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Court creates task force to study the best use of IOTA funds

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The Florida Supreme Court has established a task force to study the most effective use of funds generated through the Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) Program.

Pursuant to an October 25 administrative order signed by Chief Justice Charles Canady, the Task Force on the Distribution of IOTA Funds will “examine and make recommendations to the Court on alternative models for the distribution of IOTA funds; whether specific priorities should be established for the use of available IOTA funds; whether specific requirements or limitations should be imposed on the use of IOTA funds; whether reporting requirements regarding the distribution and use of IOTA funds should be adopted; and any other matters related to ensuring the most effective use of IOTA funds.”

Mayanne DownsFormer Bar President Mayanne Downs of Orlando was appointed chair of the task force, and Chief Justice Canady will serve as the Supreme Court’s liaison.

Florida’s IOTA program operates pursuant to the provisions of Bar Rule 5-1.1(g). Under the program, all IOTA funds flow to The Florida Bar Foundation and are to be “used to fund programs which are designed to improve the administration of justice or to expand the delivery of legal services to the poor.”

In conducting its work, the task force has been directed by the court to give “priority consideration” to the need for funding direct legal services for low-income litigants in Florida.

In 1981, the Supreme Court gave The Florida Bar Foundation the authority to administer the nation’s first IOTA program. It has since been adopted by every state and the District of Columbia.

Last year, the Foundation distributed $10.8 million in grants to more than 40 legal aid organizations in Florida. More than 80,000 legal aid cases were handled by Foundation grantees in 2018. In September, the Foundation surpassed the $500 million mark in lifetime grant funding. At its peak, the Foundation took in more than $70 million a year in IOTA funds, but watched its annual IOTA income steadily plunge in the wake of the Great Recession in 2008 that saw bank interest rates fall to near zero and never recover to pre-recession levels.

Other members of the task force include Miami’s Karen Ladis, executive director of Dade Legal Aid; Naples’ Laird A. Lile, a member of the Board of Governors; Tampa’s Hala A. Sandridge, president of The Florida Bar Foundation; Third DCA Judge Edwin A. Scales III; Bar President John Stewart of Vero Beach; and Jacksonville attorney M. Scott Thomas of Burr and Forman.

The task force is directed to submit its findings and recommendations to the court along with any proposed rule amendments by September 15, 2020. The Florida Bar will provide administrative support to the task force.

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