Board weighs in on 17th JNC questions February 15, 2004 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Board weighs in on 17th JNC questions Senior Editor The Florida Bar Board of Governors wants Bar members — and especially judicial applicants — to know it cares passionately about the integrity of the judicial nominating commission system.More than a dozen board members commented at their January 30 meeting in a broad discussion on news stories that reported improper questions were asked of some candidates when they were interviewed by the 17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission.Bar President-elect Kelly Overstreet Johnson raised the issue with a report on the controversy and on what the Bar had done. That produced a strong reaction from board members — who said they didn’t know if the media reports were accurate, but that if the questions were asked as reported in the article they were clearly inappropriate.“We want our members to know we are as concerned as they are about this,” said board member Don Horn, a former chair of the 11th Circuit JNC.The issue arose from news articles in a South Florida paper that judicial applicants had been asked possibly inappropriate questions during interviews by the JNC. Those included whether a female candidate could balance duties as a judge with her responsibilities as a mother and whether other candidates were “God-fearing.” The stories also allege 17th Circuit JNC commissioners regularly ask candidates about recent court decisions, such as the courthouse Ten Commandments case in Alabama and the Texas sodomy case, that some think are akin to a political or religious litmus test.Board members questioned whether the Bar had responded appropriately to reassure potential candidates that the problems, if they happened, would not reoccur. They also pondered whether the Bar should have called for a formal investigation by the Governor’s Office. Bar President Miles McGrane also said he had been quoted imprecisely regarding those issues in one article.Board member Jesse Diner, the senior board member from the 17th Circuit, said inaccurate reporting had inflamed the issue. Diner said he met with the chair of the 17th JNC and determined “there were unfortunately some things taken out of context.” But also added, “Some things that were asked clearly should not have been asked.“The Bar is not whitewashing it; we immediately intervened to make sure this didn’t happen again.. . . It’s not really fair to say the Bar didn’t do anything. We didn’t go out front and beat on our chest because that wasn’t the way to deal with it,” Diner added.Johnson noted besides Diner’s efforts, she, McGrane, President-elect Alan Bookman, and other Bar leaders attended the Bar’s recent Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee meeting and she also discussed the incident with the governor’s General Counsel Raquel Rodriquez, who looked into the matter.Horn said the questions that were allegedly asked likely would have been ruled out of order in the 11th Circuit JNC. Diner replied that the JNCs each have their own practices and the 17th Circuit members have been allowed to ask whatever questions they wanted, although it might be pointed out after a meeting that some questions were improper. The chair now understands she can instantly rule that questions are improper and will do so in the future, he said.Johnson noted the issue was fully aired during the Judicial Nominating Procedures Committee meeting at the Bar’s Midyear Meeting in January, and recommendations were made to better educate JNC members.While some board members said the Bar should call on the governor for a formal investigation, board member Hank Coxe said that wasn’t justified. He noted no one had filed a complaint over the incidents — which is required by JNC rules before an investigation can be launched.“We should never act only on a newspaper account,” Coxe said. “For us to write a letter now and take a public position because a newspaper report has said X, Y, and Z is not responsible.”Board member David Rothman said the Bar should have a plan for dealing with any future problems.“How many people will read that article [about JNC problems] and will not apply for a judgeship?” he asked. “We have to go through the back door and educate, but we have to go through the front door and say, ‘No, this is not all we can do.’ It’s going to happen again. You know it’s going to happen again, and we’ve got to be prepared to respond. I don’t want those good candidates, who are now thinking about not applying, to go unprotected.”Dinita James, president of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, noted FAWL has given Gov. Jeb Bush an award honoring his diverse appointments to the bench. She suggested he be approached to write a letter reaffirming that he wants people of diverse backgrounds to apply.She also noted that JNC interviews are public and suggested Bar members be encouraged to attend and watch the process.President McGrane recounted how a reporter called him for a comment and asked if the Bar would be appointing an investigative panel, like it did in an earlier case. Prior to 2001, The Florida Bar had the authority to investigate one of its direct appointee commissioners pursuant to JNC Uniform Rules of Procedure. Statutory changes were made in 2001 that removed all other appointing authorities except the governor, who now has sole responsibility for the appointments and misconduct. McGrane said he told the reporter the Bar had no power to appoint such a panel, but it came out in the story as if the Bar had no influence in the JNC process.Coxe, Diner, and President-elect Johnson noted there have been positive effects from the incident, including the full discussion of the issue during the procedures committee meeting, a call for more training of JNC members, and a better understanding of the rules. President-elect Designate Bookman said money needs to be found to help pay for commissioners to attend training sessions, noting they have to pay their own expenses and consequently many skip the training meetings. The board could seek such money from the legislature or even consider having the Bar help pay those costs, he said.Johnson said there was one other thing board members could do. Although the Bar no longer directly appoints JNC members, it does nominate slates of lawyers for four of the nine seats on each JNC. The Bar will be making nominations for one seat on each of the 26 JNCs at its May meeting, and Johnson asked board members to find good people to apply for the posts. The Bar must nominate at least three people for each seat.Applications, she said, are available from the Bar’s Web site at www.flabar.org.
Legal Roundup: Legal Roundup: Hillsborough Bar Aids Tsunami Effort: The Hillsborough County Bar President William J. Schifino, Jr., recently presented the American Red Cross with a check for $14,500 to help with the relief efforts of the devastating earthquake and tsunami in South Asia. The donations were collected from attorneys and bar associations throughout the state. Schifino said the HCBA’s goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of June for the Red Cross’ relief efforts. Rosenthal & Levy Assists Mustard Seed Ministries: Rosenthal & Levy’s offices in Port St. Lucie and West Palm Beach joined forces to collect assorted merchandise for the Mustard Seed Ministries of Ft. Pierce to be used either in the thrift store or given for free to in-need families on the Treasure Coast. Recently, Monica Cruz of the firm’s Port St. Lucie office became involved with Mustard Seed. “During my first meeting I learned that the organization was still helping people displaced by the hurricanes of last year,” Cruz said. “My first thought was shock. My next thought was what can I do? After speaking with my co-workers it was clear that everyone had something of value they could donate. When I started this, I had no idea so many people would get behind it.” Rosenthal & Levy also invited building mates from each of its offices to help out. Mustard Seed Ministries is a private, non-profit, faith-based, social service agency serving individuals’ financial, spiritual, and material needs in St. Lucie County through advocacy and various educational, social, vocational, and residential programs. FAMU Law Gets High Praise: The ABA Law Student Division recently recognized the Florida A&M University College of Law for “Most Improved Membership” in its Fifth Circuit. The Bronze Key Award recognizes the greatest increase in the number of student members between December 2003 and December 2004. ABA student membership at the FAMU College of Law has increased by 113 students since August 2004, when the law school was granted provisional accreditation by the ABA. The Florida A&M University College of Law was reestablished in 2002 in Orlando. The provisionally-accredited law school has an enrollment of 300 students and graduated its first class in April. Money Raised for Scholarships: The Fred G. Minnis, Sr., Bar Association recently hosted its Second Annual Scholarship Banquet, awarding $4,000 in scholarships to four high school seniors and one Stetson law school student. The Minnis Bar also presented Diversity Awards to Bernie McCabe, state attorney for the Sixth Circuit, and Carlton Fields. Community Leadership Awards went to Goliath Davis III, deputy mayor of St. Petersburg, and Milcowitz and Lyons. ABOTA Hosts Reception: The Palm Beach Chapter of ABOTA recently hosted a judicial reception and honored Judges Harold J. Cohen, Hubert R. Lindsey, and John D. Wessel for their years of service to the people of Palm Beach County and the state of Florida. FIAC’s Annual Awards: A crowd of more than 400 gathered for the Seventh Annual Awards Dinner of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami. Honored were White & Case, Miami Children’s Hospital Foundation President Robin Reiter-Faragalli, and FIAC volunteer Mercedes Lorduy. FIAC’s Executive Director Cheryl Little said, “We’re delighted to have been able to honor these truly deserving individuals and the law firm for all that they have done, not only for FIAC, but for the community as a whole.” The evening’s keynote address was given by Hodding Carter, president of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Carter said, “We must make sure that they (immigrants) are not treated like a separate class, outside the reach and protection of law and justice. Knowing as we do the tendency of all power to be abused, that also means we must do much more to support the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center and its counterparts around the country.” Leesfield Family Scholarship: For the 10th consecutive year, Ira Leesfield presented the Leesfield Family Foundation Scholarship to a minority law student who has demonstrated a high commitment to trial advocacy and public justice. This year’s recipient was Deborah Zeringue, a third-year law student at St. Thomas University School of Law. The event took place at the Florida Association for Women Lawyers, Miami-Dade Chapter’s reception honoring Chief Justice Barbara Pariente. Tallahassee Sky Box Reception: Legal Services of North Florida and Legal Aid Foundation of the Tallahassee Bar Association in association with the Florida State University College of Law and The Capital City Bar Presidents Council will celebrate Law Day May 3 with a reception and dinner at The Booster’s Skybox and the University Club at Doak Campbell Stadium from 5-7 p.m. The recognition program will be addressed by Justice Harry Lee Anstead of the Florida Supreme Court. A dinner will follow the reception at which Chief Justice Barbara Pariente will speak. Page, Eichenblatt, Bernbaum & Bennett Talk With Students: This Orlando firm teamed up with World Cup soccer player Michelle Akers and retired Orlando police officer Eddie Diaz recently to spread a message of empowerment to about 130 kids at Meadowbrook Middle School in Pine Hills. Akers, an Olympic gold medallist, and Diaz, who was shot in the line of duty, both have overcome obstacles to win the gold and overcome paralysis, respectively. “Teaching kids to be good people by helping others is important to me,” said Steve Eichenblatt, a partner at the firm, saying it wants to help teach kids lessons about what matters. “That’s setting goals and treating others the way you want to be treated.” Boca Lawyers Campaign for the Red Cross: State Sen. Ronald J. Klein, D-Boca Raton, and his partner Peter S. Sachs will serve as co-chairs of the annual fundraising campaign named for the founder of the American Red Cross. The goal of the 2005 Clara Barton campaign is to raise more than $350,000 for the American Red Cross Greater Palm Beach Area Chapter. The campaign will fund projects such as first aid and safety education and emergency response. Sachs Sax and Klein will seed the campaign with a $50,000 donation from the firm, its partners, and employees through a matching donation program. Lawyer/Artist Donates Work: Florida attorney and artist, G. Scott Baity, has donated his colorful abstract painting “Cascade” to I-CARE’s (Illinois Curing Autism through Research and Education) Arts for Autism Festival, which was be held in Chicago in April. Baity’s work was raffled off and the proceeds went go to help those individuals and families touched by autism. Student Art Raises Money: Budding young artists at Grand Avenue Elementary turned their brightly colored pictures into dollars for their school during the first annual Grand Avenue Gallery, a Holland & Knight-sponsored program designed to inspire creativity and raise funds through the creation, display, and sale of original works of art by students. More than $1,200 has been raised through donations and sales of the students’ original art during the gallery event, held recently at the firm’s Orlando office. Proceeds directly benefit the students and art programs at Grand Avenue Elementary. Community Events Focus on Kids: Bennett H. Brummer, public defender for the 11th Circuit recently organized a series of community forums to explore the connection between academic failure and delinquency. Titled “In the Spirit of Brown, 50 Years Later,” the participants included the school district, juvenile justice, corrections, teachers’ union, Juvenile Assessment Center, Miami-Dade County Commission, The Children’s Trust, NAACP, law enforcement, and the general public. About 250 participants have contributed so far to the panels, presentations, and strategy sessions. Among the top concerns raised at both sessions was the high numbers of African Americans, Haitians, and Hispanics, as well as students with learning or emotional disabilities, coming into the juvenile system. The discussions also focused on the ramifications of school policies that seem to encourage excessive, and frequently inappropriate, reliance on outdoor suspensions, and the unintended but harmful consequences of zero tolerance policies. The intent was not to point fingers, Brummer said, but to share ideas and implement effective solutions. May 1, 2005 Regular News
A chronically ill and pregnant Salvadoran woman whose fetus likely will not survive said Thursday she is to undergo a cesarean section section next week, after authorities barred her from having an abortion.“I feel very well, because now they are going to do it,” she told AFP by telephone, referring to the operation that has been scheduled to take place when she is 26 weeks pregnant.The woman, 22, suffers from lupus, a disease that weakens her immune system, and doctors said that the fetus she carries has anencephaly, a total or partial absence of the brain and the skull, and likely will die upon birth.The woman, who gave her name only as Beatriz, had asked to have an abortion on grounds her own life was in danger, but authorities in El Salvador – where abortions are strictly forbidden – refused.On Wednesday, the country’s Supreme Court refused to petition to terminate the pregnancy, saying the rights of the mother cannot take precedence over those of the unborn child.Beatriz told AFP on Thursday that she was “very nervous” but wanted the cesarean section to ensure her own health and because “the child is not going to live.”She is already the mother of a 2-year-old son.The sentence for violating the abortion ban is 50 years in prison.The case has been highly controversial. The archbishop of San Salvador, José Luis Escobar, asked the court several times not to allow the woman to have an abortion, arguing it would open the gates to more such requests.Feminist groups meanwhile said the high court’s ruling “trampled on the right to life” of Beatriz and the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) on Thursday urged El Salvador to take “urgent measures” to protect the woman’s rights.The IACHR also called on the San Salvador government to allow Beatriz to be seen “by doctors of her choosing,” and to protect the rights of her physicians treating her. Facebook Comments No related posts.