The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

February 1, 2021 Letters

Letters

Civic Virtue

Magna Carta was forced upon King John in 1215 on the fields of Runnymede. The king would have repudiated the document as it had been in the past, but he died before he could say it was “fake news” or otherwise recant (however, that was done by a tyrant in the 1200s).

Granted, Magna Carta was not intended to grant the broad rights to one and all citizens as the myth surrounding the document is prone to indicate. The barons who forced the king to sign the document were not, to say the least, libertarians or seminal believers in democracy. They were the powerful owners of property and commanders of military forces and were ready to send those forces to do battle against the king.

That being said, on July 28, 1957, the American Bar Association erected a monument on a hill overlooking the fields of Runnymede to commemorate Magna Carta as a symbol of freedom under law which it truly is.

In 1971, 1985, and 2000 the ABA returned to Runnymede and pledged adherence to the principles of the great charter as the foundation of the rule of law for ages past and future. In 2012, my wife and I were privileged to attend a conference in London commemorating the 800th year of Magna Carta that climaxed with a celebration at Runnymede attended by the Queen and her royal family as well as American and British legal officials and jurists.

Today, we in the legal profession are challenged to adhere to principles. We must get beyond the television reality show concept that we, as lawyers, are merely, hyper adversary virile mouthpieces for whatever “cause” (political or otherwise) might be able to pay a bill or boost an ego. We must, instead, teach our children well and lead them down democratic paths.

Former Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis attempted to ensure that the youth of our state were well trained in democratic values in conjunction with what was once a very active Florida Law Related Education Association. The Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida was created to strengthen civic health of our communities, state, and nation. The Bob Graham Center was established at the University of Florida with the goal of creating a community of students, scholars, and citizens who share a commitment to revitalizing the civic culture of Florida and the nation. At one time, the Lou Frey Institute and the Graham Center joined forces to form the Florida Joint Center on Citizenship. Justice Lewis, since his retirement from the court, established the Justice Teaching Center for Civic Learning at Florida Southern College. All Florida lawyers need to be involved now more than ever.

We have seen members of our profession of late who foment and defend attacks upon the core values of our democracy and defend corruption and delusional conspiracy theories relating to our elections. They call for military takeovers of (at least) our election process, for the vice president to be shot by firing squad and for the chief justice of the Supreme Court of the United States to be tried as a seditious traitor. All this is done under the name of “legal representation.”

The saddest part of this is that our children accept it all as the norm. It is not. These actions by lawyers are antithetical to the fundamental principles of our nation. We, as lawyers, are called upon to train our children in civic virtue (and, indeed, ourselves if that need be the case) in order to restore our essential values as a democracy. That is our calling. No other profession has such a calling. It is ours. We need to act now.

Lonnie Groot

Daytona Beach Shores

IOTA Rules

I am concerned about the proposed new restrictions on IOTA funding, specifically, I am troubled by the defunding of a longstanding loan repayment program that will impact legal aid lawyers.

The Florida Bar Foundation currently administers a Loan Repayment Assistance Program for certain attorneys in civil legal aid positions. The program exists to “strengthen and expand legal assistance for the poor by supporting the recruitment and retention of the most qualified civil legal aid staff attorneys who are employed by legal assistance organizations that receive grant funding from The Florida Bar Foundation.”

Over its existence, the program has forgiven over $10 million in student loan debt.

As I understand the impact of the proposed new rule, the 15% cap on the Foundation’s use of IOTA funds would effectively defund and thereby terminate the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, which supports lawyers who pursue civil legal aid careers and the clients they serve. I am particularly troubled as it has been my experience many individuals in this practice area are young lawyers and minorities who face additional burdens entering and staying in public service. It is also my understanding that a number of young lawyers may have entered the civil legal aid path relying on this program; it seems inequitable to terminate it without warning and without a replacement.

With the income pressures so many face as a result of the pandemic and the notorious challenges of the Federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, defunding this program will undoubtedly make it more difficult to recruit, and more importantly retain, qualified civil legal aid attorneys. This is a tremendous disservice to the clients these lawyers serve who need them now more than ever.

The proposed rule should be amended to allow this needed program to continue. Further, I challenge everyone who is able to assist in providing sustainable alternative funding for this important program, which helps us not only assist legal aid lawyers burdened with tremendous student debt but helps ensure legal aid clients get access to the justice they deserve.

David W. Grimes

Tallahassee

Bar Exam

I work in a relatively small office, so personnel stories have major reverberations. One such story that weighed heavily on us was how the online bar examination impacted our youngest team member.

Following a guest lecture at the University of Florida, Professor Davis’ class, one of those graduating students interned with our firm. Simultaneously, he enrolled in a prep class and began making plans for the July exam. Due to COVID-19, the exam was delayed from July to August and then again from August to October.

When it did launch in October, it was in a new format. The test utilized software to facilitate remote participation. In theory, the software would pause if the taker experienced a technical issue so as not to penalize your time. To be fair to those who implemented the system, it’s my understanding that by and large the exam went as well as could be expected.

For our intern, it did not. The test glitched, preventing him from fully responding to the first essay and many of the multiple-choice questions. In total he lost about an hour and a half.

Following the exam, he contacted the Board of Bar Examiners to determine his options. They advised he could count his October scores as is and should he fail, he’d be eligible to sit for the February exam if he paid the fee. Or he could withhold the scores altogether and sit for the February exam with his October fee rolling over.

Either way, he’s looking at extending his bar journey. I’ve witnessed first-hand the emotional toll that has taken on him. Not to mention the disruption to the office as he’ll now need another extended period off to study.

I write this cautionary tale because while the Bar Examiners and those involved should be applauded for adapting fairly well, in my opinion there is an insufficient remedy for those unfortunate takers who find themselves in this situation. With the likelihood that the examiners will evaluate remote tests in the future, this particular issue should be flushed out lest we’re doomed to repeat it.

Daniel Etlinger

Jennis Morse Etlinger

Tampa

Font Wars

To be sure, changing font sizes and styles to make pleadings more readable is a worthy goal. However, a problem lies in what seems to be a lack of coordination between the state and federal courts that cover Florida in choosing the new fonts.

As stated in the article, the Florida Supreme Court mandated use of Arial 14-point or Bookman Old Style 14-point. At the same time, the Middle District of Florida amended its local rules that changed fonts. However, none of the fonts accepted by the MDFL are Arial or Bookman Old Style.

To be fair to the MDFL, they do accept documents in the Times New Roman 14-point, which like Arial, is a legacy font available on just about every word processing software published in the past 20-plus years.

While these concerns may seem trivial to some, coordination on having a font common to both court systems would make life a little easier for those who practice in front of both.

W. Patrick Westerfield
Orlando

News in Photos