By Gary Blankenship
Many things old are new again — at least when it comes to The Florida Bar legislative positions for the next two years.
The Bar Board of Governors, at its December 9 meeting in Clearwater, approved 15 legislative positions for the 2016-18 legislative biennium. All had been part of the Bar’s 2014-16 legislative platform. The board also approved legislative positions sought by the Legal Needs of Children Committee and the Young Lawyers Division.
Perhaps the highest profile position taken by the board was renewed opposition to any proposed constitutional amendment to impose term limits on Florida’s judges. House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, has announced plans to push for such an amendment. (See story in the December 15 Bar News.)
During the 2016 Regular Session, the House approved an amendment (HJR 197) to impose term limits of 12 years on Florida Supreme Court justices and judges of the district courts of appeal. It cleared the House by more than the required 60 percent but died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which failed to take up the measure.
Bar President Bill Schifino cautioned that even if a proposed constitutional amendment fails to pass the Legislature, it may still be taken up by the Constitution Revision Commission, which begins its work next spring and can send proposed amendments directly to the November 2018 general election ballot.
Another approved position — and a long-standing part of the Bar’s legislative activities — calls for adequate funding of the courts and related Article V agencies, including clerks of court, public defenders, state attorneys, and court-appointed counsel.
The board also reinstated the position that the Supreme Court should remain in charge of the legal profession and the discipline of attorneys. It again opposed any effort to amend the Florida Constitution to restrict the court’s authority to adopt procedural rules for the courts or rules for judicial nomination commissions and the Judicial Qualifications Commission.
For government lawyers, the Bar continues to support the authority in the Legislative Appropriations Act for state agencies to pay Bar membership fees and CLE costs for their attorney employees and for a student loan assistance program for government and legal aid attorneys who have served for more than three years. The Young Lawyers Division received approval to lobby for the loan assistance provision.
Other approved positions are:
• Supporting merit selection for Florida judges through independent judicial nominating commissions and opposing “any changes to the current JNC process that would impair the independence of the commissions.”
• Supporting the Supreme Court’s certification of the need for new judges.
• Supporting a constitutional amendment to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 75.
• Supporting adequate funding under the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act for indigent persons needing civil legal help.
• Supporting the preservation of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine and opposing any attempts to undermine those concepts so that attorneys can: a) effectively counsel their clients to comply with the law; b) effectively advocate for clients; c) ensure access to justice; and d) “promote the proper and efficient functioning of the American adversarial system of justice.”
• Supporting amendment of F.S. §119.071 to revise the exemption from the attorney’s work product for a public agency and amending F.S. §286.011, which revises criteria for the attorney-client sessions of public agencies.
• Supporting the protection of the legal rights and remedies of children by creating a comprehensive system for representation including guardians at litem, public defenders, and state-paid and pro bono attorneys that would ensure: a) children will have paid or voluntary representation in dependency cases; b) state revenue be allocated as necessary to ensure representation in those cases; and c) representation of children in other discretional cases including dependency and other areas dependent on sufficient revenue being approved by the Legislature and not to impact funding for the Guardian ad Litem program or funding for the courts.
• Supporting adequate funding by Congress of the Legal Services Corporation and opposing any funding cuts.
• Supporting adequate funding for the federal judicial system and judges.
The board approved the request of the Legal Needs of Children Committee for two legislative positions, which are identical to positions it took from 2014-16. The first is opposing the direct filing of children charged with crimes to adult court and that the judiciary should be solely responsible for deciding when a child should be charged in adult court. The second provides any child sentenced to more than 10 years with a “meaningful opportunity for early release based on demonstrated maturity and rehabilitation.”
In addition to the committee legislative positions, the board agreed not to oppose several legislative positions sought by the Administrative Law, Business Law, Health Law, International Law, Tax, and Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections. Sections, which must conspicuously lobby in their own name and use their voluntary dues for legislative activities, are given a wider scope to advocate before the Legislature than the Bar and its committees, which use mandatory membership annual fees.
Several sections have been updating their legislative platforms since, under Bar policies, all Bar, committee, and section legislative positions expired last summer.
A complete list of Bar, committee, and section legislative positions, which is regularly updated, can be found on the Bar’s website. An official notice in this News gives the approved legislative positions for the Bar, the Young Lawyers Division, and the Legal Needs of Children Committee. The notice also explains the procedure for any Bar member who objects to any of those positions to seek a refund of the portion of his or her membership fees used to advocate those positions.