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September 15, 2013
Benchmarks seminars slated for the Bar’s September meeting in Tampa

Two seminars to teach attorneys how to talk to civic groups about concepts such as the rule of law, judicial review, and election of judges will be held at The Florida Bar Fall Meeting in Tampa.

Annette Pitts, executive director of The Florida Law Related Education Association, will lead the seminars, which are interactive. The sessions will be held September 27, from 1 to 2 p.m. and 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Tampa Airport Marriott. Registration is free. Register by emailing or calling Susannah Lyle at slyle@flabar.org or (850) 561-5669. Each session is approved for one hour of general CLE credit.

Eugene Pettis The Florida Bar’s “Benchmarks: Raising the Bar on Civics Education” program offers attorneys presentations to use when they speak to adult civic and community groups. Attorneys can sign up to give presentations through The Florida Bar Speakers Bureau and groups can make requests for speakers through the same online resource.

Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis chaired the Bar committee that developed the Benchmarks program and is championing it now. He is asking voluntary bar associations to incorporate a Benchmarks initiative into their agendas.

“Let’s have one program we do that we have in common,” said Pettis, “And this year, let it be Benchmarks. If we can come together on that, I think it will go a long way on what should be continuous education of the principles we talked so readily about in The Vote’s in YOUR COURT campaign.”

Pettis was referring to the Bar’s education efforts in 2012 when three Florida Supreme Court justices faced merit retention votes and were targeted by special interest groups.

“I don’t think it should be a conversation that takes place only during crisis times,” he added.

Each Benchmarks presentation has an overview and supporting materials developed by Pitts working with the Constitutional Judiciary Committee. Benchmarks presentations cover:

* “How to Judge Judicial Candidates,” which focuses on trial court judges, explaining how judges are different from other elected officials. Audience members are asked to consider the indicators that they use when choosing judges. The presentation offers information on how to evaluate judges and ways of finding additional information.

* “Judge for Yourself” focuses on merit selection and retention of judges for Florida’s appellate courts and Supreme Court. It reviews the extensive screening process used in Florida in selecting appellate judges.

* “Amending Florida’s Constitution” examines the limited role of the courts in reviewing proposed constitutional amendments – whether the ballot initiatives come from citizens or lawmakers. Participants review proposed ballot initiatives and decide whether they should go before voters.

* “Could You Pass the Test?” tests participants’ knowledge of the U.S. and Florida constitutions. Some of the questions are taken from the U.S. citizenship test.

* “Is It Unconstitutional? The Case of the Scarlet Tag” asks audience members to consider a fictitious state statute that would require those convicted of DUIs to have scarlet-colored license plates. Participants examine the statute in terms of the Bill of Rights and constitutionality, and in the process learn about judicial review.

* “What the Law Means” explains what the U.S. Constitution says about the courts. Audience members consider specific phrases, such as “cruel and unusual punishment,” which are open to interpretation, and others that are not, such as the minimum age for a person to be a presidential candidate.

* “Beyond Labels: Exploring the Meaning of Judicial Independence” looks at the way labels are used to explain judicial decisions — and asks participants to write down “good” labels and “bad” ones. Participants discuss the meaning and importance of judicial independence.

Benchmarks overviews and supporting materials can be downloaded from The Florida Bar website at www.floridabar.org/judicialindependence. CLE credits are available for making presentations. Attorneys who make Benchmarks presentations can receive one hour of ethics credit for up to three hours in a three-year reporting cycle.

[Revised: 09-02-2014]