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Special Committee on Changes to the Practice of Law to monitor Supreme Court workgroups

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Gary Lesser

Gary Lesser

The Board of Governors has agreed to extend the life of the COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force, but under a new name that reflects a changing mission.

Meeting virtually March 25, the board approved a Program Evaluation Committee proposal to extend the task force an additional year as the “Special Committee on Changes to the Practice of Law.”

“This committee initially was created to deal with COVID-related issues, and obviously, as we all know, it has morphed as our needs have morphed,” said President-elect Gary Lesser.

Lesser and President Mike Tanner made the request jointly to the Program Evaluation Committee meeting a day before.

Former President Dori Foster-Morales created the task force in the summer of 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold, noted task force Co-Chair Sia Baker-Barnes, an original member.

Sia Baker-Barnes

Sia Baker-Barnes

“The purpose of this committee has been to address the COVID-19 pandemic, and to make recommendations to our members on how to continue with the practice of law, in spite of the pandemic, and to provide resources on how to navigate the pandemic,” Baker-Barnes said.

When Tanner assumed office in June, he requested that the task force be extended a year to review the potential for an automated platform for the resolution of civil cases of less than $1,000.

The task force expects to present initial recommendations for a statewide, fully automated platform to the Board of Governors in May, Baker-Barnes said.

If the proposal is approved, it will be forwarded to the Florida Courts Technology Commission for further review before being implemented, and that will likely extend the mission into the next Bar year, Baker-Barnes said.

“President-elect Lesser has requested that we continue this committee to be sure that we have the ability to continue to take the steps necessary for the development of the platform, ” she said.

Earlier this year, Tanner added another mission — monitoring various Supreme Court task forces and committees, some of which are expected to produce sweeping proposals.

Baker-Barnes mentioned the District Court of Appeal Workload and Jurisdiction Assessment Committee. It recommended creating a Sixth District Court of Appeal, the first new district court in Florida since the late 1970s.

The Supreme Court approved the recommendation and the Legislature earlier this month agreed to fund it, including a $50 million headquarters facility in Lakeland.

“As you know, the Legislature has recently approved the new Sixth District Court of Appeal, as well as a number of new appellate judges, and there is more work to be done as to how those resources will be meted out,” Baker-Barnes said. “It will be very important for us as an organization to confirm what is happening with respect to that.”

The task force was drafting proposed comments to a comprehensive proposal by Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases, Baker-Barnes said.

The task force is also monitoring Supreme Court workgroups on Trial Court Technology Strategies, Judicial Practices in Trial Courts, and Sanctions for Sham and Vexatious Litigation, to name a few, Lesser said.

Lesser said there are six active Supreme Court task forces and committees. The workgroup studying sanctions for sham and vexatious litigation is due to release its recommendations in June, Lesser said.

“Specifically, with respect to these task forces and workgroups formed by the court, there’s no indication that’s going to stop happening,” Lesser said. “And it’s extremely important that we continue to monitor, work with, and advise our members as to the work that’s being done by these court special committees and task forces.”

The automated platform, which will serve primarily pro se litigants, couldn’t be better timed, now that the Supreme Court has directed the Bar to develop proposals for improving access to justice, Lesser said.

“This platform, which the task force has worked very hard on, is going to have an amplified role,” Lesser said. “I think the task force is to be commended for the work that it’s done and will continue to do going forward.”

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