The Special Committee on Non-Voting Appointments hosts town hall
With an eye toward ensuring the Board of Governors reflects all sectors of the Bar, the special committee examining the role of non-voting members on the board held a town hall February 7 at the Bar’s Winter Meeting in Orlando to consider options and gain insight from the membership.
What ensued was a lively debate among representatives of statewide voluntary and specialty bars and local and regional organizations who made their case on why they should be represented on the Board of Governors.
Representatives of the Cuban American Bar Association, the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the National Bar Association, and the Florida Association for Women Lawyers — all of whom traditionally hold non-voting seats on the board — told the committee the Bar “got it right” the first time and that they should retain their non-voting positions, although they were not opposed to expanding board participation. (One judge each representing the statewide conferences of county and circuit court judges and a government lawyer representative also currently hold non-voting seats.)
Others asked the committee to consider alternatives to the current non-voting composition to ensure gender, race, ethnic makeup, practice-area diversity, and other factors are adequately represented.
The Special Committee on Non-Voting Appointments was set up by Bar President John Stewart in October and charged with reporting by the board’s March meeting.
The committee’s deliberations center around Standing Board Policy 1.20, which allows Bar presidents to name non-voting members to the board to ensure diverse representation from all parts of the Bar.
“We are the committee, but we don’t hold all the answers,” Chair Eugene Pettis said to open the meeting. “It is really important that we have a comfortable, open, honest discussion on these issues. I don’t think there is a wrong perspective in the room and hopefully through the process, through dialog, we will find out what is best for the Bar going forward.”
Stewart said the idea behind the review is to broaden the ability of all voices within the Bar to be heard, and not necessarily to remove anybody or any group that already has a seat at the table.
“But we have a 52-member board. It’s a big board, and to get much bigger becomes unmanageable, and there are a lot of constituent groups out there,” Stewart said. “As many voices that we can hear to make sure that we are acting in our capacity as a representative body…is really all we intend to do.”
“We are trying to make sure we do not miss some of the groups out there that need a voice at the table,” said Pettis, a former Bar president, noting the panel has discussed rotating seats or staggered terms for non-voting members “so we are refreshing who is at the table.”
The committee has also talked about enlarging the group of non-voting seats or instituting an advisory panel to assist the president in making non-voting appointments.
“There are pros and cons on each point,” Pettis said.
CABA President-elect A. Dax Bello said the Bar today is very different than when the Bar initiated these non-voting seats some 20 years ago, but there are also things that remain the same.
“In our perspective, when they selected these three VBAs [voluntary bar associations] to sit in these non-voting seats, it seems like they might have gotten it right,” said Bello, adding CABA is one of the largest voluntary bars in the state with a membership diverse in gender, ethnicity, and practice areas.
“If inclusion and bringing in more perspectives to the Bar is what you are looking for, maybe opening it up to more seats is what you should be doing as opposed to alternating seats,” Bello said. “Large VBAs like ours really help you keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on in the membership and allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of what is going on in the Bar.”
Responding to criticism that CABA is too Miami-Dade centric and doesn’t adequately represent the interest of other Hispanic lawyers across the state, Bello explained that CABA is bigger than just Miami-Dade.
“We are statewide, and we have chapters and groups nationwide,” said Bello, including chapters at most law schools in Florida and one that just opened at Cornell. “We are everywhere, and again, it is not just Cuban-Americans…we have members all over the place — of all ethnicities.”
FAWL President Kyleen Hinkle also said her statewide organization takes its non-voting seat “very seriously,” and its more than 3,000 members come from 20 local chapters across the state that run the spectrum of practice areas. She said while FAWL traditionally focuses on women’s issues in the profession, it’s also committed to advancing the cause of other minority groups within the Bar.
“We are all about diversity and inclusion these days,” she said.
Bruce Mount, a past president of the Virgil Hawkins Florida Chapter of the NBA, also said the three traditional organizations holding non-voting positions should keep their seats at the table, but thinks there is room for others, which would allow the Bar president to “look at the lay of the land and see where the Bar is shifting” and make additional appointments accordingly.
“I’m a huge proponent of expanding those seats and not contracting them,” Mount said.
Vivian Cortes Hodz, chair of the Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee, who is working with others to organize a statewide Hispanic bar association, notes there are more than 250 voluntary bar associations in Florida and asked the committee to consider an application process for non-voting member seats, similar to how lawyers apply for Bar committee appointments.
“It’s just a mechanism where anyone — Asian bar, Hispanic bar, gay and lesbian bar associations, whatever it may be — can at least know that there was an application process and that they are being considered, potentially, for appointment by the president-elect for the non-voting seat,” said Hodz, adding that would make the process more transparent.
Lisa Capote, representing the Florida Region of the Hispanic National Bar Association, asked the panel to consider creating a committee to make recommendations, based on the diversity needs the committee is seeing, on who the president should appoint.
Other suggestions included adding a representative from the Voluntary Bar Liaison Committee, the Council of Sections, or someone to represent the many legal aid lawyers across the state to a non-voting seat.
“This group has struggled with how best to address these issues in a manner going forward that would be also acceptable to the next group of presidents and presidents-elects we are going to have the next couple of years,” Pettis said.
For previous Florida Bar News coverage of the special committee, visit: