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Juvenile law certification was a long time coming

Senior Editor Regular News

‘I can’t think of work that is more impactful than to have that opportunity to have a chance to make sure kids have the best possible outcome’

The seven-year wait for a new certification area in juvenile law — combining dependency and delinquency issues — is over.

The first meeting of the inaugural Juvenile Law Certification Committee is this month and will be chaired by Robin Rosenberg of Florida’s Children First in Tampa. Rob Mason, director of the Juvenile Division of the Fourth Circuit Public Defender’s Office, will serve as vice chair.

“No one makes serious money in this business. Clients won’t pay us more for being certified. It’s a tribute to the leaders of The Florida Bar to recognize the importance of certification in this area of the law,” Rosenberg said.

“The attorneys that practice in the juvenile arena have an impact on the outcome of children’s lives. I can’t think of work that is more impactful than to have that opportunity to have a chance to make sure kids have the best possible outcome.”

The Bar’s Public Interest Law Section and Legal Needs of Children Committee joined forces in 2008 to create what was then called a new certification in “children’s law.”

Six years before that, the suggestion came from the final report of the Bar’s predecessor Commission on the Legal Needs of Children.

John Copelan, of LNOC, and Tracey McPharlin of PILS, laid the groundwork when they appeared before the Board of Legal Specialization and Education in 2009 and received approval “in concept” for children’s law certification.

In 2010, they gathered 159 petitions and delivered them to Bar General Counsel Paul Hill, testament to great interest in the new certification area.

Anthony Musto, of PILS, joined Copelan as co-chair of the certification subcommittee of LNOC, at the time McPharlin was dying of cancer.

Musto wrote the proposed rules.

Difficult challenges confronted them.

“John and I brokered an agreement between LNOC and PILS on a particularly contentious issue, the question of whether there would be a grandparent clause in the rules, and, if so, the scope of the clause,” Musto said.

“John and I also successfully lobbied to quell a move to shift to a national certification program, rather than one administered by The Florida Bar.”

Musto addressed concerns of the Family Law Section that juvenile law certification might overlap with family law certification. Proposed rules were revised.

Commitments were received from the Department of Children and Families and the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program that they would encourage their lawyers to seek certification.

With BSLE’s official blessing, Musto next submitted paperwork to obtain approval from the Program Evaluation Committee.

“When the proceedings at that level appeared stalled,” Musto said, “I met with and enlisted the aid of (then) Bar President Greg Coleman, whose assistance broke up the logjam and allowed the matter to be considered in time to be included as part of the Bar’s 2014 rules submission to the Florida Supreme Court.”

Finally, in July 2014, the Bar Board of Governors endorsed the new certification area in juvenile law, after a recommendation from the PEC.

Late in the process, it was clear the name had to be changed to finally get the new certification area passed.

At that time, PEC Chair David Prather said the committee unanimously recommended the new certification, although it changed the name from children’s law to juvenile law, after receiving comments from the Family Law Section and the Adoption Law Certification Committee that “children’s law” was too broad.

The new juvenile certification area will focus on dependency, delinquency, and termination of parental rights, but not adoption or “matters arising in the context of family law proceedings not consolidated with dependency or termination of parental rights matters,” because previous board certifications for adoption and family law cover those areas.

“Juvenile law is a special area of law anchored in juvenile-specific training and practice skills, and requires zealous advocacy that is individualized and developmentally appropriate,” said Mason, who also chairs the Florida Juvenile Rules Committee and the Florida Public Defender Association Juvenile Justice Steering Committee.

“Board certification is a mark of excellence and distinguishing accomplishment. It elevates an attorney to the highest level of public commitment to excellence in juvenile law and brings a higher level of accountability into the field.

“Board certification for juvenile law legitimizes juvenile practice and will recognize dedicated attorneys who work with children, our most vulnerable population.

“I’m proud to be a member of the inaugural Juvenile Law Certification Committee and I’m thrilled that attorneys practicing in this area of the law will soon have the opportunity to be board certified,” Mason said.

As Bar President Ramón Abadin wrote in his September 4 appointment letter: “As a member of this initial committee, you will have the task of reviewing the credentials of the first class of applicants, developing policy to implement the standards approved by the Supreme Court of Florida, and drafting and administering the first examination.

“You will find the first year will require a significant commitment of both time and energy, but the rewards will be great.”

Other members of the Juvenile Law Certification Committee are:

• Meshon Trinette Rawls, University of Florida Levin College of Law;

• Deborah Anne Schroth, Florida Department of Children and Families;

• Gerard Glynn, corporate counsel of
Community Based Care of Central Florida in Orlando;

• Laura Vaughan-Bosco, Office of the 18th Circuit State Attorney in Sanford;

• Tamara Gray, Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office;

• Maria Schneider, Office of the 17th Circuit State Attorney in Ft. Lauderdale;

• Whitney Marie Untiedt, Akerman, LLP, in Miami.

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