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Study panel decides against recommending term limits for the Board of Governors

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'We’re lawyers, we look at data and try and figure how, based on the information, to take certain positions. And there just wasn’t enough data to confirm that term limits would increase diversity.'

Roland Sanchez-Medina, Jr.

Roland Sanchez-Medina, Jr.

After an extensive review, the Program Evaluation Committee has concluded there isn’t enough evidence that a term-limited Board of Governors would be more diverse.

The committee voted March 24 not to forward a term-limit proposal to the Board of Governors.

“We’re lawyers, we look at data and try and figure how, based on the information, to take certain positions,” said Chair Roland Sanchez-Medina. “And there just wasn’t enough data to confirm that term limits would increase diversity.”

A Program Evaluation Committee subcommittee studied Florida Bar contested elections for the past decade, Board of Governors diversity statistics, academic research on the impact of term limits, other unified bar policies, and responses to Florida Bar member surveys.

Paige Greenlee

Paige Greenlee

After multiple meetings, the subcommittee voted 7-1 to recommend taking no further action, said subcommittee Chair Paige Greenlee.

A review of local governments and other entities showed that the trend is to move away from term limits, Greenlee said. Some members were concerned that term limits would force a diverse member to step down with no guarantee that the seat would remain diverse.

“We actually have concerns that adding term limits could have the opposite effect, that we could have less diversity on the board, and that we should let the elections process play itself out,” Greenlee said.

A recent Florida Bar member survey showed that only 7% of respondents had considered running for a board seat in the past five years, with 93% saying they had not.

In the same survey, 53% of respondents listed time constraints and 36% listed other commitments as reasons for not running. Another 21% listed financial considerations.

“We all love this, and we all enjoy doing what we do, but there’s just not that many people that want to spend [this] much time volunteering for The Florida Bar,” Greenlee said.

Of the respondents who considered running, 80% were in private practice, 12% were government lawyers, and 4% were corporate counsel.

More than 70% who expressed an interest in running where white, 11% were Hispanic/Latino, 8% were Black, and 4% were Asian. The group was 51% male and 49% female.

A study of Board of Governors’ turnover over the past decade showed that the most vacant seats on the 52-member board occurred in 2018-19, when there were 11. The fewest, four, occurred in 2012-13 and 2017-18.

A recent board member survey showed that 75% of the board members are partners/managing shareholders and 14% are sole practitioners. About half, 49%, are in firms of 20 lawyers or more and 37% are in firms of five or fewer attorneys.

Subcommittee member Donald Workman, an Out-of-State representative, cast the lone vote in favor of term limits.

Workman said he is concerned that government lawyers or beginning lawyers may feel too intimidated to run against a veteran incumbent.

“The notion of having to run against somebody I think is daunting for a lot of people, particularly for newer practitioners…government lawyers and others,” he said. “My view was providing an opening in the natural course of the process, say 10 or 12 years, nothing magical about that, would provide more opportunity for new folks to come in.”

Subcommittee member Clifford Higby said he agreed that term limits would “bring in new blood,” but he said he couldn’t support them without stronger evidence.

Committee member Brian Burgoon, an Out-of-State representative and veteran board member, said he has been challenged more than once, and prevailed.

“If we allow a term limit to go into effect, you are taking away a decision of your constituents as to who they can have represent them,” he said.

President Mike Tanner, who was monitoring the meeting, said he had no preference when he asked Sanchez-Medina to review term limits earlier this year.

He thanked the committee for doing such a thorough job.

“As long as I’ve been on the board, this is an issue that nobody has ever been really willing to talk about in any formal way,” he said. “I think we can now tell our constituents, if they ask the question, why aren’t there term limits — and I’ve been asked that question — we can say we talked about it and here are the reasons why.”

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