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The Florida Bar Journal
September/October, 2017 Volume 91, No. 8
John F. Harkness, Jr.: The Heart of The Florida Bar

by Jan Pudlow

Page 8

Thirty-five-year-old John F. Harkness, Jr., had never set foot in The Florida Bar headquarters — that grand Colonial Williamsburg-style brick and columned fortress on the hill — until he hand-delivered his application for executive director in 1980.

From his office in the subbasement of the Florida Supreme Court, where he served as state courts administrator, Harkness made a second climb up the Bar’s front steps and through the portico for his interview, never imagining he would not only get the job at the place he knew very little about, but serve more than half his life at the helm.

Now, there’s a brick sign facing southwest at 651 East Jefferson Street in Tallahassee bearing his name: The Florida Bar John F. Harkness, Jr. Complex. It’s a fitting and lasting tribute to the 72-year-old leader who witnessed the Bar grow from 27,713 members, supported by a staff of 122 and a budget of $7.1 million, to today’s approximately 105,000 members, a staff of 356, and a budget of $43.2 million.

In a personal message delivered to the staff in January announcing his retirement, Harkness wrote: “The reputation and successes that The Florida Bar has earned over all these years are directly related to our staff. I know it, the Board of Governors knows it, and I wanted you to know it. When I started here in 1980, we had a small staff with limited programs and resources. Today, we are thought of as one of the preeminent bars in the country — and we could not have done it without dedicated staff such as you.”

Most of the staff of The Florida Bar address him with the formal Mr. Harkness, regarding him as somewhat enigmatic, sometimes austere, sometimes cordial, but always the respected authority figure in the front corner office who kept the giant Bar machine running smoothly for decades.

Friends, close associates, and former Bar presidents call him Jack, describing him as a well-connected, sage advisor, with a dry sense of humor and a finger on the pulse of politics and legal trends. He is likened to a chameleon blending into the background, while letting Bar presidents shine in the spotlight. But make no mistake, they agree: The seemingly shy, humble Harkness adeptly guided presidents in making tough calls.

“Jack has a very unique ability to know what the right thing to do is and yet not tell you what to do,” said Greg Coleman, the 2014 Bar president, who’s known Harkness since Coleman served in the Young Lawyers Division and considers him a friend.

“When you are Bar president, it’s kind of a lonely job. People don’t realize the amount of daily work. Jack knows. I’d say, ‘We have this issue. What should we do?’ He wouldn’t say, ‘Do X, Y, Z.’ He would start asking you a series of methodically placed questions that he already knew the answers to. By asking you these questions, you would know the answer without him telling you. This is his trade secret.”

Coleman says this is true of every Florida Bar president: They could not have made it through their year as successfully without Harkness.

Shortly before Miles McGrane was sworn in as Bar president in 2003, he was having a conversation with former (1990) Bar President James Fox Miller, who asked him what he was thinking.

“I responded that I was a little nervous and that my fear was I would make mistakes as president. Jack overheard this and said, ‘Don’t worry. I won’t let you.’ I think he kept his word,” McGrane said.

Dubbing Harkness “Captain Jack,” Immediate Past President Bill Schifino said Harkness is a good listener who taught him to be a better listener.

“He may carry a small stick, but when Jack speaks, people listen,” Schifino said. “I think some people misconstrue his humbleness and quietness. But Jack is truly a leader. There’s an old expression: Just do the right thing, and if you have that as a mantra, then most decisions are relatively easy. He lives by that. That’s his code.”

Mayanne Downs, Bar president in 2010, played a “What If I Told You?” game with the audience, while paying a tribute to Harkness, at the Bar Convention’s Judicial Luncheon.

“What if I told you a very shy and introverted person, a person with no ego, could grow and prosper and become beloved by an exceptional group of successful and ego-driven extroverts — trial lawyers?” Downs asked.

“What if I told you there is no one, not a single person, who is more beloved and respected by the singularly picky and high-minded past presidents of The Florida Bar, a group whose motto is ‘Enough about me; what do you think about me?’

“The answer to these questions, of course, is Jack Harkness.”

‘I’m There to Help’
One of his slogans for his job, Harkness said, is “Master of none, servant of all.”

“My job was to make everybody happy all of the time. Sometimes, we never got to that 100 percent, but you try. Most of it is done by listening to people. Too many people want to immediately say ‘no’ to a new idea,” Harkness said. “My way of dealing with people has always been to say: ‘That’s an interesting idea.’ In the back of my head, we did that five years ago and it did not work out. But I’m not going to tell you that right now. I’ll give you two weeks, and I’ll tell you ‘no,’ and I’ll tell you why, and you’ll have a better understanding of it.”

When Harkness talks about working with 37 different Bar presidents — all with wildly different personalities ranging from micromanagers to prima donnas — he viewed his job as the caddy on the golf course.

“I played this course a number of times. I know how it’s laid out. I know good weather and bad weather on the course. I know where they change sand traps. I know where they move the hole. I am carrying your clubs,” Harkness said.

“I will suggest to you what club to use. You don’t have to use it. You can use whatever you want to. But I will tell you, the way I see it, this is what is going to happen if you use that. Some of them have taken my advice. Some of them use a putter all the time. Other ones are: Whack! Five feet from the hole and they use a driver. Some end up in the sand trap more than others. I know where the gators are. I’m there to help.”

Ramón Abadin, Bar president in 2015 who was gifted with a “Captain Chaos” T-shirt by his friends in the Bar’s executive office, admits he used a driver when some wished he’d used a sand wedge to soften his difficult message about dramatic changes in the legal profession that included a rocky debate about reciprocity that sparked threats of impeaching him.

“Jack, more than anybody else in his leadership role in 37 years, understood the changes happening and created an environment for me and the Vision 2016 commission to get the message out that, ‘Listen, folks, things are changing,’” said Abadin.

“I would say, ‘Jack, tell them there is no conspiracy or ulterior motive.’ He wouldn’t do that. That’s not his style. I had to do that. He was happily in the background letting me take all the bullets. But he didn’t try in any way to interfere. He allowed a difficult message to get out to the Bar membership. And even after the stress of that year, the stress of that discussion, the institution is fine and is able to move forward.”

Harkness said he viewed his role of executive director as carrying out the policies of the Board of Governors, a member of the staff who never had a vote.

“You are always the staff person. You have to remember that. A lot of the board members are my friends, these presidents are my friends. I still have many wonderful memories and longtime relationships with some of them, but I am never one of them.”

He likens his status among Bar leaders as remembering where you park your car in a huge multi-level parking garage.

“Remember your level. Find your car. Remember your level. Find yourself,” Harkness said. “Don’t take yourself too serious, quite frankly.”

Because of Harkness’ steady leadership, The Florida Bar is taken seriously, earning a sterling national reputation.

“Whenever I attended an ABA meeting with bar presidents and executive directors from all states, an issue would be discussed that one or more of the states was then facing,” said Alan Bookman, president of The Florida Bar in 2005.

“Invariably, the following question would be asked: ‘Jack, how did Florida handle this?’ The executive directors looked to Jack as the wise sage and their dean.”

At home in Florida, Harkness defended the Bar with savvy skill.

“In the spring of 1998, the Florida Legislature had The Florida Bar in its sights. Legislation was on the table to control The Florida Bar’s budget, which would give the legislature domain over the dues and revenue of the Bar. This legislation, if passed, would impact the independence of the Supreme Court, of which The Florida Bar is an arm,” recalled 1997-98 Bar President Edward Blumberg.

“While Jack Harkness had not been known to lobby the legislature, these were desperate times. I knew that Jack had actually worked in the legislature and, as a longtime resident of Tallahassee, he would be well known by the legislators and their staff. I prevailed upon Jack Harkness to go with me to the Capitol with the goal of quashing this anti-Bar legislation.

“To say that Jack was well received in the Capitol is an understatement. He was literally mobbed by the staff and legislators. A simple ask by Jack Harkness was enough. At Jack Harkness’ request, the anti-Bar legislation went down in flames.

“Throughout this entire process, Jack Harkness was his humble self and refused to take any credit for this mammoth accomplishment. Once more, Jack Harkness had saved the day. Jack Harkness is the real hero of The Florida Bar.”

Politics Draws Him to Tallahassee
Harkness was not the Bar’s first choice for executive director, but he turned out to be the best choice.

The month before former Bar Executive Director Marshall Cassedy stepped down in February 1980 to go into private practice, the Board of Governors confirmed another candidate for the job. After the board’s first choice changed his mind, a second candidate for the position tentatively agreed to take the job, but later also had a change of heart.

Young mustachioed Harkness, after a thorough vetting that included three days of testing by an industrial psychologist, eventually won over the search committee chaired by past Bar President Earl Hadlow of Jacksonville and agreed to accept a year-to-year contract with a $50,000 annual salary.

James C. Rinaman, Jr., who became Bar president in 1982, served on the committee that interviewed Harkness, along with Steve Zack (1989 president), Sam Smith (1981 president), Leonard Gilbert (1980 president), and others.

Rinaman, who said Harkness would end up “supervising a huge evolution at the Bar,” recalled the search committee was especially impressed that Harkness was state courts administrator for four years, understood how the courts worked, and knew the justices. That he had been a “very active student at the University of Florida involved in campus activities made him attractive,” he added.

At UF, where Harkness earned an undergraduate degree in business administration and management and a law degree in 1969, he was president of Phi Kappa Tau and president of Florida Blue Key, a leadership society, during the time Stephen O’Connell, a former Florida Supreme Court chief justice, was president of the university.

Admitted to the UF Hall of Fame, Harkness said he was always involved in student government politics: chair of homecoming, active in the speakers’ bureau, and chair of a political party that “controlled” the Florida Alligator newspaper.

“We tapped an awful lot of editors out of the Alligator,” Harkness said, describing a dirty election where they believed another political party had cheated, so “we took them to the honor court, and they threw out the elections. We ran the second time, and then we won.”

Harkness loved campus politics, a natural outgrowth of growing up in North Miami, where his father was an attorney and part-time city judge. With his father involved in city politics, Harkness grew up surrounded by campaigning city council members and mayors.

Politics was the draw for Harkness in 1970, when he took his first job out of law school in Tallahassee in the Department of Legal Affairs, where fraternity brother Ron LaFace worked. They hoped their boss, Attorney General Earl Faircloth, would win his bid for governor as the Democratic candidate to beat incumbent Republican Gov. Claude Kirk.

“Unfortunately, Reubin Askew started running and beat us. We — Ron and I — were going to be the youngest attorneys in the governor’s office. It didn’t work out,” Harkness recalled.

What did work out wonderfully was meeting Vicki Brand, a 20-year-old employee at the Attorney General’s Office, who took a leave of absence to work on Faircloth’s campaign, where she met Harkness, and they became good friends.

Learning the Job Together
Brand (then Russell) moved to Jacksonville with her husband, gave birth to her baby, Amber, and moved back to Tallahassee in 1975, describing her stay-at-home mom years as so poor she could tell you “10 ways how to fix Spaghetti-O’s.”

During that time, Harkness was plying his legal trade in the political world of the Florida Legislature, serving two years with the House Criminal Justice Committee and two years as staff director of the House Judiciary Committee, following Janet Reno in that job.

After working in the legislature for four years, Harkness went back to Miami to practice law with his dad for a year.

“Working for my father was fine,” Harkness said. “But I really didn’t like Miami anymore. It had changed so much since I left in 1962 to go to college.”

While working as staff director of the House Judiciary Committee, Harkness worked closely with the Florida Supreme Court, so when the state courts administrator left in 1975, Harkness got a call from Justices B.K. Roberts and Ben Overton, asking if he’d be interested in applying for the job.

“Court administration is kind of a combination of legal work plus management, and my undergraduate degree was business management and economics. So I said, ‘Sure, I’ll give it a whirl,’” Harkness recalled.

For the second time since graduating law school, he was investigated for character and fitness by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners.

He called his good friend Vicki to come work for him, first conning her with a part-time job.

“All I did every day was type labels. Labels. Labels. Labels. Labels,” Brand recalled wryly.

Before long, Brand turned into being Harkness’ full-time, right-hand assistant, where she remains to this day.

She laughs and agrees that she knows Harkness so well that they finish each other’s sentences like an old married couple.

Ask her how long she’s worked at The Florida Bar, and she’s quick to answer: “Two weeks longer than Harkness!”

He sent her over to the Bar ahead of him to scope things out, and she admits she also knew nothing about the place.

Thankfully, longtime employee Mindy Byars (now Boggs) had an answer to every question. Brand, a quick study, would end up expanding her role as assistant to the executive director to also staffing judicial nominating commissions and assisting Bar presidents as they made their committee appointments, telling them, “This is your legacy. When you are out of office, they will still be here.”

In 1980, when Harkness and Brand first arrived at the Bar, the president was Leonard Gilbert of Tampa.

“He made minute decisions down to picking menus at functions,” recalled Brand. “It gave us time to learn the Board of Governors and the Bar. I don’t think we’d be here 37 years if we had not had Leonard our first year. He gave us a year to learn.”

Harkness agrees Gilbert was a bit of a micromanager.

“I didn’t mind it, because I didn’t know. I really didn’t know. I still give him a lot of credit for any success I may have had,” Harkness said.

As Gilbert remembers: “Jack and I came in together. There wasn’t even a notebook on how to be executive director of the Bar. I’m serious. No manual. No anything. All the file drawers in the executive director’s office were empty.”

“This was truly on-the-job training for both of us. Of course, that made it easier for Jack, because he could write his own plan. Jack doesn’t care who gets the credit as long as it gets done,” Gilbert said.

“I knew by the end of my year that we had a keeper, and so we did everything we could to make sure he did stay. The fact that he stayed as long as he wanted to showed us he was the right person for the job. I’m sure others tried to hire him away, but he was loyal to the position and to the Bar.”

Early on, Gilbert said, he had a conversation with Harkness about not firing anyone on the staff during his term as president.

“If it’s running right, why do you want to mess with it?” asked Gilbert, who was familiar with the “hardworking and loyal” staff while serving on the Board of Governors, chairing two sections, serving as vice chair of a CLE committee, and helping raise money for the new Bar center.

“With Jack, it’s never my way or the highway. . . .He’s very good at presenting all the facts and presenting all the alternatives to the Bar presidents or the Board of Governors. And he imbues that same spirit in the staff. They are their own bosses, all working together. He has created an air of collegiality within the Bar staff.”

In It for the Long Haul
Working at an office that feels more like family than a bureaucracy, Bar staff tend to stick around until retirement.

Mary Ellen Bateman, who retired in 2016 as the Bar’s director of Ethics & Advertising, UPL, and Special Projects, became a lawyer in 1981 and arrived at the Bar as a new lawyer, describing herself as “the Bar’s self-appointed feminist.”

“I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that it was still a good ol’ boy network,” said Bateman, recalling it was before there were any female Bar presidents or women division directors at the Bar.

“Mr. Harkness, fairly new at the Bar as well, withstood constant battering from me in the form of memos about what I perceived to be matters of grave importance for employees: job-sharing, flex-time, insurance for part-timers, flexibility in schedules, a four-day workweek, an on-campus daycare. It went on and on,” Bateman recalled.

“Finally, one afternoon he called me to his office. I did not know him well at this point. He was still the great and powerful Oz behind the curtain of whom I was slightly afraid. He told me to sit down and asked, ‘What are you going to do if I don’t approve this? Burn your bra on the steps of The Florida Bar?’

“For a split second, I had an image of me standing tall on the front steps of The Florida Bar between the stately pillars while holding up my burning bra in protest. The image was short-lived. We both had a laugh. That meeting showed me two things: That Mr. Harkness was listening. And that he had a sense of humor. I could work with that.”

Over the next three decades, Bateman said, Harkness oversaw major changes at the Bar regarding women and families in the workplace.

“He adopted policies at the Bar that gave better flexibility to employees, while ensuring that the Bar’s members continued to get the support they needed. He hired the first woman division director: Me. He has since hired two more. A year or so ago, he sent me an article about the status of women in the workplace from a major publication, and on the corner of the page, in his unmistakable handwriting, he asked: ‘How are we doing?’ He could be resting on his laurels, but instead he continues to stay interested and active in diversity and related issues. His willingness to learn and grow in this area is one of the things I respect most about him.”

Paul Hill, who retired in 2017 as Bar general counsel and previously served as communications director, knew all of Harkness’ predecessors as executive director, but “only Jack has made Bar work his life’s work.”

“The thing that’s most distinctive about Jack and probably made our relationship so good was his deliberateness. My job as general counsel was to be Chicken Little and a pessimist and worst-case imaginer. And couple that with my hummingbird metabolism,” Hill said.

“I was the guy who always had to deliver to Jack the potentially bad news — whatever just walked in the mailbox and whatever was our next legal or legislative challenge. Of course, the hummingbird wanted it resolved immediately. But Jack always reflected and deliberated, and knew when to make the decision, if ever.

“Most of the time, as much as I would remain anxious, it was under control, whatever I dumped in his lap, and I didn’t have to worry about it until he spoke back up.”

Asked what few people know about Harkness that they should know, Hill is quick to answer: “That he’s got a heart of gold. He is more caring than he will let you know, without a doubt.”

Steve Metz, the Bar’s former outside legislative counsel, knows that side of Harkness, whom he describes as the man who “started out as a client and became my best friend.”

“Some time ago, Jack started coming with me to deliver food to people and families in need, here in the local area,” Metz said, adding Harkness would also bring books for the kids to read.

“Jack brought something else as well. He brought his smile and his hope to each family. You can tell a lot about someone when they are with people who are poor and struggling to make it. Jack treats everyone with respect and kindness. And he looks forward to it every time.”

Describing Harkness as a quiet person, the opposite of his own gregarious personality, Metz said, “You would not want to play cards with him.” But Harkness’ calm, unflappable wisdom is just what the Bar needed to maneuver during difficult times, such as after the 2000 Bush-Gore election that brought high tension between the legislature and the courts.

“That session, we were faced with an onslaught of proposed bills that would have dramatically limited the independence of the judiciary, as well as proposals slashing the budget of the courts and putting the Bar and its budget under the authority of an executive agency. Obviously a nervous time for Bar leaders and the judiciary,” Metz said.

“And through it all, Jack was calm and wise. He never got rattled and he never stopped giving smart and sound advice. And this was repeated time and time again for the next 16 years that I served as legislative counsel, until my retirement last year.

“I have been retired now for over a year and have been giving Jack a few ideas on what to do and what not to do when he retires. But like most things, Jack has it figured out.”

Welcoming Joshua Doyle
Joshua Doyle walked into the job interview as an FBI special agent full of intriguing secrets about pending investigations he couldn’t talk about.

He walked out as the No. 1 choice for The Florida Bar’s new executive director, excited to continue his public service in a whole new way, at the helm of the 105,000-member Bar.

Three weeks after the search committee’s choice was approved by the Board of Governors, 37-year-old Doyle was shepherded around at the Bar’s Annual Convention in Boca Raton by outgoing Bar President Bill Schifino, who introduced him as “our executive director in training.”

On July 17, Doyle officially began his new position, succeeding John F. Harkness, Jr., who is retiring after 37 years as executive director.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to work at the Bar. The Board of Governors, sections, committees, Bar staff, and membership have made The Florida Bar the best in the country, and I look forward to helping maintain that status,” said Doyle, who grew up in Tallahassee and married his high-school sweetheart, Kate. They have two young children, Jillian and Davidson.

Doyle received both his undergraduate degree in public relations and his law degree from Florida State University.

“The opportunity to work and learn from Jack Harkness is the chance of a lifetime,” Doyle said, “and I’m excited to learn as much from him as I can as quickly as possible.”

Unlike in 1980, when Harkness became executive director at age 35 and knew little about the inner workings of the Bar, and there was no one to show him the ropes (except then-President Leonard Gilbert, who called it “on-the-job training for both of us”), Harkness has promised to stay nearby until the end of the year to help with the leadership transition.

Harkness and Doyle know each other from 2006-09, when Doyle worked for the Bar’s former outside legislative counsel, Steve Metz. Harkness said Doyle has the right demeanor for the job, blessed with the knack to quickly form relationships with diverse groups of people.

“I know and understand the policy issues and concerns of The Florida Bar, as well as the political twists and turns confronting the organization because of my experience as a lobbyist for TFB before the legislative and executive branches,” Doyle said in his application.

“I am prepared to advise when or if TFB should become involved in an issue and, if so, the best way to do so while preserving its reputation and influence. I have a talent for building personal relationships with key constituencies of TFB, seeking common ground or forming coalitions with other organizations when needed.

“I am a tireless advocate and service-oriented leader. TFB offers many programs and opportunities to its membership and the public. TFB must stay true to its core principles yet be flexible to respond to the ever-changing needs of its membership and society.”

John F. Harkness, Jr. - Service at The Florida Bar (1980-2017)
Compiled by Cheryle M. Dodd and Mark D. Killian

Harkness succeeds Marshall Cassedy as executive director
Minimum quality standards for CLEs implemented

Interest on Trust Accounts created
Lay members added to the Florida Board of Bar Examiners
Certification program launched; first exams given in 1984

Florida Lawyers Recovery Network created

Florida Bar sections granted autonomy

Ethics Hotline established

Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., formed

Mandatory continuing legal education implemented
Two nonlawyers added to Board of Governors
FLMIC put into operation

Survey of lay persons on grievance committees gives regulatory system an “A”

Mandatory Interest on Trust Accounts participation put into effect
Inactive Bar membership status established

Harkness president of the National Association of Bar Executives
Commission on Children created
Disciplinary process opened, made more transparent

Voluntary pro bono plan implemented with mandatory reporting

First woman elected Bar president – Patricia Seitz
The Florida Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service sets record of 300 referrals in one day, a referral every 1.8 minutes

Ethics school is approved by Board of Governors

Bar deters efforts to remove regulation of lawyers from the Florida Supreme Court. Again in 1996, 1997, and 2001

Term limits on Bar committees imposed
Center for Professionalism created
The Florida Bar’s website launched
First e-filing rules drafted

Judicial Evaluation Program initiated
Speakers’ Bureau established

Citizens’ Forum created

Online continuing legal education seminars offered

First 150 women lawyers celebrated
Board creates Judicial Independence Commission

Attorney/Consumer Assistance Program launched
Bar joins ABA to assist military members with legal needs as they respond to September 11 attacks

Civil Legal Assistance Act passed

Special Commission on Lawyer Regulation begins review of Bar discipline process
Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service goes online

Bar and FMA launch joint public service campaign to encourage Floridians to prepare living wills and designate health-care surrogates
Kids Deserve Justice license plates available

Florida is first state to offer free legal research to its members via Fastcase
Attorney discipline records go online

Article V Technology Board begins plan for data integration innovation
Justice Teaching launches

CLE records available online
Florida Registered Paralegal program launched
Board of Governors revisits sex with clients rule

Live Bar CLE webcasts offered
Florida Courts Technology Commission created
Florida Attorneys Saving Homes created to assist working poor facing foreclosure

Deadlines set for statewide integrated e-filing, court computer system; probate-related filings go first
Legacy Gala honors Florida’s first black lawyers from 1869 to 1979

Innocence Commission created
vCards added to Bar website

First Bar diversity grants awarded
Bar reaffirms role in judicial nominating commissions process
Nearly 3,500 sit for the July Bar exam — the most ever 2012
Commission on Review of the Discipline System studies lawyer regulation
Merit retention public education campaign initiated
Bar’s diversity initiative begins

Eugene Pettis is Bar’s first black president
Leadership Academy founded
Vision 2016: Study of the Future Practice of Law formed
Private health insurance exchange launched as member benefit

Records show Client Security Fund has paid out $29 million since 1970
Bar expands into social media
Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice appointed

Practice Resource Institute (PRI) created
Legal technology and innovation featured at Bar’s 65th Annual Convention

Headquarters renamed the “John F. Harkness, Jr. Complex”
3-hour tech CLE requirement added
Special Committee on Gender Bias created
Legal Access Gateway Project pilot initiated

Trust accounting software pilot project begins
Lawyers Advising Lawyers relaunched
Constitution Revision Commission public education campaign launched
Board of Governors acts on final proposals from Vision 2016

[Revised: 08-25-2017]