The Florida Bar

Florida Bar News

December 1, 2016 Letters



Death Penalty
I read with interest the two published letters in the November 15 News, both of which decried the merits of the death penalty. The first letter stated categorically “Capital punishment does not rehabilitate anyone, and retribution is simply wrong.” The second letter implied that the American people, via their government, are on a “continuing quest to exact revenge on those who kill other people.”

I disagree, and I don’t believe most who favor capital punishment are vengeful at all.

Capital punishment serves as a vital source of societal communication — widely dispersed counsel, if you will — especially toward those of our brothers and sisters spiraling down a severely untoward path in life. Not a vindictive message along the lines of, “See, here’s what we’ll do to you, pal,” but more like, “See, this is the degree to which we as a society are outraged and sickened by heinous murder, and we’re unwavering in our commitment to protect innocent lives.” Of course, capital punishment cannot rehabilitate the convicted perpetrator. However, the larger society bearing witness to the ultimate sanction being administered fairly and dispassionately, quite logically can assist in rehabilitating some of the dangerous criminal actors on the margins who may find authentic personal reflection and self-examination intermittently within their grasp.

If deterrence via proportional punishment is a rational cornerstone in the administration of justice all along the spectrum of wrongs and remedies, that rational equation doesn’t mysteriously disintegrate at the severity-apex of crimes and consequence. Isn’t it abundantly clear that many criminal defendants will bargain in earnest to avoid the ultimate punishment? And despite how frequently misportrayed, retribution is far from simply a selfish act of vengeance. Retribution in the form of capital punishment can be seen as rooted in civil society’s right — indeed its obligation — to dramatically and maximally express its profound outrage and disdain for heinous murder. Proportional retribution helps ordinary people order their psyche about fairness and security — no small matter. When considered together with the social objective to deter murder, and potentially help rehabilitate other bad actors on the margins, it’s quite possible that the awesome presence of capital punishment ultimately saves innocent lives. If it could be statistically proven that each deliberative sentence of capital punishment resulted in the preservation of a single innocent life going forward, what would your position be?

In any event, if death penalty laws are to change, let’s hope the change comes from “We the People,” through legislation, rather than a tenuous constitutional correlation.

Alan J. Denis

Senior Lawyer Discount?
Reducing membership fees and CLE costs for “senior lawyers” is the opposite of what should happen.

Any fee discount for membership fees or CLE should be directed at new lawyers, not old ones like me (if I live that long).

If you are 70 years old and have been actively practicing for over 20 years, you have achieved enough success that you can afford to pay normal rates. Discounts for seniors are to attract business, not a reward for longevity. I suspect any “savings” will be significantly less than what is charged by a distinguished senior lawyer for one hour of their time. Why should everyone else pay a subsidy (for that is what it is) solely because somebody is alive? Provide a plaque or an award.

Create a no-fee pro bono-only classification, but don’t do this simply because a lawyer did what they were supposed to do; what they swore an oath to do — work hard and stay out of trouble.

Jeffrey L. Price


Bravo, but we’d appreciate it if you could hurry this along!

Michael B. Kirschner
Boynton Beach

Child Welfare
The Children’s Services Council of Broward County recently took a significant step in its mission to protect at-risk children. The organization approved action needed to hire attorneys for children in the Broward child welfare system.

Similar initiatives elsewhere have proven beneficial. The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County Children’s Advocacy project appointed attorneys for children in the system from birth to 12 years of age — and their siblings. The move significantly shortened the time it took for children to achieve “permanency,” or an exit from the system. The average time to permanency was just over a year, and average time to a completed adoption was 20 months. For kids with no representation, the length of stay is much higher, with Broward ranking among the worst in Florida.

The action seems only logical. ChildNet, the county’s lead agency for child welfare cases, was overwhelmed with approximately 1,000 children added over the past year. It was nothing short of a crisis.

What’s more, parents and the Florida Department of Children and Families both have attorney representation in a child’s dependency case. Only the child is not represented. Without representation, kids can spend unnecessary time in the system.

bringing on qualified attorneys, the Children’s Services Council hopes to replicate those successes and help deliver children a safe, secure future as quickly as possible.

At a proposed cost of about $250,000 for the first six months, it seemed an easy decision to make.

Broward’s child advocates praise the Children’s Services Council of Broward County for approving this measure. We all — kids and society — will share the benefits.

Howard M. Talenfeld
President of Florida’s Children First

Juvenile Justice
I just read the November 15 News, and it sickened me to hear about the case of Tim Kane, who was sent to prison at 14 years old, and is just now scheduled to be released in February 2017, at 38 years old.

Is this article for real? Tim Kane served 24 years — longer than my entire career practicing law. According to the article, he was only in the wrong place at the wrong time — he didn’t want to ride his bicycle home alone in the dark, couldn’t say no, and didn’t want to be called a sissy. He tried to leave, and the 19-year-old who pulled the trigger pointed a gun at him and told him he wasn’t going anywhere. And for that, he was convicted and sent to prison for a mandatory 25 years. He was an honor roll student with a gifted IQ of 137. He did nothing — and was convicted because of the felony murder rule.
Something went very, very wrong in this case — an injustice against a 14-year-old was not corrected for 24 years.

I am wondering — why is this the first time I ever heard about this case? What was the state of Florida’s role in protecting this child? How can The Florida Bar not take action, at least to inform our members of results that we all would consider grossly unjust, soon enough that someone could take action to correct the situation?

Things like this shouldn’t be permitted to happen again. I know there are a lot of lawyers out there who champion the rights of children — how did this ball get dropped? Why did no one help this child his whole life, until right at the end of his mandatory 25-year sentence? What does this say about the state of Florida? About The Florida Bar?

I’m really surprised that as an organization, we had no process in place to assist in correcting something like this. I don’t believe it is our obligation as lawyers to handle all such things pro bono, but surely we have an obligation to rat out failures of the process before children’s lives are ruined, so that people can unite in doing something about them. So unfair.

Sandra D. Kennedy
Ft. Lauderdale

Access Commission
The original Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice — which lasted two years give or take — made just one recommendation at its original session. What was that sole recommendation? We need to have more sessions. That was it.

Where does the News see fit to print such groundbreaking news? On the front page — over the top of the fold, of course.

Chief Justice Labarga — the mastermind of this commission — also seeks to examine the reason the commisson was formed (to provide free lawyer services to the so called unmet legal demands of poor or moderate income Floridians) “from all perspectives.” One perspective Justice Labarga leaves out is asking solo practitioners like myself who serve these moderate income folks how they will feel losing paying clients to the future Commission Law Office across the street — that doesn’t require retainers.

Of the 20 appointees to the permanent commission, there are only five private lawyers. There are six judges, one dean of a law school, the elected attorney general, an elected clerk of the court, two lawyers that are Bar employees, and the chief counsel to Disney Corporation.What do they know about attorney competition and advertising and being retained by individuals?

Like my Dad used to say — forever is a long time. Besides the expansion of paralegal services, printed legal forms available online, and the Bar approaching nearly 100,000 lawyers, looks like another permanent competitor (this one free) is here to stay.

Gerald Thomas Salerno
West Palm Beach

(Editor’s Note: There are no Bar employed lawyers serving on the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. Of the 20 members, nine are in private practice: Thomas S. Edwards, Jr., of Jacksonville, Robin Hassler Thompson of Tallahassee, William A. Van Nortwick of Jacksonville, Nikki Ann Clark of Tallahassee, Kathleen Schin McLeroy of Tampa, Gregory Coleman of West Palm Beach, Gordon Glover of Ocala, Dominic MacKenzie of Jacksonville, and Gwynne Young of Tampa.)

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