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Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force transitions into new roles

Senior Editor Top Stories
Sia Baker-Barnes

Sia Baker-Barnes

The COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, formed in 2020 to develop the Bar’s response to the health crisis, is considering a name change to reflect an evolving mission.

The Program Evaluation Committee on March 24 will weigh a request to extend the task force a second time, from July 2022 through June 2023 — as the “Special Committee on Changes to the Practice of Law.”

Jay Kim

Jay Kim

Co-chaired by West Palm Beach attorney Sia Baker-Barnes and Ft. Lauderdale attorney Jay Kim, the task force is on the verge of completing one of its two latest missions — developing an automated platform for resolving small-value civil disputes of up to $1,000.

“To the claimant, that’s a lot of money, but most of us know it’s nearly impossible for a lawyer to handle a claim that size economically,” President Michael Tanner wrote in a Bar Journal column in January.

Last summer, Tanner extended the task force an additional year and ordered it to begin reviewing the potential for a platform.

The goal is to determine the feasibility of a fully automated platform, administered by the state court system, that would give claimants an alternative to pro bono representation or small claims court.

Asked to describe a typical user, Baker-Barnes suggested a consumer who buys a defective refrigerator and can’t get a satisfactory response from the store.

“Maybe there’s an online platform that allows you to submit your claim electronically, with documents only, and allows the other side to submit a response, and ultimately provides a resolution online, without anyone ever having to set foot in a courtroom,” she said.

The task force has studied platforms in other countries and other U.S. states, and met with representatives of Matterhorn, a University of Michigan Law School platform that has facilitated the resolution of more than 40,000 cases.

The review included the “DIY Florida” project managed by the Office of State Courts Administrator, a small civil claims resolution project in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, and a pilot program in the Third Circuit.

The task force is expected to deliver a final report on the project before a final board meeting in May. If approved by the board, the recommendations will be forwarded to the Florida Courts Technology Commission for further review.

At the same time, the task force has been monitoring various Supreme Court workgroups, including the District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee that Chief Justice Charles Canady appointed in May.

The Legislature, at the urging of the Supreme Court, recently acted on the assessment committee’s majority recommendation to create a Sixth District Court of Appeal.

Lawmakers proposed a $50 million Sixth DCA headquarters in Lakeland, seven new district court of appeal judgeships, and the realignment of judicial circuits in the First, Second and Fifth district courts, and other related court related functions.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has line-item veto authority, has yet to sign off on the proposal.

The task force is also monitoring Supreme Court workgroups on the improved resolution of civil cases, (AOSC19-73); sanctions for vexatious and sham litigation, (AOSC21-62); trial court strategies, (AOSC21-56); and judicial practices in the trial courts, (AOSC21-57).

In addition to completing work on the platform project, the special committee will “make recommendations and draft comments for consideration by the Board of Governors concerning the areas of the law that are being monitored,” according to a staff analysis.

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