The Bar’s No. 1 priority continues to be ensuring adequate funding for the courts
By Jan Pudlow
Scanning the crowd at the Bar Convention General Assembly, Gwynne Young locked gazes with her longtime mentor, Wm. Reece Smith, Jr., chair emeritus at Carlton Fields.
“Reece Smith, it is very special to me that I am being sworn in today, 40 years to the day after you were installed as president of The Florida Bar,” Young said to applause, moments after taking the oath of office on June 22.
“There is no better role model to service to our profession than you.”
Earlier, Smith had shared with Young the speech he’d given four decades ago. Back then, the pressing issues facing the Bar were the need for adequate court funding, the need for increased funding for legal services to the poor, and the concern that there were too many lawyers, even though there were only 13,500 lawyers in 1972, compared to more than 93,000 today.
On that long-ago day he was sworn in as Bar president, Smith lauded the passage of the new legislation that created judicial nominating commissions and institutionalized the merit selection of justices and judges, now a hot topic because three justices and 15 appellate judges will be up for merit retention on the November 6 ballot.
“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” said Young, a 62-year-old business litigator and trial lawyer who honed her courtroom skills as Hillsborough County’s first female prosecutor.
Yet, Young could not resist mentioning that while history repeats itself, once again, she is part of making history. She named the Bar’s new leaders: Young Lawyers Division President Paige Greenlee, YLD President-elect Melanie Griffin, and Bar President-elect Gene Pettis, the first African American to lead the Bar.
“I think it’s pretty remarkable! The whole leadership team does not include a white male!” Young said to laughter and applause. “And that may be a first in the history of The Florida Bar.”
She was quick to include everyone — even white males — when she said, “You know, we have plenty of excellent team members.”
Carlton Fields CEO Gary Sasso made it clear he is happy to have Young on his team in Tampa, where she’s practiced for 35 years.
“Gwynne has handled some of our most serious cases for some of our largest clients. When we need someone who is smart and resourceful, we often air-drop Gwynne into the case,” Sasso said, in introducing Young.
“I’ve never seen Gwynne equivocate about doing the right thing. This is what makes her effective as an advocate, as a leader, as a human being.”
Describing Young as a leader “comfortable in her own skin who exudes positive energy,” Sasso continued: “She’s tough as nails when she needs to be, but she’s a sensitive and caring and decent soul who opens her heart, along with her purse, to help those who need a hand or moral support.”
When Young outlined her presidential goals, she stressed the urgency in addressing funding for legal services to the poor.
“Due to the precipitous drop in interest rates, IOTA funding is virtually nonexistent,” she said. “The Florida Bar Foundation income has dropped 88 percent. Federal funding for legal services has been cut significantly. The governor has vetoed Civil Legal Assistance funding for the second straight year. . . .”
The audience broke into applause, when Young said: “We must look for other sources of funding and seek ways to involve the business community in this issue.”
Young also cares about making sure poor people charged with crimes have effective representation, saying, “we must not overlook the impact of budget cuts” on public defenders and regional conflict counsel.
Noting there’s a case pending before the Florida Supreme Court, Young said public defenders are “carrying case loads far in excess of recommended guidelines.” One of the recent findings of the Florida Innocence Commission, she recounted, is that underfunding public defenders and court-appointed conflict counsel with low statutory fee caps “invites ineffective assistance of counsel and wrongful convictions.”
Long before she was a lawyer, Young learned about the constitutional rights of indigent defendants from her stepfather, the late Judge Luckey, Hillsborough County’s public defender for 22 years, who served as president of the Florida Public Defender Association.
“He used to say that in seeking funding, ‘the public defenders were treated as the bastards at the family reunion.’ That is not acceptable,” Young said.
“The Florida Bar should support funding that ensures that the rights guaranteed to our citizens are not eroded to the extent that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution becomes mere words,” Young said.
“My friend Judge Sandy Karlan [former chair of the Bar’s Legal Needs of Children Commission] would not forgive me if I did not also remind us of the need for representation of children in dependency actions.”
The Bar’s “No. 1 priority,” Young said, “will continue to be to work to ensure adequate and necessary funding for the court system, both the judiciary and the clerks of court. We will work with and support the clerks in their efforts to restore funding cut from this year’s budget.”
When it comes to supporting members of The Florida Bar, Young said she will continue to explore additional ways to help lawyers in a down economy.
“In our recent member survey, for the first time, the No. 1 concern of our members is that there are too many lawyers in Florida.”
While a net 2,400 lawyers are added in Florida each year, Young said, there are not that many jobs for lawyers created each year.
“While this is not a problem the Bar can control, we really need to explore ways to deal with the problem and to assist young lawyers who cannot find employment and face opening their own practices,” Young said.
With the Bar’s new diversity logo prominently displayed next to the stage — “Inclusion. . . The Path to Unity” — Young said, “During the coming year, we will continue to actively reach out to women and members of all diverse groups, to encourage them to become involved in the Bar.” And that, she said, includes diversity of practice areas.
“I have witnessed the changing face of the legal profession and The Florida Bar,” Young said, noting there were 34 women out of 334 students in her 1974 law class at the University of Florida, and that was the largest number of women ever. Now, women make up 35 percent of the members of the Bar.
Sparking great applause that had UF College of Law Dean Bob Jerry doing an enthusiast Gator chomp from his seat, Young said: “It is not often that you have the outgoing president, incoming president, and the president-elect from the same law school. I want to thank Dean Bob Jerry for being here today to support me and all of the Florida alums who have been sworn in today. I think it is fair to say it is great to be a Florida Gator.”
In keeping with her reputation as a die-hard Duke fan, Young detailed how she was born in the Duke University hospital when her dad was in med school and was raised in a family with two dogs named Blue Devil (Blue Devil I and Blue Devil II).
So, it was fitting in outlining her philosophy as the Bar’s 64th president that she would draw guidance from Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s men’s basketball coach and author of Leading with the Heart.
“There are five fundamental qualities that make every team great: communication, trust, collective responsibility, caring, and pride. I like to think of each as a separate finger on the fist. Any one individually is important. But all of them together are unbeatable,” Krzyzewski wrote.
Applying those five qualities to the Bar, Young elaborated:
* Communication: She will continue Scott Hawkins’ initiatives of video messages, promises to meet “early and often” with the Bar’s legislative team, legislators, committee and section leadership; and hopes to continue regular meetings with the justices of the Florida Supreme Court under new Chief Justice Ricky Polston. She asked for volunteers to join in the effort to continue to educate the public about “the critical role judges play in our democracy, about the separation of powers, and about the importance of merit retention.”
* Trust: “Trust is based on straightforward and honest communication. That is Coach K’s style. Anyone who knows me knows that is my style. We will deal with issues or problems promptly. We will also build trust with our clients, our constituency, and the public.” Part of building that trust with the public, she said, is improving the lawyer discipline system by implementing recommendations of the Hawkins Commission.
* Collective Responsibility: “This is a key Coach K tenet. You win or lose together. You must take responsibility for your actions as a team. No excuses. No fingerpointing. As a Bar, as a Board of Governors, our successes and failures belong to the team. We don’t point fingers. We rise or fall on our actions.”
* Caring: “You need to care about individuals. You need to care about the team. You need to care about performance. You need to care about excellence and care about being the best that we can be. As lawyers, and members of the Board of Governors, we must care about these things, but we also have to care about our clients, the profession, and the public.”
* Pride: “Coach K says everything we do has our signature on it, so we want to do it as well as we possibly can. That is also true for The Florida Bar. We should all be proud of who we are as lawyers and as an organization of lawyers. I know I am. We should each take pride in what we have accomplished and what we will accomplish in the coming year.”
As Coach K wrote: “A good player knows when he has talent. But a great player realizes he can achieve greatness only if he has other good players around him.”
“At The Florida Bar, we have talented staff, governors, committee and section chairs, and volunteers. We have the talent to be great, to achieve excellence, and to make a difference,” Young said.
“We can make that fist, and we will be unbeatable.”