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The Florida Bar News
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August 1, 2014
Letters

Fee Increase Proposal
A fee increase to help fund legal aid! What a great concept to bring the legal profession into line with all the other involuntarily philanthropic professions. Tax-like, but effective.

For example, doctors are required to . . . Um. Well, anyway, a lot of them do donate their time, sorta like, uh, well, us.

OK, not a great example. How about architects? No, well, maybe engineers? Hmm, guess that doesn’t work either. Librarians? Nurses? Pharmacists? Social workers? Paramedics? Surveyors? Wow, this isn’t easy.

Teachers. Yeah, teachers. A lot of them donate time and money, either because the government doesn’t adequately fund them, or the school boards don’t properly allocate funding to the classroom. Yeah, that’s, um, voluntary, too, sorta like us. A lot like us.

Maybe our profession should emulate politicians. They are very philanthropic, and love to help people in need. And they always give lots of money to humanitarian causes. Oh, wait. It’s other peoples’ money (tax revenues) they give. According to the news, most politicians tend to be a bit stingy in their voluntary personal giving. I looked, but couldn’t find any involuntary giving requirements for them.

Most lawyers donate time and often money, sometimes “involuntarily” because they feel compassionate for the client who can’t pay. I guess, in the long run, though, that’s really voluntary giving.

But then, in discussing a fee increase for legal aid, we’re not talking about voluntary personal giving — we’re talking about involuntary mandatory giving to a charitable cause selected by those in control, and not by those whose money is being taken. I guess it all sounds great and idealistic, which is easy when you’re dealing with other peoples’ money.

And I must admit, I do like to pick my own charities.

I guess involuntary giving for legal aid may sound good, but it’s not such a good idea after all. Eugene’s got it right.

M. Ross Shulmister
Pompano Beach

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I am amazed that there is a move to increase Bar fees almost 40 percent at a time of record unemployment among law school graduates and declining starting salaries for the jobs that are available to new attorneys.  

This smacks of protectionism for older, wealthy attorneys.

I can’t help but wonder if the increased fees revenue does wind up going to legal aid services, how many new Bar members will be income-eligible for those services?

Rodney MacKinnon
Tallahassee

(Editor’s Note: The Bar Board of Governors in March voted to oppose the proposed petition to the Supreme Court to raise Bar annual membership fees by up to $100 to support legal aid programs. The board was scheduled to vote at its July 25 meeting — after this News went to press — to authorize a $6 million short-term loan to The Florida Bar Foundation. The Bar is also working with the Supreme Court and Foundation to find alternative and more cost-effective ways of delivering legal services to the underserved.)

Drugs
The “War on Drugs” has proven to be ineffective in achieving its purpose, which is to reduce the supply and demand for illegal drugs. On the contrary, this war has contributed to an increase in the levels of corruption and violence in the past decades.

It has been said that legalization could result in a public health disaster because it would dramatically increase the number of addicts. Assuming the number of addicts increases, legalization would result in a large amount of government savings for not having to fight crimes related to illegal drug activities, and it would also result in a large amount of government revenue as a result of the taxes on the new legalized drugs. This significant amount of new resources at the disposition of the government should be enough to help addicts, educate people about the negative consequences of drug abuse, and it would make society more conscious about individual responsibility.

The real war on drugs should be to educate people and develop institutions for the moderation of it, not the eradication of drugs: A more advanced society with moderation in the consciousness of the majority.

Legalizing drugs is worth it because its rewards can greatly outweigh the risks of maintaining the status quo. And really, what are the risks of deviating from the status quo given its proven failure?

Carlos C. Cardenas
Doral

Diversity
Given the extensive coverage that the subject of “diversity” gets in the News and elsewhere, this appears to be a good time to pose an open question to the Bar leaders at all levels, all of whom, as far as my reading tells me, endorse the concept as a positive factor for all organizations, legal (e.g., the judiciary) or otherwise (e.g., business entities of all sizes). Before I get to the question, let me set the context for it by quoting the Merriam-Webster definition from a recent article in the Orange County Bar Association’s The Briefs: The “quality or state of having many different forms, types, ideas, etc.; the inclusion of different types of people (as people of different races and cultures) in a group or organization.”

The question: If diversity is such a plus for groupings or organizations across the board — an idea pushed by attorneys more than by any other profession — how does the profession justify the increasing proliferation of bar associations based on/named for identifiers antithetical to the allegedly core quality being promoted; i.e., inclusiveness? Asian Bar Association? LGBT Bar Association? Hispanic Bar Association? etc.? The word “hypocrisy” comes to mind here.

I will not be holding my breath for any response to the above question. Neither any recent president of The Florida Bar nor any recent president of the largest local bar association (the OCBA) has seen fit to even acknowledge the inquiry.

Ted Baumgardner
Winter Park

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Since I am the chair of The Florida Bar’s Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, you may be surprised to learn that like other letter writers, I sometimes become weary of all the talk about diversity. I wish we could just declare victory and move on. But, as lawyers, we are trained to look at the evidence. And unfortunately, the evidence shows that we still have a long way to go.

Recently, identical papers were circulated to the partners of 22 different law firms as part of what was described as a writing analysis study. All authors were named Thomas Meyer and all were given the same biography. But half were identified as white and half were identified as African-American. The white authors’ papers received an average of 4.1 points out of 5, while the African-American authors averaged only 3.2 points — for the very same paper. No one can seriously argue that’s not a problem.

Other studies show similar results when gender is the only variable. Surveys conducted by the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) show appalling gaps in the employment and professional opportunities available to members of other groups who don’t fit the traditional lawyer stereotype, including lawyers with disabilities.

Performance cannot continue to be measured by arbitrary factors that have nothing to do with ability. The public relies on The Florida Bar and its membership to help identify the best lawyers for the bench, the judicial nominating commissions, and other leadership positions within the profession. If qualified candidates are not applying, or are not selected when they do apply, we’re not doing our job.

So no, we’re not done talking about diversity and inclusion. We’ll stop talking when the evidence shows that the legal profession is open to all on the basis of individual merit. Until then, get used to hearing our voices.

Susan R. Healy
Naples

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I read with interest the comments of Lynn W. Rhodes on the Bar’s diversity initiative, especially where she noted that among the list of those lawyers recommended to the governor by the JNC’s as candidates for the bench were very few women.

I agree with Ms. Rhodes that the Bar is hardly setting an example of diversity by sending up a slate of predominantly men. Why is the issue of race the only focus of diversity and not gender or indeed age discrimination? The Bar does not even allow older lawyers to apply for the bench and mandates that judges leave the bench when they reach age 70.

Instead, our senior lawyers initiative purports to help ease our older lawyers to a graceful senescence. How patronizing. I for one would like to have the perspective of an older, more experienced judge on some of my cases.

Marcia Cohen
St. Petersburg

(Editor’s Note: The Florida Constitution establishes the mandatory retirement age for jurists, not The Florida Bar.)

A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Many years ago, a citizen scolded me for referring to our system of government as a “democracy.” What difference, at this point, does it make? Does it matter whether we know and express in written and spoken words, the difference between a democracy and a republic?

As I was reminded by the scolding citizen:

* Our Constitution, Article IV, guarantees a republican form of government to every state.

* It’s the difference between heaven and hell.

* Democracy is the most vile form of government.

* Democracy is mob rule.

* It’s a republic, if you can keep it.

* Democracies soon murder themselves.

* Real liberty is never found in democracy.

* Democracy is the devil’s own government.

* The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness.

* The tumults of democracy terminate in despotism.

* The difference is like that between order and chaos.

* I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the republic for which it stands.

* The republican is the only form of government that is not eternally at war with the rights of mankind.

“Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.” — Joseph Story (1779-1845) U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

For many years, I’ve withheld expressing my concern, as many Florida Bar members write about, speak about, and even testified under oath about “our democracy.” Several past and present Florida Supreme Court justices continue to refer to our system of government as a “democracy.”

Consider this letter a scolding directed to the guilty. Congratulations to members smarter than me. You never needed a scolding.

Let’s do our homework. Set the bar higher for ourselves and for attorneys in every state. At this point, if we don’t know what difference it makes, how can we hope to save our republic?

Pass the word to attorneys in every state.

Pace Allen, Jr.
Daytona Beach

[Revised: 02-18-2015]