January 1, 2022 Letters
I retired from law practice and became a Supreme Court certified circuit court mediator in 2019. While I have enjoyed being a circuit court mediator, this year I decided to commit more time to using my skills to serve my community. I live in Clay County, near Jacksonville, and contacted the Fourth Circuit Mediation program in Clay County to inquire about mediating small claims cases on an unpaid basis. I was surprised to learn that I would have to go through the same process to be certified as a county court mediator that I had gone through to be a certified circuit court mediator. This process is expensive, lengthy, and largely redundant.
As I read the proposed amendments to Rule 10.100 (mediator qualifications), a certified circuit court mediator could apply for initial certification as a county court mediator without having to accumulate 100 points through education, training, and mentorship. I assume that this means that only an application and payment of a fee would be required as long as all of the qualifications of a certified circuit court mediator were currently met.
This change in the qualification rules makes infinite sense. Small claims and county court cases are simpler, generally involve fewer parties, and involve less money than circuit court cases, yet involve similar legal issues and principles. There is no logical reason why a certified circuit court mediator is not equally qualified to mediate county court cases or small claims. Changing jurisdictional limits in the next two years will divert many circuit court cases to county courts, and there will be a corresponding need for more certified county court mediators. Likewise, there is an urgent need to make the civil justice system more affordable and accessible to Florida citizens. The proposed changes to Rule 10.100 would allow more certified circuit court mediators to become county court certified, and thus improve access to justice for all Floridians.
Am I to assume that the December letter from Edward P. Dutkiewicz (Failure to Mature?) was published solely for comic relief? Not since watching the 1936 film “Reefer Madness” as an undergraduate in the late 70s have I laughed so hard.
Per the author, a “three-dollar bag of ‘weed’” precipitated a murder. I haven’t checked prices lately, but I’m pretty sure the last time a three-dollar bag of “weed” was available was during the Roosevelt administration (Teddy, not Franklin D.). The letter then goes on to connect cannabis usage to a veritable “parade of horribles” based solely on a faulty argument that can best be described as beautifully demonstrating the Latin maxim “post hoc ergo propter hoc” (after it, therefore because of it).
In light of recent medical research, I had hoped that these types of scare tactics had been abandoned in favor of rational thought. I guess I was wrong.
Reading letters to the editor can be an illuminating experience, shining light on unfamiliar perspectives and drawing attention to contemporary issues facing this profession. Nevertheless, occasionally such letters irresponsibly elevate dangerous, unfounded opinions shrouded under the guise of fact. “Failure to Mature?” published in December executes the latter. Perhaps “Failure to Research” would be a more befitting title.
Either thinly-veiled, bad faith propaganda or a severely under-researched, poorly thought out diatribe, “Failure to Mature?” relies on hearsay, broad platitudes, a lack of factual support, and cherry-picked quotes from quasi-scientific, diminutive studies in an attempt to discredit medicine regularly relied upon by over half a million Floridians.
The author begins with an anecdote, recounted by a “physician friend,” in which two friends in their 20s argued over “the sale price of a three dollar bag of ‘weed’ (marijuana).” Allegedly, this interaction escalated to one friend killing the other. Using this fable, the author constructs far-reaching, derogatory, and ridiculous assertions such as “marijuana causes a failure to mature,” “[marijuana] causes you to remain in the emotional state of [your] teen years,” and “[marijuana] is a gateway drug to hard core [sic] drug use.” At a conference supposedly attended by the author’s friend, “every panelist agreed that all hard core [sic] drug use starts with marijuana.” The author further declares that marijuana “was sold to the public as a ‘pain killer,’ though it is too weak to work as a pain killer for people who really need pain relief.” Again, this conjecture has no basis in fact, and it is unclear who meets the criteria of “people who really need pain relief.”
Next, the author proclaims, “[t]his explains a lot of unbelievable behavior which is seen in such violent crimes which have no conceivable excuse for the acts which result in death.” I will not waste ink attempting to make sense of that supposition. Flawed analytical reasoning reaches a crescendo when the author mentions four states that legalized recreational marijuana use in 2015, provides murder and aggravated assault figures from 2013 and 2018, and concludes, “The numbers don’t lie.” Notwithstanding the fact that correlation does not imply causation, that argument is so absurd and bereft of critical thought it hardly warrants analysis.
If there is any “big lie,” as the author insists, it is that a natural substance, which alleviates pain and includes side effects such as “sleepiness” and “hunger” is somehow more pernicious to society than opioids — one of the most abused drugs in the United States, which accounted for over 50,000 deaths in 2019 alone.
Perhaps some of the Sackler family’s $4.5 billion settlement should be allocated to counter such unprincipled and baseless propaganda — which has no place in The Florida Bar News.
Reed S. Fuller
What About The 14th Amendment?
The Florida Legislature should reject the recommendations made by the Florida Supreme Court in its November 24 opinion calling for a sixth district court of appeal. Instead, it should make changes so that Florida’s judicial boundaries comply with the U.S. Constitution.
The court’s opinion makes it clear that the proposed changes were not directed at redrawing the boundaries to more evenly apportion for population. As noted by the dissent, the consideration of the court was that “the Florida Constitution does not provide for redistricting in the court system based on population size as it does for legislative representation, and the Committee properly did not do so. See generally Art. III, §16, Fla. Const. (providing reapportionment after each decennial census).” With due respect to the justices and committee, this was error by oversight and, if adopted by the Legislature, would result in judicial boundaries that unconstitutionally infringe upon the rights of hundreds of thousands of Florida citizens and would be subject to challenge in federal court and redrawing.
The U.S. Constitution is the first and foremost law of the land. The first section of the 14th Amendment states, in pertinent part, that “No State shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This language was addressed by the Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). In Reynolds, the Court was addressing legislative redistricting. However, importantly, in doing so, Chief Justice Warren wrote that legislative districts had to be roughly equal by population because “[l]egislators are elected by voters.” This was one of a line of cases that established the principle that peoples’ votes should have equal weight, as much as possible. This has become the bedrock principle of “one person, one vote” and is a right guaranteed to every citizen by the 14th Amendment.
It is true that initial appointments through the nominating commission process typically, but not always, occur for judicial vacancies. What the committee and Florida Supreme Court appear to have overlooked is that Florida’s citizens ultimately vote for:
• their circuit court judges;
• their circuit state attorneys;
• their circuit public defenders; and, in a manner,
• with merit retention voting, their district court justices.
Florida’s circuit courts are made up of one or more counties, with a county being the underlying unit. With the benefit of the recent census, we know that Florida’s 16th Circuit, which is comprised of only Monroe County, has just under 83,000 people in it. However, Florida’s Sixth Circuit is made up of Pinellas County (959,100 people roughly) and Pasco County (561,900 people roughly), for a total population of roughly 1,521,000. Thus, the vote of a Florida citizen in the 16th Circuit (Monroe County) has 18.3 times (1,830%) the effect of the vote of a citizen in the Sixth Circuit in voting for circuit judges, state attorneys, and public defenders. In fact, every judicial circuit in Florida has many, many times the population of the 16th Circuit, leaving citizens of those circuits with a fraction of the voting power of the citizens in the 16th Circuit. There are many other substantial and presumptively unconstitutional discrepancies (under the holdings of multiple federal cases) that exist in the relative voting rights among other different Florida judicial circuits and Florida district court boundaries.
A constitutionally compliant arrangement of circuit and district courts can easily be accomplished by making Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Orange, Duval, and Pinellas counties each their own circuit and then grouping the remaining counties into 11 circuits, for a total of 18 circuits. Those 18 circuits then can be arranged into five districts, all of which are fairly apportioned by population and would allow as much as possible for the “one person, one vote” right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to be reflected and protected. All current district courthouses could remain located as they are, and some circuits, such as the Seventh, would not need reconfiguring at all.
Judicial workload is easily and best addressed by the number of judges within a county, circuit, and district. That process is more than adequate to ensure fairness and access to having matters heard and decided. Adding a sixth district and only rearranging circuits within the six districts is a cure in search of a problem that does not exist and does not at all address the actual problem that does exist. Leaving the district courts at five and fairly apportioning the judicial circuits themselves and the circuits within the districts would solve a real and significant issue; one person, one vote.