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November 1, 2012
Retention education campaign enters the homestretch

By the time Florida voters head to the polls November 6 to decide the future of 15 appellate judges and three Supreme Court justices standing for retention this year, the Bar will have distributed more than 350,000 voter guides as part of its The Vote’s in Your Court voter education campaign on Florida’s merit retention system.

Justice Lewis Bar President Gwynne Young reported to the Board of Governors last month on the progress of the education effort that has also generated a stream of favorable newspaper editorials supporting the integrity of the merit retention process and seen lawyers fan out across the state to speak to local groups about the merit retention process.

In the Bar’s biennial merit retention judicial poll released in September, Florida lawyers overwhelmingly recommended the retention of Supreme Court Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince, and the 15 district courts of appeal judges on the ballot. Poll results found the three justices gaining an average approval rating of 90 percent. The 15 appellate judges on the ballot also received very positive marks, with approval ranging from 76 to 94 percent.

For the Supreme Court, poll results indicate support for retention of:

* R. Fred Lewis by 92 percent.

* Barbara J. Pariente by 89 percent.

* Peggy A. Quince by 90 percent.

Those three justices are also facing unprecedented opposition from the Republican Party of Florida’s Executive Committee, which unanimously voted to oppose their retention after what Chair Lenny Curry described as “a grassroots groundswell” of party members who are “fed up with these justices.”

Supporters of the justices were quick to denounce the GOP action and decry the introduction of partisan politics in the merit retention process.

Justice Pariente Young stressed that The Florida Bar is a nonpartisan, mandatory-membership organization that does not endorse or support the retention of any justice or judge, but wants to educate the public about merit retention and the role of judges and justices.

Young has visited 14 newspaper editorial boards, and Sandra Diamond, who heads the steering committee overseeing the Bar’s campaign, said, “Almost all of those newspapers have written very strong editorials supporting the merit retention process.”

The Bar has also set up a vigorous speakers bureau which has provided lawyers to speak at 65 events by early October, with another 80 to 100 appearances scheduled as this News went to press.

The Bar, Diamond said, has also launched social media campaigns with a Twitter account and a page on Facebook. The Bar is providing public service announcements on public radio stations.

“You should begin hearing public service- type announcements for The Vote’s in Your Court,” Diamond said.

“I’ve been living merit retention since July,” Young told the board. “I’ve been to 14 editorial boards. I’ve spoken at innumerable public meetings. I’ve had television interviews, radio interviews, and there is a lot of activity on this topic.”

Justice Quince The Bar printed 250,000 voter guides and the Trial Lawyers Section chipped in to have another 100,000 printed. Virtually all have been distributed.

“Those voter guides have been scarfed up like crazy,” Young said, adding they’ve been distributed through local bars, by supervisors of elections, and by chambers of commerce.

“That has been a very effective tool, and the League of Women Voters has incorporated it in their voters guide, which has gone out to about a million people.”

Noting the steering committee meets biweekly, Young said: “When we say we have been living merit retention, we have.”

During her report on YLD activities, YLD President Paige Greenlee said the Law Student Division became active in the campaign, and the YLD hopes to hold programs on all of the law school campuses before the election.

The YLD also is including information about the merit retention system in its Practicing with Professionalism seminars scheduled before the November 6 vote.

[Revised: 10-20-2014]