By Jan Pudlow
Growing up in Indiana and hearing all those stories about Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood in the Hoosier state left its mark on Jeff Kottkamp.
“It left an impression on me since I was five that I not only wanted to be a lawyer, but I wanted to be in public service,” said Kottkamp, a personal injury lawyer in Ft. Myers who has been a state representative since he was elected in 2000.
“I was one of those children that when the others wanted to go out to play, I wondered what we were going to do in Congress.”
Now that 45-year-old Kottkamp, R-Cape Coral, is chair of the House Judiciary Appropriations Committee, he is focused on funding the full 66 judges the Florida Supreme Court has certified the state needs.
“For several years, we didn’t create any new judges. The phrase ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ rings true for many people. The backlog is making it harder and harder for judges to get cases to trial. It is important to fully fund the need for judges,” Kottkamp said.
“Along those lines, in doing so, it’s important to send the message that the legislature has the proper view of the judiciary, which is that it is a branch of government and not a state agency.”
For Kottkamp, it doesn’t matter whether those new judges are elected or appointed. He just wants to make sure the legislature funds the positions this session.
Another important issue on the radar screen for lawyers in the civil arena, Kottkamp said, is joint and several liability.
“One approach may be what was attempted last year, which is outright repeal. That approach has very little support in the Senate. I cannot possibly say how that will come out. This is a typical issue where term limits come into play because you have all of these legislators not in office when the legislature took up joint and several liability the last time, in the late ’80s,” Kottkamp said.
“By way of background, what everyone points to as the poster child of the problem was a case in the mid-’80s when Disney World was found 1 percent at fault, but because no one else in the case had any money ended up paying the whole 100 percent. The legislature stepped in and said, ‘Someone with one percent fault can never be found 100 percent liable.’ They fixed the problem in the late ’80s. But a lot of legislators don’t know that.
“That’s one of those things where you have to work hard in educating legislators on the full spectrum. And that’s why it is important for lawyers to run for office. Other legislators know you practice law and rely on you in many respects to explain the law,” Kottkamp said, just as he relies on Rep. Paige Kreegel, R-Punta Gorda, a doctor, when he needs insight on medical issues.
A graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, Kottkamp clerked for two “brilliant” federal judges, the late Sidney Aronovitz, father of former Bar President Tod Aronovitz, and Joe Eaton, a senior judge in the Southern District of Florida.
Kottkamp said his career as a lawyer-legislator is “incredibly rewarding and fulfilling” because “every day is different and exciting, and I get to do some neat things.”
One thing he is especially proud of is working with Attorney General Charlie Crist on passing a civil rights bill in 2003, which Kottkamp said “will make a lasting impression on people’s lives.”
Kottkamp served on the Bar’s Journal and News Editorial Board, and was president of the Lee County Bar Association in 1998.
Those experiences, he said, gave him “an important view of everything that the Bar does beyond the day-to-day practice.”
The legislature needs more lawyers, he said.
“If other attorneys in the state are considering public service, I would strongly encourage it. A legal education and experience from the practice of law is a tremendous benefit to be able to sort through the incredibly complex issues.”
He serves on the Lee County Republican Executive Committee and is a member of the Sanibel-Captiva Republican Club.
Kottkamp is also affiliated with the Christian Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Florida.
Among his awards are The Florida Bar “President’s Legislative Award” in 2004, the Christian Coalition of Florida’s 2004 “Faith and Family Award,” and the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers “Legislative Leadership Award” in 2005.
In 2004, he was honored by the Florida Supreme Court Trial Court Budget Commission for “exceptional service to the trial courts of Florida during the transition to state funding mandated by Revision 7 to the Florida Constitution.”
He is married to Cyndie Kottkamp, and they have one son, Jackson.
Benson enjoys bipartisan praise
By Gary Blankenship
Ask Rep. Holly Benson, R-Pensacola, if she’s been sailing lately, and she’ll give a rueful and wistful laugh. She notes the questioner must be reading her member page on the Florida House of Representatives Web site which, among other things, lists her hobbies as guitar playing and sailing.
But that information was posted “back when I had time to have hobbies,” Benson said.
A check of her legislative activities shows why the municipal bond lawyer from the western Panhandle has little leisure time.
First elected in 2000, in her second term she was appointed chair of the special House committee that oversaw the transition of funding from county to the state for trial courts to carry out a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1998.
That intense two-year effort, stretching over the 2003-04 sessions involved balancing the needs of judges, lawyers, clerks, public defenders, state attorneys, and court users amidst the normal partisan pressures of the legislature.
Benson poured herself into the job, at the end winning praise from Republicans, Democrats, and all the other players for her fairness, mastery of the details, and efficacy of the final plan — worked out with the Senate — for making the funding transition.
Benson credits the help of others for the success.
“The nice thing is we have incredible members and incredible staff and if you do your homework and ask the right questions, you can find creative solutions to problems,” she said.
With the Article V funding, everyone had the same goal, she added.
“Florida has an incredible court system that is the envy of other states and it was a wonderful opportunity to work with all sorts of people to make the courts work,” Benson said. “We shared a common goal of preserving this outstanding court system and, with any luck, enhancing it. And so we worked together to do that.”
Since that undertaking, Benson has also played leading roles in procurement reform for the state and this year’s Medicaid reform that will use HMOs to try to reduce costs for the state while maintaining quality.
Benson’s work in the legislature has been widely praised. Her work on the Article V funding earned her a special recognition award from the Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges, as well as plaudits from the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida Association of Court Clerks/Comptrollers. She has also received several awards from business and medically-related groups.
Despite recent accomplishments, challenges will persist for the state, both generally and specifically for the legal system.
“Florida continues to have unprecedented growth and we will continue to be pressed to meet the needs of all these Floridians,” Benson said.
She noted there have been conflicts between the courts and lawmakers, and expects those may continue but also expects those frictions don’t have to have a negative impact on either branch of government.
“The court system will continue to evolve to meet the very diverse needs of our state that range from all sorts of societal pressures. In Miami Dade, they’re expected to be able to interpret 85 languages on any given day. You have the mentally ill who continue to clog our jails and court system on any given day,” Benson said.
As for relations between the courts and lawmakers, she noted that “[Bar President] Alan Bookman is a constituent and we’re going to work on that. Chief Justice [Barbara] Pariente has done an outstanding job of continuing to build legislative-judicial relations.
“We all believe in checks and balances but we will continue to play important roles in developing good policies for the people of Florida,” Benson added.
She said her legal training was good preparation for legislative work. Benson has filed for a fourth term, which will be her last under the state’s term limit provisions. And plans after her House service? “Right now, to be a bond lawyer,” she said.
Benson is an advocate for other lawyers to get involved in the legislature.
“Having a law degree is a real asset in interpreting bills quickly,” she said. “I have been consistently impressed by the caliber of lawyers with whom I serve.”
And for lawyers who might be considering a run, Benson had this advice: “Serving in the legislature is one of the most meaningful things you will ever do.”