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June 1, 2013

A few weeks ago, I e-filed my first circuit court civil case using the e-filing portal. Perhaps some fine tuning is necessary, but overall, I thought the portal was quite efficient, and the experts who put that system together should be proud of themselves.

One of the best parts came at the end, when it was time to pay the filing fee and the summons fee. My client had funds for those fees on deposit in my trust account, and so a few clicks later, the fees (plus a $3 service charge) were paid from my trust account via ACH. A perfect end to a beautiful day, right? Wrong.

In the April 30 News, I learned that The Florida Bar ethics staff, in their never ending quest to make the practice of law as tedious and time-consuming as possible, is telling us not to use ACH to draw fees and costs from our trust accounts. Never mind that it is extremely efficient (think about it: client funds being used to pay client fees and client costs directly, without another accounting step using yet another card, etc.).

Never mind that, according to the ethics counsel quoted in the article, “the rules do not prohibit it.”

Never mind that the e-filing portal itself prompted me to submit my account information and handled the transaction flawlessly.

Never mind that the ethics staff position is an indictment of the e-filing portal’s server security in general (why should we have any confidence in any aspect of the system’s security if it isn’t secure enough to handle authorized withdrawals from our trust accounts?).

Here are my ideas for the Bar ethics staff: How about resisting looking for problems where there are none; how about leaving well enough alone; and how about actually assisting us in practicing law more efficiently while still serving the good of the public?

This whole matter reminds me of a favorite quote (sorry, I’ve forgotten the author), the gist of which is: “When you hear hoofbeats on Main Street, you should suspect men on horseback, not Tasmanian devils riding unicorns.”

Eugene P. Castagliuolo

Med Mal
Let’s call the proposed medical malpractice reform legislation what it is: Restrictions on access to the courts for the injured advanced by those in the pockets of insurers and health care providers.

Limiting who can testify as an expert inhibits only plaintiffs, not defendants. Defendants have a deep pool of doctors eager to support even a negligent colleague, while plaintiffs must go out of state to a much shallower pool in the hopes of finding a doctor willing to testify against another doctor. Allowing defense attorneys ex parte access to plaintiffs’ treating physicians serves only to intimidate victims in the hope of dissuading claims.

Florida already has high hurdles for a malpractice victim. The extreme cost of medical malpractice litigation, paid upfront by plaintiffs’ attorneys, assures that only the most severely injured patients with the strongest likelihood of prevailing will find representation. Complicated statutory hurdles, weighted for the defense and often fraught with pitfalls for plaintiffs’ counsel, discourage attorneys from practicing plaintiffs’ med mal law, which further restricts access for the injured to the courts.

This new ploy is another brick in the wall intended to keep injured patients from diminishing corporate profits by, dare I say it: Obtaining justice!

Don Geier
Venice, CA

Death Penalty
It is appalling and barbaric that any governmental body would pass a law to “speed up” the imposition of the death penalty.

The Florida Legislature’s recent action in presenting a bill to the governor to streamline and speed up the process indicates an overall lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system, the manner in which cases are “selected” for the death penalty, and the costs of defending a death penalty case.

The unequal application of the death penalty, the dearth of resources and training for attorneys handling death penalty cases, and the proven possibility for error, not to mention the huge cost to the taxpayers of the state, cry out for the abolition of the death penalty in Florida. Florida’s death penalty statute was determined to be constitutional only because it was to be limited to a few, narrowly selected cases, not every homicide.

If the Legislature wants to bar lawyers who “have made mistakes” in handling death penalty cases from taking any cases in the future, the state better be prepared to fork over the money to hire and train fully competent counsel. It would be interesting to see what kind of fees a “silk-stocking” firm would charge for a death penalty case. I can guarantee it would not be the $22 per hour average a court-appointed attorney makes.

Teresa J. Sopp

It seems that the editors are quite permissive when it comes to editing lengthy letters. That has been the case for years and the April 30 edition is a prime example of this excessive waste of space.

Those three letters should be articles for the Journal. Publishing letters of that length does a disservice to those lawyers whose letters are not able to make it into the News.

Seems to me the editors have the authority to edit and condense letters that exceed the space limitations. Next time you receive letters such as the one by Steven N. Gosney, he should be encouraged to submit it as an article for the Journal.

Joseph L. Stone

[Revised: 11-25-2017]