Board weighs pro bono plans for the judiciary

first_img September 1, 2002 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Board weighs pro bono plans for the judiciary Board weighs pro bono plans for the judiciary Senior EditorJudges should be encouraged to help in pro bono efforts, but there shouldn’t be specific standards or a reporting requirement set in the Code of Judicial Conduct, according to the Bar Board of Governors.The board, meeting last month, accepted the recommendation of its Special Committee on Pro Bono Filings on two recent petitions to the Supreme Court on judicial pro bono. The committee made no recommendation and the board took no action on a third filing involving pro bono service by government lawyers.One judicial proposal came from the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, which has proposed amendment to the judicial code to encourage judges to participate in extrajudicial activities that would improve the administration of justice. Those activities are defined as supporting pro bono services.The second proposal was submitted by the court’s Task Force on Pro Bono Activities by Judges and Judicial Staff and The Florida Bar Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services. It advocates creating a separate aspirational pro bono service obligation, with mandatory reporting and a buyout option, for judges and judicial staff.Board member Louis Kwall, who chaired the Bar’s filings committee, said the panel looked at the proposals and briefs in making its recommendations to the board. He said the panel supported the JEAC position, but opposed the second proposal.“The Florida Bar is committed to the delivery of legal services to the poor. The Florida Bar also recognizes the effective delivery. . . is dependent on the Florida judiciary providing leadership,” Kwall said. “The Board of Governors applauds the efforts of any judge who assists in the delivery of legal services to the poor within the parameters of the code of Judicial Conduct and fully understands the intent of the recommendations of the Supreme Court Task Force on Pro Bono Activities by Judges and Judicial Staff. Nevertheless, the Board of Governors is unable to support a proposal that would codify expectations for all judges to engage in activities beyond those recommended by the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee.”He added that the committee recommended the board strongly support the JEAC proposal, concluding, “In a sentence, our consensus was judges should judge.”Board member Hank Coxe, a member of the filings committee, said members spent time collecting all views, and balancing the Bar’s strong support both for pro bono and judicial independence. He noted that most trial judges and chief judges supported the JEAC proposal, but said that wasn’t the reason for the committee’ recommendation.“It is an issue of our belief that you not codify any standards [beyond the current code],” he said. “We are 100 percent in favor of those judges [who help with pro bono efforts] and believe they do a magnificent job. Our sole position is not to codify an expectation.”The board unanimously approved the committee’s recommendation.On the government lawyers issue, Kwall said neither an actual rule amendment nor briefs had been filed, and the committee decided to take no action. He noted that some public lawyers are prohibited by law or policies from having any clients other than their employers.The idea was submitted to the court by the Bar’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, which advocated removing the deferral in Bar rules for government lawyers for the 20 hours or $350 legal aid donation annual aspirational goal. The committee would do that in the rule by acknowledging that pro bono activities are within the public service responsibilities of government lawyers. The committee, however, has not submitted any rule language to accomplish those changes.After the meeting, Kwall said the filings committee might take up the government lawyer issue after briefs are filed or if an actual amendment is filed.The Bar’s Government Lawyer Section voted in June to tell the court that changing Bar rules will be useless unless state laws and policies are changed to allow government lawyers to do pro bono. The section has had a legislative position for several years seeking to rescind laws and rules that inhibit state lawyers from performing pro bono.The court will have oral arguments on the proposals November 7.last_img

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