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March 15, 2014
Pettis appoints panel to boost judicial diversity

Focusing on how Florida can bolster diversity among its judges and the commissions that nominate judicial candidates is the mission of a new task force appointed by Bar President Eugene Pettis.

Eugene Pettis The President’s Task Force to Study the Enhancement of Diversity on the Bench and the Judicial Nominating Commissions will work to determine why diverse candidates are not applying for appointment to the JNCs or for judgeships.

Among 319 county court judges, 32 are African-American and 26 are Hispanic. Out of 594 circuit court judges, only 26 are African-American and 58 are Hispanic. Florida’s five district courts of appeal with 61 judges have only six African-Americans and two Hispanics.

In recent years, the numbers of African-Americans on JNCs declined from almost 25 percent to less than 4 percent, while the number of Hispanics declined slightly to less than 10 percent.

“I am hopeful that this group will additionally focus on some solutions to these concerning trends, so that the Bar and the Governor’s Office may use them to facilitate and accomplish our common goal of making sure our judiciary is reflective of our community,” Pettis said.

The 11-member task force is headed by Frank P. Scruggs II of Ft. Lauderdale. Other members include:

* Cynthia G. Angelos of Port St. Lucie;

* Robert A. Butterworth, Jr., of Ft. Lauderdale;

* Cassandra Larkin Denmark of Bartow;

* Linda Bond Edwards of Tallahassee;

* Judge Hubert L. Grimes of Deland;

* Paul C. Huck, Jr., of Miami;

* Corali Lopez-Castro of Miami

* William R. Scherer of Ft. Lauderdale;

* William J. Schifino of Tampa;

* Robert Vaughan of Ft. Lauderdale. 

Under state law, the governor directly appoints five members to each JNC and selects four members from slates nominated by the Bar, with the appointments staggered over four years.

The governor is also required to ensure that the JNC appointees reflect the makeup of the state: F.S. §43.291(4), In making an appointment, the governor shall seek to ensure that, to the extent possible, the membership of the commission reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity, as well as the geographic distribution, of the population within the territorial jurisdiction of the court for which nominations will be considered. The governor shall also consider the adequacy of representation of each county within the judicial circuit.

This year, the Bar is nominating candidates for two seats on each of the 26 JNCs. Pettis said the Bar extended its original February 11 application deadline to March 21 to allow for additional recruitment of JNC applicants from the Bar membership. The Bar needs at least 156 applicants for the 52 vacancies. Applications are on the Bar’s website at www.floridabar.org.

[Revised: 11-26-2014]