Task force examines IOTA fund restrictions
A special task force has agreed that there should be priorities — as there already are — on how IOTA funds are used to help the poor with legal problems, but deciding what those requirements and limitations should be will come at its next meeting.
The Task Force on Distribution of IOTA Funds voted 5-1 on February 24 to accept a subcommittee recommendation that “specific priorities must be established for the use of available IOTA funds” to carry out directives in the Supreme Court order creating the task force.
The subcommittee report gave the history of IOTA funding since it started as a voluntary program in 1978 and became a mandatory program in 1989 and noted there have always been restrictions on how IOTA funds could be spent.
Hala Sandridge, president of The Florida Bar Foundation, which currently receives and distributes IOTA funds, cast the only no vote.
Sandridge said she was concerned a phrase in the subcommittee’s report referring to the court’s order that the task force should “give priority consideration to the need for funding direct legal services for low-income litigants in Florida” implied that the task force was ready to set at least some limitations on IOTA spending. Under the court’s 1989 IOTA ruling, funds must be used to improve the administration of justice and expand the delivery of legal services to the poor.
“I don’t think the report is clear enough that the question being answered is whether or not there should be priorities,” Sandridge said. “If that is what the report is asking and what the report is saying, I would vote for it.”
Former Bar President and task force Chair Mayanne Downs said the task force has to consider the court’s order when it makes recommendations.
“The existing framework does set out the use of the funds,” she said. “What the court has asked us to do is determine whether there should be restrictions or limitations on IOTA funds and when we consider that, we’re supposed to give priority consideration to providing legal aid to the poor.”
Task force member Laird Lile, a member of the Bar Board of Governors, said he was concerned by the court, in its order, saying the task force should give priority to direct funding of legal services for “low-income litigants.” He noted that many legal problems don’t require or can be solved without litigation and said the task force should address what is meant by “low-income litigants” in its final report.
During a public hearing at the Bar’s February Winter Meeting, several legal aid representatives said the Foundation grants IOTA funds in ways that are not direct legal services but nonetheless expand access to justice for the poor.
The task force next meets on March 11, when it will consider “whether specific requirements or limitations should be imposed on the use of IOTA funds,” which will come from a subcommittee that includes Lile and Third District Court of Appeal Judge Ed Scales.
At an April 13 meeting, the task force will consider alternative models for distributing IOTA funds (which now flow through the Foundation), and in May it will look at reporting requirements for the distribution and use of IOTA funds.
The task force will hold a public hearing at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June and also consider a draft report at that meeting. Its final report, including any possible rule amendment recommendations, is due to the Supreme Court by September 15.