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July 1, 2020 Letters

Letters

Liaison Seats on the Board of Governors

I write to applaud the Special Committee on Non-Voting Board Appointments’ restraint in concluding that Standing Board Policy 1.20 be left almost exactly as it is.

It is nearly impossible for a Bar committee to be convened on an issue and reach such a conclusion after so much work. As a three-time recipient of such appointments, I would like to share that neither myself nor the Florida Association for Women Lawyers considered the liaison position I held for three years (two years on the Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors (2012-2014) and one year on the Board of Governors (2018-2019)) to be a “fixed expectation” or an “entitlement.”

I was keenly aware that I served at the pleasure of Presidents Paige Greenlee, Melanie Griffin, and Michelle Suskauer. I did my best to fully participate and add value on behalf of the women lawyers of Florida who remain woefully underrepresented on the board.

According to the Special Committee’s report, 26% of the board members are women, though they make up 38% of the Bar. Membership involves nearly $10,000 per year of travel and at least 20 whole business days out of the office. Attaining leadership positions routinely takes over a decade of investment.

Until some of these barriers to inclusion are solved, appointing liaisons by presidential discretion is a great solution that has been working well since the early 1990s. The current rule allows presidents the freedom to ensure they are able to invite voices to the table, who they deem to have value. I may not have a vote, but I still have a voice, and I would encourage the Rules Committee to follow suit.

Immediate Past President of FAWL

Kudos to the Courts

The Palm Beach County Justice Association would like to express our sincere gratitude for all the efforts of our local judiciary, staff members, and court administrators over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We thank you for presenting numerous virtual town halls and speaking to our members at our weekly webinars, often co-sponsored with our local ABOTA partners. We would also like to thank you for your open dialogue with our executive board members. Additionally, through administrative orders, the judges of the 15th Judicial Circuit of Palm Beach County, the 17th Judicial Circuit of Broward County, and the Fourth District Court of Appeal have shown a tremendous willingness to listen and respond to the concerns of members of our organizations who represent civil litigants in the pursuit of justice in both Palm Beach and Broward counties.

By far the biggest initial concern, other than the safety and health of all members of the community, was that cases would grind to a halt due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that there would be such a back-up whenever we start the “new normal” that justice would be not only delayed, but be denied. Thankfully, that is not happening. From the first week forward, trial judges have been holding hearings by phone or videoconference, with Zoom hearings becoming a routine and efficient means of practicing law while tele-working. Consistent with the directive from Chief Justice Charles Canady’s statewide administrative orders, these hearings are not being postponed merely because one or both parties would prefer to wait until an in-person hearing is possible. Moreover, when true emergencies exist, our trial judges have ensured that matters are quickly addressed while still protecting the safety of attorneys, litigants, the judges and their staff members from COVID-19.

Furthermore, our judges have directly addressed practitioners at the virtual Town Halls and webinars to emphasize that evidentiary and non-evidentiary hearings, depositions, mediations, and the discovery process must proceed through remote means. In fact, we can report that the practice of law has continued seamlessly in large part due to the leadership of our local judges, their staff members, and court administration.

In particular, we thank Chief Judge Krista Marx, Judge Lisa Small, Judge Joseph Curley, Clerk & Comptroller Sharon R. Bock, Chief Judge Jack Tuter, Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips, Clerk of the Courts Brenda D. Forman, and Trial Court Administrator Kathleen R. Pugh for their strong leadership in their administrative capacities. Their efforts and dedication to the legal community and community-at-large, while putting safety first, and the efforts and dedication of all of the trial judges, their staff members, and court administrators of our circuits, sends a clear message that we must all proceed to carry forward our causes under difficult circumstances.

The appellate courthouse has similarly transitioned flawlessly during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Fourth District has under the leadership of its previous Chief Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, the other dedicated judges, staff members, central staff attorneys, court administrators, including the Clerk of the Court Lonn Weissblum and Chief Deputy Clerk Lynn Colletti, implemented technological resources to enable attorneys to efficiently litigate their appeals through remote means. While almost no one could have predicted this particular disruption, the Fourth District courthouse continues to move forward in the virtual world. We also thank Chief Judge Spencer D. Levine, and all of the appellate judges on the court for seamlessly transitioning to oral arguments using Zoom technology in cases that warrant oral arguments after appellate briefing are complete.

We also want to thank Rebecca L. Brock, president of Palm Beach County American Board of Trial Advocates, and Jeffrey Adelman, president of Broward County American Board of Trial Advocates for working with our organization. In particular, Jeff was instrumental in sharing his ideas and technological expertise to organize and present our virtual webinars, to coordinate the mutual interests our organizations share in ensuring our cases will proceed efficiently and in helping to protect the right to jury trial whenever that will be possible in the new normal ahead.

Our members and our clients depend on access to the courts to protect and vindicate important rights under the law. As their advocates, we greatly appreciate the hard work that the Palm Beach and Broward County bench continues to do every day to ensure our clients have their day in court, through whatever technological means exist. Our counties have historically enjoyed a judiciary that leads the way for Florida’s courts. We are so grateful to our local judges, their staff members and court administrators to see that tradition continue during this unprecedented pandemic.

To all of our local judges, and their staff members and court administrators, thank you for keeping the courthouse doors open during the current crisis, even if from a safe distance and through virtual means.

President of the Palm Beach County Justice Association

Bar Surveys

With respect to the writers’ comments in the June issue of the News regarding the April article, “Florida lawyers more positive about the Bar.” I felt compelled to comment regarding the accuracy of the survey results, especially when there is a limited response by the chosen participants.

While I am personally “generally pleased with The Florida Bar’s stewardship of the legal profession,” I, too, find your survey methodology troubling, and am doubtful of its accuracy.

Here is why: Approximately 35 years ago, I was on the board of directors of a nonprofit family community center in the Ft. Lauderdale area. The administrative staff had reported to the officers and board that as the new membership year approached, there were an alarming number of “non-renewals” and “cancellations.” I suggested to the board that the staff be asked to poll non-renewing families to determine what shortcomings, if any, could have caused the non-renewals, so that the board could take steps to improve the center.

At the next meeting, the board received the survey results: six or seven non-renewals were attributable to a family moving out of the area or death of a member. Eight or 10 families said they were dissatisfied with the programming or some other factor. However, the vast majority of those surveyed said that they were not interested in answering the survey. The president indicated the non-responders were not to be counted in the “dissatisfied” group.

When I suggested that perhaps if the people won’t talk to a staff member, that might be a “dissatisfaction indicator,” I was told, “We did your survey, people are not dissatisfied, let’s move on.”

Needless to say, shortly thereafter I resigned from the board (despite the pleas of two major donors to the center, after whom it had been named). My takeaway was that if someone does not participate in a satisfaction survey, there is a very high likelihood that they are too disgusted to even respond.

Accordingly, I would suggest that the Bar’s sampling is not only too small, but may not be representative of the actual feelings of the Bar members.

Plantation

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