FLORIDA BAR TASK FORCE DELIVERS REPORT ON INCREASING DIVERSITY ON THE BENCH AND JNC APPOINTMENT PANELS
The Florida Bar Board of Governors today unanimously approved the report and recommendations of the President’s Special Task Force to Study Enhancement of Diversity in the Judiciary and on the JNCs. The report presents 10 recommendations to increase diversity among JNC members and appointed judges.
President Eugene Pettis said the 11-member task force was comprised of people committed to ensure that improvements are made without any consideration of partisanship, and that they all brought valuable perspectives and experience to the effort.
“It is now time for bold leadership to stay focused and advance this issue,” Pettis said.
The first recommendation is to encourage Gov. Rick Scott to fill the 78 vacancies on JNCs next month with diverse appointments. Second is for the Bar to work with the governor to let JNC appointees know that diversity matters. Additionally, the report urges the governor not to reject slates of nominees the Bar recommends from its rigorous review and selection process.
Task force chair Frank Scruggs, who previously chaired a Supreme Court study commission on racial and ethnic bias, presented the report and recommendations to the board at its meeting on May 23 in St. Augustine.
Scruggs said that among the work of the task force was a survey of Florida lawyers regarding the JNC appointment process and JNC operations. Survey respondents included Bar members who currently serve on JNCs, lawyers who have applied to JNCs for consideration for judicial vacancies (“JNC applicants”), and lawyers among the general Bar population.
He highlighted one portion of the survey findings which indicate that three-fourths of respondents from the general sample and nearly two-thirds of respondents who were JNC applicants who had opinions said that too often partisan politics are more important than merit in determining who is selected to serve on JNCs. He added that of those surveyed, 82 percent of African-Americans, 69 percent of Asian-Pacific Islanders and 55 percent of Hispanics said that lawyers from diverse racial or ethnic groups do not have the same chance as other candidates to be chosen for JNC membership.
Concerning JNC operations, the task force concluded that there is a compelling need to institutionalize oversight of JNCs to assure accountability for fulfilling F.S. 43.291(4), which requires that the governor ensure that JNC members reflect the demographics of the state.
That recommendation specifically calls for the Office of the Governor and the Bar to appoint a diversity officer and work together to:
Review the processes used by JNCs in identifying, recruiting and evaluating nominees for appointment to Florida’s judiciary;
Determine whether JNC processes impede recruitment and nomination of applicants diverse in race, ethnicity, gender, color, national origin, sexual orientation, physical disabilities or status as a protected veteran under federal law; and
Redirect processes through reforming JNC outreach, interview and evaluation methods.
Other recommendations address ways to recruit diverse lawyers to apply for JNCs and for judgeships and to provide assistance to diverse judges when they first stand for election subsequent to their appointment.
Pettis said that he will direct implementation of the action items from the report during his final 33 days as Bar president and then pass the baton to President-elect Greg Coleman to continue to lead the Bar’s efforts.
“It is significant that 50 years ago in St. Augustine, events related to injustices on the streets and in the court were pivotal in the breakthrough for enactment of the Civil Rights Act,” said Pettis. “We should celebrate where we are today and continue to move forward with these recommendations to improve Florida’s judicial system.”