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June 1, 2013
Seminar will teach lawyers how to teach civics education

Last fall’s elections put the spotlight on Florida’s merit selection/retention system of choosing and retaining judges for the state’s appellate courts and Supreme Court.

The races, particularly for the three Supreme Court justices on the ballot, drew a lot of media attention because organized groups were targeting the justices for ouster.

Education campaigns in support of Florida’s time-tested system proved effective and all judges on the ballot were retained.

But the election showed the ongoing need for programs such as The Florida Bar’s Benchmarks program, which has attorneys going into their communities to teach about the role of the judiciary, the rule of law, and other issues about the structure and function of government. Begun four years ago by the Constitutional Judiciary Committee, Benchmarks is premised on the belief that the more citizens know about the courts and how they protect fundamental rights in a democratic society, the more they will support them.

At the Annual Convention in Boca Raton, the Constitutional Judiciary Committee is sponsoring a seminar to teach attorneys how to present the Benchmarks activities. “Benchmarks: Attorneys Teaching Civic Education” is being held from 2 to 4 p.m. June 28. Of note, Benchmarks presenters can earn one ethics credit hour for each presentation for up to three presentations in a three-year reporting period.

Benchmarks activities were developed by the committee working with Annette Boyd Pitts, executive director of the Florida Law Related Education Association, Inc., and a veteran law-related education program and curriculum developer.

The activities cover a range of topics:

* Judging candidates for judicial office.

* Understanding what makes a law “constitutional.”

* Amending the Florida Constitution and the role of the courts.

* Getting beyond labels in discussing courts and controversial cases.

* Interpreting what laws mean.

* Testing your knowledge of what’s in the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

Attorneys can present the activities to homeowner associations, condominium associations, community, and civic groups. Materials are nonpartisan. Each activity comes with an overview and handouts, and is guided by a PowerPoint. Materials are available to download from The Florida Bar website by visiting www.floridabar.org/judicialindependence.

[Revised: 09-01-2014]