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December 1, 2017

FLORIDA STATE UNIVERSITY law students Ashley Hamill, from the left, Daniel Clibbon, Caitlyn Kio, and Brenda Czekanski worked on two issues that are now pending proposals before the Constitution Revision Commission.

Students engage in the CRC process
‘When I started law school, I didn’t know it was a thing’

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

Caitlyn Kio was 12 years old the last time the Constitution Revision Commission met two decades ago, and most of her fellow law students at Florida State University were too young for kindergarten.

“When I started law school, I didn’t know it was a thing,” admits Kio, who worked as a social worker before law school.

But now Kio not only knows the CRC is a thing, it’s a big thing.

Kio — along with Ashley Hamill and Daniel Clibbon, students in the Children in Prison Project of FSU’s Public Interest Law Center, and Brenda Czekanski, research assistant of Professor Paolo Annino — have written white papers and convinced two CRC members to sponsor two “Declaration of Rights” proposals dear to their hearts.

Kio has met with CRC member Roberto Martinez in the basement of the Capitol to discuss the disturbing case of 16-year-old Cautia Spencer, found dead, hanging from a sheet in her solitary confinement cell at an adult prison.

Kio described Martinez as a bit reluctant at first, but he agreed to sponsor and file Proposed Amendment 75, that would amend § 15 of Art. I to limit restrictive confinement of juveniles in correctional facilities across Florida.

The students noted in their white paper: “The Florida Constitution protects pregnant pigs from confinement in conditions considered to be cruel and inhumane. Yet, it does not protect our children from conditions that impede their development, increase their risk of mental illness, and often cause them to take their own lives. Florida protects pigs; it’s time to protect kids.”

The law students have enlisted help from Ellis Curry, who spent more than two years in solitary confinement in Florida, beginning when he was 16. Kio said Curry saw other kids have mental breakdowns because of closed confinement.

And Kio has been on her personal cell phone at 10:30 p.m., talking to Hank Coxe, former Florida Bar president and chair of the CRC’s Ethics and Elections Committee. It didn’t take much persuading for Coxe to agree to file Proposal 73, that would amend § 15 of Art. I of the Florida Constitution to require a circuit judge to review the case, before a state attorney may pursue prosecuting a child as an adult in criminal court.

Coxe was all too familiar with the example given in the law students’ white paper that begins: “After the tragic death of his brother in 2011, Cristian Fernandez became the youngest child in Jacksonville ever charged as an adult with first-degree murder, facing life imprisonment. He was only 12 years old, the same age his mother was when Cristian was born. Cristian came from a broken family with generations of drug-addition. He was also the victim of child abuse. Prosecutors were under no obligation to consider these factors when they decided to prosecute him as an adult. Represented by a powerful team of pro bono attorneys who worked tirelessly on his case, Cristian accepted a plea agreement to serve seven years in a juvenile facility, where he receives adequate nutrition, medical care, and education, followed by eight years of probation. Many children in Cristian’s situation have not been so lucky.”

Coxe was part of that team of pro bono attorneys.

Those two issues that are now pending proposals before the CRC have been bills pending in the Legislature in the past.

“But it got no traction,” Kio said. “When we realized the Constitution Revision Commission was happening, we thought we could get things done another way.”

First, the law students drafted language and talked to Sandy D’Alemberte, FSU president emeritus and professor who wrote the recently published “Florida Constitutional Law.”

“He knows a lot of people, and he pointed us to a few commissioners he thought would be responsive,” Kio said.

With guidance from Professor Annino, the law students went back and forth with the language, right up until the deadline day of October 31.

For the law students, Kio said, it was a great lesson in crafting the proper legal language.

“We wanted to make sure we weren’t legislating in the constitution,” she said. “The way we did it, our amendments belong in the Declaration of Rights. We are declaring a right, and we are trying to give it more broad language that a child deserves these things and leaves the details for the Legislature to legislate. The Legislature can decide how to implement it in a way that fits in the budget.”

Even if the pair of proposals do not succeed as constitutional amendments, Kio said, there is still a plus side to participating in the process and agreeing to do the legwork.

“This isn’t something people talk about every day, unless you are involved in it. Having it discussed in a public forum, hopefully people will talk about it and needed change will happen. Now, awareness is low, and if we can get people talking about it and paying attention, even if we don’t get it through the CRC, maybe the Legislature will be more likely to take it up.”

[Revised: 10-17-2018]