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Board creates a Special Committee on Criminal Justice

Senior Editor Regular News

Michelle SuskauerFollowing up on an initiative by President Michelle Suskauer, the Board of Governors has agreed to create a Special Committee on Criminal Justice.

At a May 24 meeting in Palm Beach, the board voted unanimously to approve the proposal, as recommended by the Program Evaluation Committee.

“This special committee would be created to act as a forum for a discussion and to provide subject-matter expertise in the criminal justice legislation arena,” PEC Chair Wayne Helsby told fellow board members. “The committee would work with legislative and criminal justice stakeholders.”

The proposal calls for the creation of a 10- to 15-member panel that would “provide subject-matter expertise without advocating for a particular legislative position.” The special committee would begin its work in July and have a June 30, 2020 deadline.

Special committee members would be appointed by Suskauer’s successor, President-elect John Stewart. The panel would include at least one current board member and representatives from the judiciary, state attorneys, public defenders, and other key stakeholders. The proposal also gives Stewart the option to appoint non-lawyer representatives.

The proposal has its roots in Suskauer’s 2017 call for an initiative to promote criminal justice reforms that had been building in the Legislature for the previous two years.

A subsequent Criminal Justice Summit Planning Survey indicated that 86 percent of state attorneys, public defenders, and other Florida thought leaders in the area of criminal justice who responded “believed that a (criminal justice) summit would be beneficial, and that Florida’s criminal justice system was at a crossroads.”

Conducted October 16-17, 2018, in Tampa, the summit attracted approximately 160 scholars, policy makers, judges, and practitioners from across the state and all three branches of government. Following the summit, but prior to the 2019 legislative session, Suskauer brokered further discussions between the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association and the Florida Public Defender Association.

Some of the summit participants sponsored reforms — including the Florida First Step Act and a proposal to raise the monetary threshold for felony theft — that were ultimately approved in the just completed legislative session. Advocates are vowing to continue pushing for more reforms next year.

Cannabis Law
While the board approved the PEC recommendation to create the special committee, it took no action on another proposal — the creation of “Committee on Cannabis Law.”

A review by a PEC Subcommittee on Cannabis Law — chaired by board member Julia Frey — determined that, “given the growing practice of law around cannabis in Florida, a Cannabis Law Committee is appropriate.”

While appropriate, the proposal is also a “little bit of a delicate issue,” Helsby said.

“The bottom line was we thought that it would be best to not have a standing committee on cannabis established, but instead have it rolled into another section.”

Several Bar sections expressed an interest in housing a Cannabis Law Committee, and the “Business Law Section is the leading contender,” Helsby said.

Business Law Section leaders will ask their executive council to vote on the issue at the Bar Annual Convention in June, Helsby said.

“We believe that that is going to be a committee that is going to be established by the Business Law Section,” Helsby said. “We think it will fly.”