The Florida Bar

Florida Bar Journal

As I See It

Featured Article

One thing I believe I have in common with the 52 men and women who
have preceded me in this great office is that they all, in beginning the
preparation of their first president’s message, must have felt the same
sense of duty and responsibility I do now. I began to notice last year after I
took office as president-elect that what I said, how I acted, and my
opinions were more carefully scrutinized and more readily acted upon than
during any of my previous experience. One becomes, by necessity, more
circumspect.

The Florida Bar is a great organization because of the courage and resolve
of its members, the vast majority of whom believe in what we do and why
we do it. They believe in the public service we are sworn to provide, and in
the public interest we are sworn to protect. So far we have done our job
well, and we have a right to be proud. No other state has produced more
presidents of the American Bar Association, and no other state bar is
more respected in national legal circles. With your help, I hope to build on
the traditions laid down by the great leadership that has preceded me.
There is a lot to do.

If we are to carry out our mission, our charge as a unified bar, we must
protect our core values, the things that set us apart, our professional goals
and ideals, and our heritage.

Ordinarily, a new president will use this first message to outline programs
and plans for the coming year. Unfortunately, these are not ordinary times.
As I write this, the 2001 session of the legislature has just concluded. The
Florida Bar has met and survived the most serious challenge in its 52-year
history, due in no small measure to the boundless energy and devotion to
cause of my predecessor, Herman Russomanno. There will no doubt be
more of the same in 2002, and we may once again see efforts by House
legislative leadership to further undermine the independence of the
judiciary and the profession. These efforts could include a return to an
elected appellate judiciary and restrictions on the Supreme Court’s
common law jurisdiction (which on so many occasions has proven vital to
individual liberty), as well as unwarranted restraints on the court’s inherent
power to write its own rules. This year, House legislators threatened to
usurp control of the court’s budget, as well as the Bar’s, showing little
regard for the fact that the Bar receives no tax support.

In a way, I suppose we should feel complimented. One legislative leader,
himself a lawyer, described us as “the court’s minions,” using a context I
considered most unflattering. But, the effort to weaken the judiciary in
deference to personal ideology quickly and predictably focused on the Bar
and its role in judicial selection, a role we have played for 30 years with
irrefutable integrity and success.

We should feel complimented because as the guardians of the judicial
system, not the “minions,” we were called upon to defend the court, and
we did. Under legislation passed on the last day of the session, at nearly
the final hour, the merit selection process will remain intact, with judicial
nominating commissions having a minimum of six lawyers, as opposed to
the previous three, and with The Florida Bar nominating persons from
which the governor must select four lawyers as opposed to our previous
three. The Bar’s current appointees will fully serve out their previous terms.

In spite of our best efforts to stave off the challenge, I would be less than
candid if I told you we were fully successful. Gradually, a governor will be
able to fill the JNCs with ideologically compatible people, thus injecting
partisan political influence into the judicial selection process. So by
necessity, and as priority number one, I have directed the Bar’s legislative
leadership, staff, and outside lobbyists to immediately undertake a full
review of our legislative programs and policies to be certain that,
consistent with the requirements of the integration rule, we can fully and
adequately defend our legal system and our profession in the future. We
must, as guardians of the state’s legal system and consistent with our
oath of admission, maintain the separation of powers and a judiciary that
is fair, impartial, and unbiased, i.e., independent. The people of Florida
want and deserve no less.

But there is more on my agenda. A lot more. We won’t forget our core
values, like ethics, professionalism, and, most of all, public service. We
will move forward with emerging practice issues like technology, improved
member benefits, multijurisdictional practice, ancillary businesses, and
lingering questions about multidisciplinary practice. And we’ll strive to
continue to improve diversity in our profession, on our standing
committees, and on our Board of Governors. I am proud to report that this
year the board will have six African-American members, three elected, two
appointed by the Supreme Court at the Bar’s recommendation, and one as
the invited guest of the board from the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of
the National Bar Association. We’ll also have two elected governors from
Dade County who are Cuban-American, and I am determined to even
further broaden our Hispanic representation on the board. With my own
daughter counted among them, I am extremely proud of the ever-growing
numbers of women included in our profession and in our governance. There
will be nine women on the board, including the president and
president-elect of the Young Lawyers Division and our representative from
FAWL, and I believe there is a good chance that many of those women
will serve on the executive committee.

What distinguishes us as a great profession is our tradition of public
service, and therein lies my paramount goal. We will strive to reaffirm that
tradition. As much as you give now, I’ll ask you to do more. We have an
honorble legacy, you and I, handed to us by Jefferson and Adams and
Lincoln and John Marshall, and Darrow and Pound, and Thurgood
Marshall, and more than 20 American presidents and dozens of other
great men and women who share our calling. But the great traditions of the
legal profession were built with sacrifice. It’s our responsibility to make
sure the system works, by ensuring equal access to fair and impartial
courts.

So in August, at the first meeting of the board during my term, the leaders
of our Bar will meet to discuss ways of better understanding the problem
of equal access to our courts in Florida and to propose new and creative
solutions to the ever growing problem of serving our poor and working poor.
Florida is one of only 11 states in the nation that provides no public
support for civil legal assistance for the poor. Where would we be if you,
the lawyers of Florida, had not innovated the most successful Interest on
Trust Accounts program in the nation 20 years ago, generating more than
$156 million for civil legal assistance, or if you had not given $1.6 million in
cash contributions and 1.3 million hours of your time to pro bono
programs, last year alone? And yet, with all that voluntarism, our legal
services system is only meeting about a third of the need.

I know my agenda is ambitious. My ambition for our profession is
exceeded only by my pride in being a part of it and in serving as your
spokesperson in the coming year. Please give me any constructive
suggestions you have ( [email protected] ), and I’ll keep you informed right
here in The Florida Bar Journal and in The Florida Bar News.