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Regulating lawyer ads, lodestar multiplier limits among failed bills

Senior Editor Regular News

LegislatureA bill to regulate lawyer ads seeking clients who have been harmed by prescription drugs or medical devices, another to create a veterans treatment court, and a third to eliminate contingency fee multipliers in lodestar cases were among many legal and lawyer-related bills that failed to pass the Florida Legislature in its 2020 session.

Other unsuccessful measures would have protected the privacy of judicial assistants and prescribed specific penalties for citizens who fail to report for jury duty.

While bills allowing DCA judges to have remote headquarters, spelling out how chief judges, sheriffs, and county commissions should cooperate on providing courthouse security, and establishing early childhood courts did pass, other bills joined the majority of proposed legislation that failed to clear one or both legislative chambers.

Here’s a look at many court and legal-related bills that failed:

• HB 7071 would have eliminated contingency multipliers in lodestar attorneys’ fee awards when policy holders hire attorneys to sue insurance companies over unpaid claims. The measure cleared the House 72-46 on March 4, but was not considered by the Senate. The Senate counterpart, SB 914, passed the Banking and Insurance and Judiciary committees, but was not taken up in the Rules Committee.

• After an extensive workshop deliberation in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, there was no further action on HB 7043, which would have limited lawyer advertising in certain medical tort cases arising from prescription drugs or medical devices. Likewise, SB 1288 was not heard in any committee. Lawmakers were concerned that some lawyer ads might dissuade people from taking prescribed medications or using certain medical devices, or make them wrongly think they had been withdrawn from the market or lost FDA approval.

• HB 1085, which would have created a veterans treatment court for vets with mental-health problems, traumatic brain injuries, and substance-abuse problems, cleared the House 120-0 on March 9, but was never taken up in the full Senate. The Senate version of the legislation cleared the Military and Veterans Affairs and Space Committee and the Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations, but was not taken up by the full Appropriations Committee.

• HB 7077 would have allowed expanded testing of DNA and other forensic evidence in an old cases and made it easier for inmates to gain access to that evidence. It cleared the House 114-0 on March 10, but there was no Senate companion measure and it died on the Senate calendar.

• SB 1590 would have set parameters for judges to impose penalties on citizens who fail to report for jury duty: up to a $1,000 fine, imprisonment for up to three days, and/or an order to perform community service. The bill passed the full Senate 39-0 on March 3 but was not taken up by the House. The House version, HB 1125, was not taken up in committee.

• HB 843, which would have changed the state’s alimony laws, including eliminating permanent alimony, passed its three committees of reference but was not taken up on the House floor. Its Senate counterpart, SB 1832, was not taken up in committee.

• HB 9 would have set limits on billing for medical expenses that could have been recovered by the plaintiff in a personal injury case. The bill passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee and Commerce and Judiciary committees, but was not taken up on the House floor. SB 1668, its Senate counterpart, was not taken up in committee.

• SB 1574 and HB 7043 would have limited contingency fees for government agencies when they hire attorneys for certain kinds of cases, such as lawsuits resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The bills did not clear a committee in either chamber.

• HB 7041, which would require companies offering loans to plaintiffs in personal injury cases to register with the Department of State and post a surety bond as well as be regulated by the Department of State, was proposed and passed by the Civil Justice Subcommittee and cleared the Commerce and Appropriations committees, but was not taken up on the House floor. Its Senate counterpart, SB 1828, was not considered in any committee.

• HB 7 and SB 1340 would have allowed some legal notices to be published on the internet, including allowing financially pinched counties to use some publicly accessible websites. The House bill passed 71-47 on March 4; the Senate bill stalled in its first committee, and the Senate did not take up the House bill.

• HB 128 and HB 479 would have allowed judicial assistants to keep their home addresses and other personal information out of public records. It passed the Senate 32-2 on March 9 while the House bill passed only the first of its three reference committees, and the House did not take up the Senate bill.

• SB 846 would have limited the ability of prosecutors to impose a high cost of prosecution charge as part of a plea bargain after reports of past instances where lenient sentences had been offered in exchange for the defendant agreeing to pay a high prosecution cost, which goes to state attorneys’ budgets. The bill passed the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, but stalled in the Appropriations Committee. Likewise, HB 461 passed the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, but stalled in the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

• SB 544 would have waived the spousal communications privilege in some civil and criminal cases involving child abuse. The bill passed the Judiciary and Criminal Justice committees but stalled in the Rules Committee. HB 375 was not heard in any committees.

• Sen. Randolph Bracy’s, D-Orlando, SB 262 to create a statewide panel in the Attorney General’s Office to examine prosecutorial misconduct was never heard in committee. It had no House companion.

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