By Jan Pudlow
When Gwynne Young recounts her year as Florida Bar president, the most intense experience was facing the politically charged merit retention race for a trio of Supreme Court justices and 15 appellate judges.
The Bar responded with “The Vote’s in YOUR COURT” public education program that involved 123 presentations through the statewide speakers’ bureau, Young’s visits to 15 newspaper editorial boards between July and October, the distribution of 350,000 multi-language voter guides, a special webpage that received more than 100,000 hits and through strategic Facebook and Google advertising generated more than 10,300 fans prompting more than 39.6 million impressions.
The education program worked, as 85 percent of the voters who cast ballots in the 2012 presidential race also voted in the merit retention election, compared to 75 percent in the 2008 presidential race.
“I firmly believe the Bar’s education program played a big role in these results,” Young said in her State of The Florida Bar Address at the Annual Convention June 28.
“During the months leading up to the election on November 6, those of us who were living this challenge realized that we were involved in events of national import. I am not sure that I have ever experienced, nor will I again experience, anything quite this intense.”
She proudly announced that at the National Association of Bar Executives meeting in San Francisco in August, The Florida Bar will receive the Lexis Nexis Community and Educational Outreach Award for The Vote’s in YOUR COURT program.
Leading up to the election, Young said, the Bar also took a position against Amendment 5, “which among other things sought to alter the court’s rulemaking authority. We also took a position that no political party should take a position in a nonpartisan race, particularly a judicial race,” after the Republican Party of Florida’s executive committee unanimously voted to oppose the retention of Justices Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince.
“The Board of Governors recognized that consistent with what we were educating the public about, we as a Bar had to continue our efforts to keep politics out of the process.”
While the merit retention challenge was met and the legislative session was “relatively calm,” Young warned Bar members not to be complacent.
“In 2016, we will have a new Constitution Revision Commission, where many of the issues we have faced will likely come back for discussion. We will need to be prepared to meet that challenge.”
In declaring that “the state of the Bar remains good” with 96,512 members, Young listed these accomplishments during her year as president:
* The Bar is in good financial health. Bar fees will remain steady at $265. “We have now gone 12 years without a dues increase and should be able to hold the line for a few more years.”
* The Program Evaluation Committee conducted a comprehensive study that led to the Board of Governors approving a merger of the Special Committee on Diversity and Inclusion and the Equal Opportunities Law Section to create the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion. “I firmly believe that this combined entity will help make our diversity and inclusion efforts even stronger.”
* Most of the courts’ requests for additional dollars were approved by the Legislature. The courts received a total increase of 4.2 percent over their current budget. “Most importantly, court employees will receive raises for the first time since 2006,” Young said. “The courts also received significant funding for mortgage foreclosure assistance. Additionally, the courts received $1.8 million extra to cover criminal conflict counsel payments exceeding the statutory caps. This amount is insufficient to cover the entire unfunded mandate, but it is a start.”
* The Bar continues to actively regulate the profession and implemented recommendations of the Hawkins Commission on lawyer discipline. “As of May 31, we have disbarred 54 lawyers and meted out 111 suspensions, 32 public reprimands, 21 admonishments, and 30 probations,” Young reported. “We have continued to aggressively deal with lawyers involved in mortgage fraud. Twenty of the disbarments were of lawyers involved in mortgage fraud.”
* Young, new President Eugene Pettis, and President-elect Greg Coleman agreed to establish a Commission 2016, a three-year study to prepare for changes in how legal services are delivered during times of great change.
“Thanks again to each of you for giving me the opportunity to serve as your president,” Young said.
“It has been the most rewarding experience in my professional life.”
Turning to look at Pettis seated at the head table, Young said: “This is a historic day for Gene and for the Bar. The fact that we continue to have a diverse leadership team is critical to the future of our Bar. Gene has set an ambitious agenda for his term, and he has the determination to carry it forward. Gene, I wish you much success.”