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June 1, 2016
Four So. Florida circuits adopt standards of professionalism

The 11th, 15th, 17th, and 19th circuits have adopted uniform Standards of Professional Courtesy and Civility.

With the recent adoption of the standards in the 17th Judicial Circuit, all four circuits in South Florida have issued administrative orders adopting the standards that now will apply and be enforced in each respective circuit.

In 2013, Justice Fred Lewis issued an opinion, titled In re: Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints, which required each of Florida’s 20 circuits to create a local professionalism panel. The opinion allowed the chief judge in each circuit to define the panel’s governing standards and procedures and to hear professionalism grievances at ad hoc hearings.

With the adoption of the standards across South Florida’s four circuits, each local professionalism panel now will be able to apply and enforce the same standards.

The effort to have all four circuits adopt uniform standards was a process that took two years and was led by the South Florida Joint Civility Project, known for its “Got Civility?” theme.

“The adoption of uniform Standards of Professional Courtesy and Civility throughout our region is the crowning achievement of our project,” said Adam Rabin, project co-chair and past president of the Palm Beach County Bar Association. “Judges and lawyers in South Florida now will have the tools through the standards and local professionalism panels to hold all lawyers accountable for unprofessional and uncivil behavior.”

Project co-chair and current president of the Cuban American Bar Association, Anna Marie Hernandez, said the joint project started four years ago by recruiting 44 voluntary bars to join forces in promoting the amended oath of attorney admission’s pledge of lawyer civility.

“Four years later, we are exceptionally proud to assist South Florida’s courts in adopting procedures that will help improve lawyer civility and create a more uniform baseline of professional lawyer behavior across all South Florida circuits,” Hernandez said.

The uniform standards set forth specific guidelines for professional courtesy on a host of issues that often fall outside The Florida Bar’s Rules of Professional Conduct, but nonetheless are expected in practice. The standards include provisions on the obligation to make a reasonable attempt to clear deposition and hearing dates with opposing counsel before setting them, providing copies of all materials to opposing counsel that are submitted to the court, treating judicial staff civilly and with respect, and not making legal or factual arguments in correspondence to the court, among others.

The chief judges who issued the administrative orders adopting the standards included Chief Judge Bertila Soto of the 11th Circuit; Chief Judge Jeffrey Colbath of the 15th Circuit; Chief Judge Peter Weinstein of the 17th Circuit; and Chief Judge Elizabeth Metzger of the 19th Circuit.

[Revised: 12-15-2018]