Stewart next in line for Bar presidency
Eight contested Board of Governors races will involve 20 candidates
By Gary Blankenship
John M. Stewart, veteran Board of Governors member from the 19th Circuit, has become president-elect designate of The Florida Bar.
Stewart was unopposed when filing ended December 15. He will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s June Annual Convention when President–elect Michelle Suskauer takes the oath as Bar president. He will become president a year later for the 2019-20 Bar year.
“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with President Michael Higer, President-elect Michelle Suskauer, Executive Director Josh Doyle, and the Board of Governors,” Stewart said when his election became official.
The son and grandson of Florida lawyers, Stewart also appreciates his selection will bring a different kind of diversity to Bar leadership. It’s the first time his father, William, can remember a lawyer from the 19th Circuit ascending to the Bar’s top post. Stewart has practiced with his father his entire career and the two are partners at Rossway Swan Tierney Barry Lacey & Oliver, P.L., in Vero Beach.
“Small jurisdictions make up a large segment of our membership and it’s nice to be able to bring a different perspective,” Stewart said.
He is a past president of the Young Lawyers Division and combined with the automatic seats on the Board of Governors he had as YLD president-elect and president, Stewart has served on the board for 11 years.
“I never set out to become president of The Florida Bar, I think it was just a love for the institution that is The Florida Bar coupled with some good opportunities, particularly in technology’s impact on the law, to offer that experience to the Bar,” he said.
“Obviously, we need to ensure the traditional core values of the profession are preserved while protecting the public, which is really the core mission of the Bar,” he said. “More specifically, we’re going to have to explore the impacts and benefits that alternative legal service providers can bring to our profession and do so in a way that helps expand legal access without compromising the ethical responsibilities we are bound to uphold.
“We want to continue to ensure the independence of the judiciary, both in practice and financially,” Stewart added. “Beyond that, I think the Bar as an institution has to become more nimble for the benefit of our members and the public. That last one goes along with my priorities that we have to balance the value that technology brings to our practice with ensuring that it doesn’t negatively impact the core values of our profession. Not doing anything is not an answer.”
Stewart focuses on probate, real estate, and contract litigation work. He received his undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary and his law degree from the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law in 1997, joining the Bar — and his father’s practice — the same year.
“He was the only one who would hire me,” Stewart joked. “He and I have worked together my entire career.”
In 1999, he was elected to the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors and became YLD president from 2006-07. In 2007, he was elected to the Board of Governors and has served since.
He has served on various committees including the Executive Committee. He headed the Technology Subcommittee of the Vision 2016 commission and oversaw the carrying out of two of its major recommendations. One was to increase the number of CLE credits required in each Bar member’s three-year reporting cycle from 30 to 33, with the extra three credits being devoted to technology issues. The second was to create a Standing Committee on Technology and a Board of Governors Technology Committee. Stewart has chaired the latter since its inception.
Since 2014, Stewart has served on the Florida Court Technology Commission and was reappointed to a three-year term last June. Besides the Bar’s Technology and Executive committees, Stewart also serves on the Communications and Program Evaluation committees and on the Bar’s Special Commission on Gender Bias and Diversity in the Profession. In 2013, he received the Bar’s President’s Award of Merit from then President Gwynne Young.
He is a regular speaker on technology and the law, including at the 2016 and 2017 sessions of the ABA TECHSHOW.