The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

April 1, 2003 Letters

Regular News

Dignity in Law

I think we should all take a few moments and reflect on the tremendous success of the Dignity in Law program, launched under the leadership of Florida Bar President Tod Aronovitz. I have read a few letters criticizing the use of “public relations” to improve the image of the practice of law.

Aronovitz’s vision has proven to be very successful. First, the amount of positive publicity generated by the Dignity in Law program cannot be fully calculated. Good news, just like bad news, can have a ripple effect. When there is one positive story about the good deeds of one lawyer reported in one newspaper, many people read this article and discuss it with other people. Lawyers should be proud of their profession. We exist to help clients in need with legal problems, and we are diligent and professional in the execution of these duties. The spreading of this message is exactly what the Dignity in Law program is all about.

Aronovitz’s program has, in essence, changed the tone and tenor of the discussion about the practice of law. Lawyers serve in elected offices in a far greater proportion than their number in the population. Lawyers serve on boards of directors of so many charitable organizations, not to mention the large amount of hours put in mandatory and voluntary pro bono work. We should follow Tod Aronovitz’s lead in spreading the “good news” about the good work many lawyers do each and every day. I am therefore confident and pleased the Dignity in Law program will exist for many years to come.

Gary S. Lesser
Vice Chair of The Florida
Bar’s Professional Ethics Committee

Court Funding

I noticed with interest the February 15 articles “The time to push for court funding is now” and “Senate Judiciary takes up court funding issues.” I believe I have a solution to the funding problem.

It is my understanding that punitive damage awards originated in the middle ages back in old England. Punitive meant the defendant was punished for his actions and paid accordingly. It was not necessarily meant for the plaintiff to reap or enjoy any of these benefits. If in today’s litigious environment all punitive damage awards were legislated to go into the state coffers, being earmarked for the judiciary, I don’t believe we would have any funding problems. Legal counsel would receive their normal hourly fees in lieu of any percentage of the punitive damage award. We are talking about a significant sum of remuneration annually. Think about it.

Thomas A. Binford
Winter Springs

Bad Faith

It appears that The Florida Bar is now abrogating its responsibility for preventing or policing conflicts of interest which inevitably occur when defense counsel are nothing more than paid employees of the defendant’s insurance company. This is coming at a time when the insurance industry is attempting to legislatively abolish insurance bad faith law as we know it in Florida.

If insurance companies are able to willy nilly ignore the interests of their policyholders without the fear of an excess verdict, there will be no controls whatsoever on the abuses which are inherent in the “in-house counsel” system. No case will settle for the policy limits and an inordinate number of cases will go to trial with defendants looking at the harsh reality of excess judgments.

Members of the Bar should immediately urge their legislators to oppose any changes in insurance bad faith law in Florida. In addition, the Bar should reconsider its position regarding “in-house” counsel.

Roger N. Messer
Port St. Lucie

Unlicensed Practice

I wish to compliment The Florida Bar News for printing the UPL update article concerning a nonlawyer practicing immigration law in Florida. With the recent creation of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services within the Department of Homeland Security, both substantiative and procedural immigration law will continue to evolve. Thus, the activities of nonlawyers will be even more damaging.

The majority of these nonlawyers are immigrants who were legally trained in their home country. When they arrived in America, rather then obtaining an American law degree and receiving state bar admission, they simply set up shop and tried to fly low under the radar screen. I practiced immigration law in Canada prior to moving to Florida. It took significant time and money to get my American law degree and becoming admitted in Florida, but I did it to be able to practice law in Florida.

It was not surprising that the accused nonlawyer in the UPL article did not reply to The Florida Bar accusations. In immigration, nonlawyers don’t fear reprimands precisely because their victims are illegal. Illegal immigrants live in constant fear of authority because they know they are subject to arrest and deportation. Thus, even when they discover the true identity of their “lawyer,” they don’t complain.

Since opening my office in Jacksonville, I have tried to educate the immigration community about the dangers of using a nonlawyer. I have written in a number of church publications about the need to check out anyone claiming to be an immigration lawyer. I have also been interviewed by a number of radio stations concerning the filing of incorrect documents and the limited constitutional protections provided to aliens.

I call upon all lawyers to be vigilant so that nonlawyers will not be able to bring our profession into further disrepute. Listen to the local radio stations and check church newsletters to see if anyone is claiming they can complete immigration papers. Also, be proactive and go into your community and inform immigrants of the dangers of nonlawyers. It is not only our ethical duty to stop UPL, it is also our professional duty to promote ethical practice in immigration law.

C.C. Abbott

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