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Chief justice expected to talk pandemic with the Board of Governors

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Chief Justice Charles Canady

Chief Justice Charles Canady

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, the Board of Governors is scheduled January 29 to receive an update from Chief Justice Charles Canady.

Canady has addressed the board several times since the pandemic forced him in March to close courthouses to the public — and appoint a workgroup to guide their gradual reopening, based on health expert recommendations and regional conditions.

In previous remarks, Canady has urged patience and stressed that he wants to be assured that the public and court personnel will be safe before allowing the full-scale resumption of jury trials.

“Patience will keep us from doing things that we will regret later,” he told board members in July.

The chief justice on November 24 issued his latest update to the March 13 order. It extended the workgroup to July 2, and amended the requirements, benchmarks, and guidelines for the four phases of a return to normal statewide court operations.

Meanwhile, at a December 15 meeting, the board’s Executive Committee voted 6-4 to issue a strong recommendation that Bar sections, divisions, and committees not convene in-person meetings through February.

At the same meeting, the Executive Committee voted unanimously to approve a recommendation that the board not take a position on a proposed rule change by the Supreme Court’s Task Force on the Distribution of IOTA Funds.

The task force’s recommended changes to Bar Rule 5-1(g) would keep The Florida Bar Foundation as the sole collector and distributor of IOTA funds. The amendments would establish an overhead limit of 15% for the Foundation and 10% for recipient legal aid programs, provide that grants should go to experienced providers, and be limited to the direct provision of legal services, either through paying attorneys or enhancing pro bono services provided by attorneys. The amendment also would require that all IOTA funds be spent within six months of receipt.

The court converted the task force report and proposed amendments into a rules case, In re: Amendments to Rules Regulating The Florida Bar 5-1.1(g), Case No. SC20-1543. At the request of 25 former Foundation presidents, the court extended a public comment period to February 3. The task force has until February 24 to respond.

But the committee found the issue does not fall within the board’s mission, and the deadline for filing a comment does not leave enough time to examine the issues.

Instead, the Executive Committee agreed to send a letter to interested parties explaining the decision.

In other business, Budget Committee Chair Melissa VanSickle and Program Evaluation Committee Chair Brian Burgoon are scheduled to present a cost-saving plan to permanently conduct the Bar’s annual Fall Meeting remotely.

At a December 4 board meeting, Burgoon said the move would generate substantial savings.

According to a staff analysis, the Bar could realize $62,000 in annual savings — not counting the time and travel expenses individual members would save.

The Bar’s Fall, Winter, and Annual meetings are the most convenient way for hundreds of attorney volunteers to perform the section, division, and committee work that a self-regulated profession requires.

An October 22 survey of 73 Bar committee chairs showed that 90% considered the all-virtual 2020 Fall Meeting “very productive” and only 10% considered it “somewhat productive.”

Anonymous responses to the survey were mostly supportive of using a virtual platform, with many citing dramatic increases in attendance.

In other business, the board is expected to receive an update from the Bar’s COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force.

In addition to frequently updating the Bar’s COVID-19 Resource and Information webpage with the latest legal developments and health-related news, the task force is planning a member survey to help determine which legal proceedings the board should recommend continuing remotely after the pandemic subsides.

Board Technology Committee Chair Jay Kim is also expected to update the board on several committee projects, including recent negotiations with Zoom executives to develop platform features recommended by attorneys.

The Technology Committee is also developing an Information Technology helpline for lawyers.

In other business, the board is expected to:

• Weigh a series of Disciplinary Procedure Committee proposed amendments to Rule 14-4.1 Arbitration Proceedings. The proposal would permit the Bar’s voluntary fee arbitration program to resolve disputes over costs that are common in fee disputes and include disputes over “such things as office charges for photocopies or online research as well as out-of-pocket costs for experts, deposition transcripts, filing fees and service of process,” according to a staff analysis.

• Weigh proposed amendments to Florida Standards for Imposing Lawyer Sanctions 3.2 Aggravation. The amendment, proposed by board member Brian Burgoon, would add “failure to complete a practice and professionalism enhancement program required as part of diversion,” to a list of aggravating factors.

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