J.A.I.L. News Journal
Angeles - March
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Lawyers, judges fight
bills that dilute control
The president of the
Florida Bar argues that dumping the current court system would set the state
back 100 years.
By LUCY MORGAN
© St. Petersburg
Times, published March 15, 2001
TALLAHASSEE -- A parade of lawyers and
judges on Wednesday urged members of a House committee to back away from several
bills that would drastically change the way Florida's judges are elected and
courts are operated.
They predicted disaster for Floridians if
legislators approve a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to
seriously dilute the powers of the Florida Bar and force all of the state's
judges and justices to get a two-thirds vote in merit retention elections.
Former Supreme Court Justices Alan Sundberg and Stephen Grimes were
among those who defended the Bar and the merit selection and retention system
used to appoint and retain justices of the Florida Supreme
Court and all
Barry Richard, the lawyer who defended President Bush
during the Florida election recount, said legislators would "re-politicize" the
courts if they approve another proposal that would abolish judicial nominating
commissions and return to electing all judges.
But Richard did say the
state may need to "revisit and tweak the proper balance of the three branches of
Only a few speakers praised some of the proposals, saying
lawyers have become an elitist group of people who write the rules and then play
the game by their own rules. They said lawyers should have to face outside
regulators the way doctors and other professionals do.
Brummer, R-Apopka, sponsor of several of the bills, questioned the Bar's ability
to regulate the behavior of lawyers.
Reading from an opinion written by
Judge Alan R. Schwartz of the 3rd District Court of Appeal, Brummer noted that
even some judges have complained that the Bar is too slow to act against some
"We feel duty bound to report him (an errant lawyer) to the
Florida Bar, (but) we have no illusions that this will have any practical
effect," Schwartz wrote Feb. 14. After listing a number of cases the court has
referred to the Bar, Schwartz wrote that the Bar has not responded "concretely
at all to the tide of uncivil and unprofessional conduct" displayed by the
lawyers his court reported.
"The system was built for the players, the
lawyers and judges," Ted Hires, founder of the Justice Coalition, a Jacksonville
victims advocacy group, said Wednesday. "They think running for election the way
you people did
is dirty. I think running for election is good; it puts your
business in the street, and you don't get to operate in a way that lets you
cover your coattails."
Hires suggested that recent court rulings have
"about put you folks out of business; y'all don't need to be here anymore.
They're writing the laws for you."
But Florida Bar president Herman
Russomanno argued that dumping the current court system would set Florida back
"The Bar is second to none in the country in regulating its
members," Russomanno boasted. "The Bar does a heck of a job."
Tallahassee lawyer George Meros Jr. said he was proud of some of the
things the Bar has done but was ashamed of others when it has displayed
The Bar has done "a miserable job" in curtailing advertising
and solicitation to accident victims, he said. Brummer asked the House Judiciary
Oversight Committee to schedule another hearing so additional witnesses who
waited through 41/2 hours of testimony could have their say.
No date has
been scheduled for a vote on the bills.
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"..it does not require a majority to prevail,
but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's
minds.." - Samuel Adams
"There are a thousand hacking at the branches of
evil to one who is
striking at the
-- Henry David Thoreau