Bar Examiners seek change to how nominations to its board are made
The Board of Governors decided to take no action on a verbal request made by the Florida Board of Bar Examiners for a rule change that would reduce the Bar’s role in selecting FBBE members.
An administrative agency of the Florida Supreme Court, the FBBE is the entity charged with overseeing the Bar admissions process.
The current process for filling FBBE vacancies involves the court selecting from a slate of nominees submitted by a joint committee consisting of three representatives from the FBBE and three from the Board of Governors. The proposal would reconstitute that joint committee to give the FBBE three members and the Board of Governors two.
At a September meeting in Destin, FBBE Chair Scott Baena said the tentative proposal is part of a year-long policy review of everything from the bar exam, and how well it measures “minimum technical competence,” to the structure of the entity itself. If the Board of Bar Examiners files a formal request for a rule change, the Board of Governors will have the option to comment.
“Over the course of my service on the Board of Bar Examiners, our leadership has been laser-focused on a very simple agenda,” Baena said. “First and foremost, to ensure that our practices and polices ensure a fair, impartial, and thorough evaluation of the qualifications, character, and fitness of applicants to The Florida Bar.”
Baena said that while the proposed rule change would reduce the Board of Governors’ participation in the board selection process, it is “not about disenchantment or criticism,” but rather “institutional self-determination.”
“Frankly, and please take no offense, as none is intended,” Baena said. “There is no body or entity better suited or equipped to assess the skill sets we would profit from by having such resident expertise on our board.”
Unlike The Florida Bar, which elects its board members from the state’s 20 judicial circuits and four from out-of-state, FBBE members are appointed by the Supreme Court. The FBBE board consists of 12 members of The Florida Bar and three public members who are not lawyers.
Under the proposed change to FBBE Rules 1-22.2 and 1-22.3, the Board of Governor’s representation on the joint committee would be reduced from three members to two.
The selection process also involves the Board of Governors taking a final vote of approval on the attorney nominees that are forwarded to the Supreme Court. Under the proposal, the nominees would be forwarded directly to the court — although that aspect of the proposal would not require a rule change.
Baena said that beyond an applicant’s qualifications and willingness to devote “700 hours of silent service,” FBBE members are in a better position to judge whether an applicant is the best fit for the current composition of the board.
Baena, who is stepping down after five years on the FBBE, is a former member of the Board of Governors. At the meeting, several board members praised him for what they said was exemplary service on both boards.
But some board members said they were concerned about changing the selection process at a time when the FBBE enjoys a reputation as one of the highest performing agencies of its type in the nation.
“I think if it’s not broken, why are we fixing it,” said 16th Circuit board member Wayne Smith.
“I agree that the FBBE is…exalted among bars and bar screening committees around the country,” Smith said. “So, could we be making a mistake and taking a step back in making this change that doesn’t appear to be motivated by a particular problem?”
Sixth Circuit board member Sandra Diamond said she was concerned that reducing the board’s role in the selection process would narrow the FBBE’s base of support.
“I think we have a good balance right now,” Diamond said.
If the Bar’s board members lack some understanding of the selection process, “educate us, tell us exactly what you need, and we’ll listen,” Diamond said.
Board member John Agnew, who represents the 20th Circuit, wanted to know whether the FBBE would eventually ask to remove the Board of Governors entirely from the selection process.
Baena assured him that was not the case.
“It really is all about finding people who will fit in, who are capable, and who have the skill sets that we need,” Baena said.
Board member Wayne Helsby, who represents the Ninth Circuit, said board members need more time to study the proposal.
“I move to table this until we have the actual rule in front of us,” Helsby said.
The motion passed unanimously.