By Gary Blankenship
The Board of Governors has endorsed a comprehensive review of the state’s death penalty, as well as retaining Supreme Court authority over court procedural rules, protecting attorney-client privilege, and obtaining more judges.
The board, at its February 1 meeting in Tallahassee, approved adding 11 positions to the Bar’s legislative agenda for the 2012-14 biennium. Most were picked up from the Bar’s previous two-year legislative slate.
Positions include calling for state agencies to pay the Bar membership fees and CLE costs for their lawyers who are required to have a law license as part of their job and helping pay the law school loans for government and legal aid attorneys after they have been on the job for three years.
Legislation Committee Chair-elect Jay Cohen said he got a reminder of the importance of the Bar’s legislative presence the previous evening at the annual dinner of the Supreme Court Historical Society, which honored former Gov. Reubin Askew.
“It inspired me to advocate and continue to advocate for our profession and the citizens of Florida,” Cohen said. “We should continue to engage and not sit on the sidelines and shirk our responsibilities. That’s one of the messages I got from Gov. Askew last night as he thanked The Florida Bar for the years that it contributed to the independence of the judiciary and the wonderful benefits the citizens of Florida obtained.”
On most of the items he presented, Cohen said, “They’re dealing with traditional and long-standing Bar sentiments.”
The death penalty process review, though, is a new position. Cohen said Mark Schlakman of Florida State University Center for the Advancement of Human Rights and former Supreme Court Justice Raul Cantero brought it to the Bar.
“The proposition was not to debate and not to engage The Florida Bar in the pros and cons of the death penalty,” he said. “This is urging the state of Florida to review the procedures involved in the death penalty.”
The board acted as the House of Representatives was getting ready to consider two separate death penalty issues. One was an exploration by the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice for ways to shorten collateral death penalty appeals. On another front, the panel was set to look at a bill to abolish the death penalty because of its costs. (See story, page 1.)
Cohen added, “With some very hard work and with some very detailed consideration, we could be most effective with respect to this issue, [especially] in light of some legislative concerns that may be coming up in this particular session, including our never-ending battle to ensure a fair and independent judiciary and a fair and independent rulemaking authority for our courts.”
He noted the Criminal Law and Public Interest Law sections were pursuing the same goal, and suggested adopting the Criminal Law Section’s language to support “a comprehensive review of Florida’s entire death penalty process by all branches of government.”
The board unanimously approved the position.
Other positions adopted by the board are:
* Opposing any amendments to the Florida Constitution that would restrict the Supreme Court’s authority to adopt procedural rules for the court system. That position opposes amendments to change the way rules for the Judicial Qualifications Commission and judicial nominating commissions, as well as procedural rules, can be repealed by the Legislature.
* Adequately promoting and protecting the legal rights of children, including through the guardian ad litem system, public defenders, and public and private attorneys for children. The position includes that all children in dependency cases should have the right to an attorney and any funds used to support such right should not come at the expense of the GAL system.
* Supporting the court’s recent certification of the need for 65 new county and circuit judges and one new DCA judge.
* Supporting the inclusion in the Legislative Appropriations Act language “to permit the payment of government attorneys’ Florida Bar membership fees and continuing legal education costs from funds within [those] budget entities.”
* Supporting legislation to provide student loan assistance for government and legal aid attorneys who have served for more than three years.
* Supporting adequate funding for the poor with civil legal needs through the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act.
* Protecting the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine to promote effective advocacy, access to justice, and the proper functioning of the legal system.
* Supporting amendments to F.S. §119.071 and F.S. §286.011 to, respectively, revise the exemption of the attorney work product and the criteria for attorney-client privilege for lawyers working for public agencies.
* Supporting adequate funding of and opposing any funding cuts by the federal government to the Legal Services Corporation.
* Supporting a pay raise for federal judges.
Cohen noted the last two positions were adopted in support of advocacy by the American Bar Association. The Bar, he said, will not actively pursue those issues but the action allows the ABA to use The Florida Bar’s name when it lobbies those positions in Congress.
Aside from the Bar positions, the board approved the renewal of a legislative position sought by the Legal Needs of Children Committee for it to lobby for legislative action on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that juveniles may not be sentenced to life imprisonment for nonhomicide offenses without a meaningful chance at parole. The committee seeks to advocate that the Legislature should set up a review procedure for juveniles tried as adults and sentenced to more than 10 years in prison.
The Florida Bar’s new legislative positions are in an official notice here and all Bar, section, and committee positions are listed on the Bar’s website.