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August 1, 2013
Letters

Death Penalty
I am writing to dispute some of the representations made by Gov. Scott’s office concerning the “Timely Justice Act,” in particular, the assertion that “the bill does nothing to speed up executions. . . or alter the current protections” for prisoners facing execution. 

In fact, the bill will expedite executions in several fairly obvious ways. The new law will put heat on circuit judges to resolve cases in a shorter time than they otherwise might spend considering the life-and-death issues before them. In addition, the bill will involve the clerks of court for the first time in an automatic process of scheduling executions. Both of these statutory changes will make it substantially more difficult for death-sentenced inmates to raise meritorious claims as to their convictions or sentences after the first round of collateral challenges, thus speeding up executions.  

The provision that prohibits lawyers from handling capital post conviction cases if they have been found ineffective twice in a five-year period accomplishes nothing other than to create an appearance of additional protection. There has never been such a case in the entire 40 years since the death penalty was re-enacted. Also, informing The Florida Bar of a finding of ineffective assistance, which finding could be based on one significant error or omission by an otherwise good lawyer, might also speed up executions as it does here in Texas.  Lawyers facing such sanctions are more likely to be self-protective when it comes to admitting error and less likely to “bite the bullet” where warranted.

Finally, the governor’s argument that none of Florida’s capital exonerees had “exhausted their legal remedies” is misleading insofar as those remedies in some cases were achieved after their first round of collateral attack.  Most obvious, passage of the legislation with the overwhelming support of pro-death legislators begs the question: What was their intent? It is hard to believe their goal was to “preserve and affirm the inmate’s existing rights,” as suggested by the governor. 

James Lohman
Austin, Texas 

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I always brace myself when someone quotes a phrase from the Bible as justification for the death penalty.

If anyone is interested to know what the Bible really says about the death penalty, read, The Biblical Truth About America’s Death Penalty, by Dale Recinella, a fellow member of The Florida Bar. [See the October 1, 2005, Bar News.]

Mr. Recinella has done exhaustive research on the topic, and his conclusions may surprise you. Our death penalty is not “biblical” in substance or procedure.

Paul Consbruck
Jacksonville

Who Can Be a Florida Lawyer?
The sad saga of José Manuel Godinez-Samperio, as documented in the July 1 News, prompts me to castigate the entire law education and admissions systems in Florida.

Here is a man who graduated from a Florida high school, was a National Honor Society scholar at New College in Sarasota, graduated from there, was accepted by and enrolled in the Florida State University College of Law, graduated from there with honors, applied for the Florida bar examination, was accepted by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners to take the exam, passed the exam, and now is before the Florida Supreme Court due to some really high-handed charade perpetuated by the Board of Bar Examiners.

Mr. Godinez-Samperio never hid his immigration status and was accepted by Florida State University College of Law. Did those erudite admissions counselors think that he just wanted to go to law school and never practice? Did they care, or did they just want his money? When Mr. Godinez-Samperio applied to take the Florida bar exam, did those erudite counselors who pass on everyone’s application think that he was doing that as a joke? His immigration status was never called into question until he passed the bar examination. Now, and only now, does the board see a dilemma. But there really isn’t one.

There is more than just a tinge of fraud here. The law school accepted him. The board approved his application. He passed the examination. The fraud lies in leading him along the garden path, and now, only now, at the end of the line, they throw up a straw man to block his admission. The board does not come into this case with clean hands.

To make matters worse, the Department of Justice weighs in to say that federal law prevents Florida from granting Mr. Godinez-Samperio a law license even though he passed the bar examination. Did anyone think that 8 U.S.C. §1621 violates the Ninth and/or 10th amendments to the U.S. Constitution due to Congress’ overreaching into an area not enumerated as a legislative power of the Congress and, therefore, reserved to the states?

I also wonder how the Department of Justice thinks it has standing to enter into this case. The DOJ is not an amicus curia? The DOJ wishes to intervene when there is no need to do so. Any federal law can be brought to the attention of the court by any party wishing to do so.

Unfortunately, I don’t see any arguments raising the issues I have raised here.

George Boyer Vashon was admitted posthumously to the Pennsylvania Bar because he was kept out by the racial prejudice that was prevalent about 160 years ago. This “correction” didn’t help George, who was long dead by the time the Pennsylvania Supreme Court righted his wrong. I don’t want to see that happen to Mr. Godinzez-Samperio, who, like George Vashon, did nothing wrong and has an immutable trait that continues to keep him out of The Florida Bar.

The way to hell is paved with good intentions. The answer is to admit Mr. Godinez-Samperio, admit him now, and end this folly. Dragging this matter out to a Supreme Court opinion can only make the organized Bar look worse than it already is.

Paul S. Cherry
Sarasota

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I found thought-provoking the July 1 article regarding whether undocumented aliens in the United States should be admitted to The Florida Bar.

I applaud the achievements of José Manuel Godinez-Samperio. But I would vigorously oppose his admission to The Florida Bar. It is unfortunate that the bar examiners permitted him to sit for the bar examination, but that poor exercise of judgment should not cause us to slide further down the slippery slope of admitting him to The Florida Bar.

Three former ABA presidents filed an amicus brief expressing their concern that having a blanket ban on “their [undocumented aliens] admission to the Bar would be a waste of exceptional talent for our profession.” Are we lacking talent in The Florida Bar or suffering a shortage of lawyers? Kindly list the nations that would authorize an individual to practice law who is not even supposed to be in that country? Other countries would likely place Mr. Godinzez-Samperio on a one-way flight to Mexico.

President Obama’s “deferred action” policy does not make individuals to whom it is granted U.S. citizens nor legal permanent residents. The policy can be changed with a stroke of a pen.

Mr. Godinez-Samperio states: “Honestly, this issue would not have come up if they [Congress] would have passed immigration reform when they should have . . . .” Maybe Congress made a decision not to pass immigration reform for a variety of good reasons. Perhaps, they are signaling Mr. Godinez-Samperio the message that it is time to leave rather than adjust status.

If unhappy with the law, Rep. Kathy Castor, D-FL, needs to change current law through the legislative process or accept the will of the majority not to do so. Does Florida need “officers of the court” that are not even supposed to be physically present in the courtroom? If there is no change in immigration law to legalize Mr. Godinez-Samperio, if admitted to The Florida Bar, would there be any restriction on his someday sitting as the first illegal alien justice on the Florida Supreme Court? A slippery slope indeed.

Ira L. Frank
Springfield, VA

Character, Not Ethnicity
A wise man in August 1963 said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

Apparently that day has not yet arrived in Florida, where The Florida Bar News announced in its subheadline one month shy of 50 years later, “The first African-American Bar president promises ‘One Bar with One Mission.’”

Is it still necessary to identify Eugene Pettis as an African-American? Does the News continue to identify Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as the second woman Supreme Court justice or the first Jewish woman Supreme Court justice or perhaps the lightest Supreme Court justice in history? How long will Mr. Pettis’ name be modified with a racial adjective?

I should like to think that an organization as intellectual and unbiased as The Florida Bar would judge and identify the president thereof by the content of his character, not by his ethnicity.

Mark Levy
Aventura

Reciprocity
Would you like to practice in the desert southwest of Arizona? The Rocky Mountains of Colorado? A cosmopolitan city laced with old Southern charm — Atlanta? You can but you have to take the bar exam if you’re from Florida.

Currently 39 states have reciprocity. In 2000, the ABA issued an opinion suggesting that every state adopt reciprocity without conditions (provided one has three years of practice and background checks.) Some states have unconditional reciprocity; others allow Florida lawyers to be admitted on motion if Florida returns the favor.

In the European Union, any lawyer can waive in to another EU nation after practicing three years sans bar exam. Same in Canada, where attorneys can move between provinces without passing another exam.

This past generation witnessed profound changes in communication and social networking that render state boundaries a relic of the 19th century, as law practice goes. Additionally, most families today have two working spouses. When one gets a job in another state, the lawyer spouse often has to take another exam.

Recently, 13 states have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination. Upon passing the exam, she can gain admittance to the other 13 UBE states. The passage of time sees more states relaxing their rules.

Critics argue if Florida adopts reciprocity, we will be overrun with retirees. This is doubtful. Our culture is replete with examples of “half backs,” arrivals to Florida wishing to live out their retirement here, only to find that the paradise envisioned is a sweltering swamp of humidity and bugs. They pack and move halfway back whence they came. Others argue it’s necessary to protect the public from lawyers unfamiliar with local rules. Nonsense. Arizona requires reciprocity lawyers to take a one-day course which can be completed like all our CLE programs. Furthermore, statistics show that the rate of lawyer discipline or malpractice is no higher between recent bar exam admittees and those out-of-state attorneys admitted on motion.

The wall that Florida erects to those seeking reciprocity have kept us locked behind it. Let’s adopt reciprocity and keep up with modern times.

Stephen Black
Orlando

Zimmerman Trial
As a former police officer, firearms instructor, and prosecutor, I was appalled by the fiasco called the Zimmerman trial.

When I first heard of this case, I was under the impression that George Zimmerman was a “wannabe” cop who gun downed a teen for no reason at all. I expected to hear evidence while watching the trial that Mr. Zimmerman had lights and sirens in his personal car and was attempting to make car stops or other persuasive evidence. Instead, during the trial, I heard almost no evidence supporting the prosecution of Zimmerman.

It is apparent that the decision to prosecute Mr. Zimmerman was a political decision. This practice should have no place under Florida law. From the comments of President Obama all the way down, this was improper. The prosecution should try a case under the facts and seek justice, not a conviction at all costs. People’s lives are involved.

In this case, either the evidence supporting the prosecution was not there or was not presented at trial. It was a tragic shooting resulting in the death of a teenager; however, Mr. Zimmerman should not have been prosecuted if the evidence did not support the prosecution. His life was turned upside down.

As attorneys, I hope in the future the Fourth Circuit State Attorney’s Office and other such agencies will seek justice for all including person(s) engaging in lawful self-defense.

Mitchell A. Cohen
West Palm Beach

[Revised: 07-21-2014]