Supreme Court, a majority of The Florida Bar’s own Supreme Court likewise condemned the opinions of the high court, and refused to follow Brown in . Today African-Americans are required to pay hundreds of dollars of dues each year, in part so that the Bar can investigate and discipline members regardless of race. The fact that a disproportionate number of those disciplined might be blacks does not seem to have crossed anyone’s mind.
Perhaps some feared such tracking would reveal that a disproportionate number of African-Americans are subjected to discipline more often, and receive harsher sentences. Among the prominent black males I have known personally or by reputation, that would seem to be the case.
What would be the outcome if they were disciplined by their peers, rather than the historically white disciplinarians?
How would the Alternative Bar be structured? Local African-American, minority, and women chapters could merge into one statewide creation — at least for purposes of dues gathering. Then fees could be paid equally between The Florida Bar and, say, the Thurgood Marshall Bar for the state of Florida. The latter could maintain disciplinary function over attorneys who contributed to the Alternative Bar. This, of course, is only one suggestion. Other arrangements should be proposed and considered. Whatever will emerge has to be better and fairer than what exists now.
I became a lawyer because I wanted to stand up before a jury in a righteous cause. Well, there have been damn few of them, mostly becaue I am too much of a coward to find any.
This is why I found David F. Petrano`s “Bradley Manning” letter of last month so troubling. What kind of lawyer defends a deluded, despised, disgraced peacemaker? All Manning did was expose our drone program and other of our ill-fated attempts at nation- building and swashbuckling.The court martial board didn’t find his leaks were disastrous, just unlawful.
Manning most likely merits his 25 years; however, how about the guy a notch above Manning who will stand with him? Not “We the People,” “the trial professionals,” or even cowards like me. It will be guys like David F. Petrano who on judgement day will be standing there with John Peter Zenger, Eugene Debs, and Sir Thomas More.
Charles B. Tiffany