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Board to hear COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force update

Senior Editor Top Stories

Florida Bar sealThe Board of Governors is scheduled next week to receive an update on the Bar’s latest efforts to help members deal with the lethal COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating economic fallout.

The August 24 meeting will be conducted via Zoom and focus mainly on the crisis. The board last met July 17.

President Dori Foster-Morales is scheduled to report preliminary findings from a 20-circuit Virtual Town Hall listening tour that concludes next month.

“This afternoon, we’re focusing on how the judicial system is adapting its operations, and what more the Bar can do to assist its members,” Foster-Morales told participants at a recent town hall for the First Judicial Circuit.

Anonymous surveys conducted via Zoom at each event have measured everything from member awareness and utilization of the new Florida Lawyers Helpline to the pandemic’s financial and psychological toll.

Foster-Morales said the surveys have so far shown that many lawyers are struggling with child-care issues as they tend their children by day and manage their legal practices by night.

Board members will also hear a progress report from President-elect Michael Tanner, chair of the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force.

The 13-member panel’s mission statement is “to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Florida’s legal profession, identify key issues facing citizens of Florida and Florida Bar members, and advise The Florida Bar president and executive director on how to best address these key issues.”

At an inaugural meeting in July, Tanner told task force members that they would have to be flexible and that their mission may include the rapid development of such things as member benefits, or procedural rules to accommodate the voluntary, remote civil jury pilot program that Chief Justice Charles Canady authorized in five circuits earlier this year.

Since the task force first met, Fourth Judicial Circuit Judge Bruce Anderson — aided by a small army of court IT officers and local ABOTA volunteers — presided over Florida’s first fully remote, binding, civil jury trial.

Judge Anderson said the fully remote “damages trial” for a Jacksonville woman who was seriously injured by nightclub bouncers in 2018, was a success. In July, the 11th Circuit successfully conducted its experiment, a hybrid model that combined remote jury selection with extensive use of protective gear and social distancing for an in-person trial.

The pilot programs aren’t required to report their findings to a Supreme Court work group until October 2, but Tanner said he hopes to meet with Judge Anderson to discuss the need for rule amendments before the deadline.

In other action, the board is expected to weigh a Program Evaluation Committee recommendation regarding a law-related educational program for Florida middle and high-school students.

Called “The Story of The Florida Bar’s Path to Unity,” the program originated with the Standing Committee on Diversity and Inclusion.

According to a committee summary, “the curriculum tells the story of our society’s progression and the intersection of law and society and how that led to our more inclusive country, state, and Bar.”

The program will also include a traveling exhibit of portraits of five Florida lawyers who represent the main categories of the standing committee’s mission statement — race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and disability.

The portraits will be painted by students from an accredited Florida art college and program expenses are expected to be covered by private donations and sponsorships.

 

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