October 1, 2020 Letters
A headline in the September News reads “#YLDisME defies the stereotypes of what a lawyer is and does.” I find that the biggest stereotype for lawyers, especially young ones, is that they are arrogant, pretentious, or narcissistic.
After reading the article, it seems that the YLD is just reinforcing this perception through the guise of diversity. The young female attorney in the article is hurt because she was mistaken for a nonlawyer. Even as just a white male, I have been mistaken as a nonlawyer several times in my six years of practice. Women attorneys have assumed I was a mail runner or an intern. Courtroom police have thought I was a criminal defendant. And staff have inquired if I was lost on the way to chamber hearings. However, YLD President Adam White’s quote implies that as a white male, he obviously has never experienced any bias.
Lets get real, any newcomer in this profession has to face some adversity and will be challenged with bias one way or another. I beg that the YLD realize that no matter what your background is, not everyone is going to stroke your ego for becoming a lawyer. The quicker young attorneys realize this, the better.
I request that the YLD not use diversity as a tool for self-promotion or to get undeserved credit. This highfalutin nonsense is what makes me grateful to be mistaken for a nonlawyer at times.
Writing about my best friend’s death is a tough thing to do. It is still hard to believe that he is gone. Attorney Clinton E. McLeod was one of the best trial attorneys in Florida. It seemed like he won all of his cases. Whether representing an ex-commissioner or the average Joe in Florida, Clint always gave 100%.
When I ran and won the district attorney race in Selma, Alabama, Clint was there.
Throughout the night, as the race swung back and forth, Clint encouraged me to pray! He saw the victory before I did.
Clint started out in the Public Defender’s Office in Ft. Myers and then moved to the Public Defender’s Office in Tallahassee.
He later was able to fulfill his dream of opening up his own law firm. During this time, Clint himself ran for political office. He ran for county judge in Leon County. He did not win, but he had a very strong showing.
Clint was one of a kind. He believed in dressing nice and riding around in his Jaguar. Styling and profiling, that was Clint. A great son, brother, husband, and father to two daughters, Clint was one of a kind. His administrative assistants, investigators, and paralegals loved working for him, and some of them even went on to become lawyers themselves.
He was a great friend from the first time I met him at Florida State College of Law. The Florida Bar has truly lost one of its giants. We can all learn from his example.
Backlogs and Budget Cuts
This letter responds to an August News article headlined, “Prosecutors and Public Defenders Face Case Backlogs and Smaller Budgets.” The article says COVID-19 has generated a dual problem that will be even more problematic unless practical solution(s) can be deployed to ameliorate the current situation.
It reads, “[f]aced with a growing black-log of cases,…Florida’s state attorneys and public defenders are also having their budgets restricted.” According to the State Courts Administrator, the number of pending felony cases is about a fifth higher than last year. The pandemic “handicapped the ability of the justice system to resolve criminal cases….” Right now, on average, public defender caseloads are up in the vicinity of 30%. It highlights Miami’s 13,000 to 16,500 case expansion as an example. Furthermore, “when courts get back to normal, public defenders and prosecutors say they’ll be faced with attacking a backlog of cases with a reduced staff, while addressing any uncertainties about how the courts may alter their operations in a post-pandemic world.”
I have reached out to several elected prosecutors with an innovative idea that fosters true equity in criminal sentencing while simultaneously eliminating the chronic case backlog at issue. Most importantly, this concept will also generate faster dispositions via the means by which well over 90% of all criminal cases are resolved, plea-bargaining. Data from each respective clerks office, as obtained from the Florida Department of Corrections, can be utilized to conduct sentencing analyses to formulate standard, equitable, and therefore non-disparate offers on some of the most prevalent cases such as assault, battery, burglary, criminal mischief, drug possession and/or sales, forgery, uttering, grand theft, felony petit theft, unarmed robbery, and other non-violent offenses.
This is a cost-effective means for each elected prosecutor’s office to deploy progressive efforts to substantially eliminate sentencing disparities that too often exist between substantially similar cases of citizens in the same courthouses and even in the exact same courtrooms. Such disparate treat ment leads to reduced public confidence in the criminal justice system. As a 35-year trial attorney, I surmise such an exercise could substantially reduce the backlog of cases that continue to grow due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, only one prosecutor has even taken the time to consider this offer as a potential remedy. Accordingly, this letter serves to widely expose this common-sense remedy that is being completely ignored by the proverbial “Powers That Be,” despite the fact that it could benefit them the most.
The recent controversy over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ attempted appointment of Judge Renatha Francis to the Supreme Court is an excellent example of judicial neutrality, as well as other principles of our republic including checks and balances.
On January 23, the Judicial Nominating Commission certified a nominee list of nine names to the governor for consideration to fill two vacancies. Under the Constitution, the appointments were due March 23, but citing delays from the pandemic, DeSantis did not make them until May 26.
One of DeSantis’ two appointees, Francis, had not been a member of the Bar for 10 years as required by the Constitution, so he decided to withhold her commission until September 24 when she reached the 10-year mark. Democrat State Rep. Geraldine Thompson was critical of Judge Francis for her membership in the Federalist Society and filed a petition to nullify the appointment on the grounds that Francis was ineligible. She also sought to compel the JNC to prepare a new list of nominees in hopes that at least one of the other African-American applicants would be nominated.
On August 27 the Supreme Court showed its neutrality by ruling against politicians of both parties. The court held DeSantis exceeded his authority by appointing an ineligible candidate, ruling that an appointment fills a vacancy right away, not at a future time. However, the court rejected Thompson’s remedy as she waited too long to challenge the JNC list by filing suit in July instead of January. The court ruled that the proper remedy was to order DeSantis to appoint from the remaining seven names on the list.
This left Thompson with the option to either accept an African-American justice she argued was ineligible or continue the case to invalidate the appointment, meaning that the court would continue to lack a Black justice. Thompson put the Constitution above her own preferences and amended the petition to ask for the proper remedy.
On September 11, the court ruled against DeSantis, declaring that he was several months delinquent in making a valid appointment under both the theory that he made an invalid appointment in May or that he actually did not appoint Judge Francis but rather only announced a selection. The court ordered DeSantis to make a valid appointment by September 14. DeSantis subsequently appointed Judge Jamie Grosshans.
DeSantis prides himself on making the Supreme Court more conservative, yet a conservative court citing the principles he believes in, and quoting the late Justice Antonin Scalia, ruled against him.
This ruling shows that the courts are not lap dogs for the political branches as some members of the public perceive them to be. While many of the current justices may share the governor’s legal views, they are not afraid to rule against him when he is wrong. The mandamus order illustrates how one branch of government can keep another in check. Both of these principles are necessary aspects of our system of government. I am personally proud of the court for upholding the law in a neutral manner.
Gov. DeSantis, the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission, and the Federalist Society attempted to circumvent the strict requirements of the law in promoting, nominating, and appointing a candidate for the Florida Supreme Court who they all knew was constitutionally ineligible to serve.
The court itself ruled unanimously that the candidate was ineligible. The law was clear. Yet the governor, with the complicity of the JNC, put politics and ideology over qualifications.
The Florida Bar called the appointment “excellent.” The Bar should not offer qualitative assessments of appointments. This whole charade was exposed by courageous lawyers who spoke truth to power when those who should have spoken out remained silent. If the JNC process renders it impossible to uphold the constitution, then the process has to change.
West Palm Beach