Friday, September 27, 2013

Professionalism And Ethics: Synergy Within The Thirteenth Judicial Circuit

By Judge Ashley Moody, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit; Julie Sneed; and Joan Boles

In the beginning of his term, Hillsborough County Bar Association Past President Bob Nader gave a clear directive to the co-chairs: “Reinvigorate the Professionalism Committee.” The first order of business was to change the name to the Professionalism & Ethics Committee to more accurately reflect its mission. During his term, the committee participated in the HCBA Bench Bar Conference and the ABOTA/HCBA Practicing with Ethics, Civility and Professionalism Seminar. It published articles in the Lawyer, provided speakers for events, and began to make connections within the legal community.

An important connection was made between the HCBA committee and the Florida Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Committee on Professionalism. The Circuit Professionalism Committee Program Guide states: “In 1997 the Supreme Court’s Commission on Professionalism determined the need for professionalism programs and activities to have a primary emphasis at the local level. It was decided each circuit should have a Professionalism Committee. The intent was for programs and activities to be implemented locally and shared among the circuits.”

The connection led to a consensus in formalizing a combined committee with structure for appointments going forward to promote consistency and continuity. This consensus comes at the ideal time and has the full support of HCBA President Susan Johnson-Velez.

The Supreme Court of Florida recently issued Opinion No. SC 13-688, In Re: Code for Resolving Professionalism Complaints, within each circuit. It reads in part:

“The Professionalism Commission has proposed that a local committee in each circuit be activated to receive, screen and act upon any and all complaints of unprofessional conduct and to resolve those complaints informally, if possible, or refer to The Florida Bar if necessary. We agree with this proposal and also adopt the Local Professionalism Panel plan. The Chief Judge of every circuit shall create a Local Professionalism Panel to receive and resolve professionalism complaints informally if possible. In the discretion of the Chief Judge, the Circuit Committee on Professionalism may be designated as the Local Professionalism Panel. The Chief Judge of each circuit is responsible for activating the respective committees.”

The Standards of Professionalism are found in the Oath of Admission to The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Creed of Professionalism, The Florida Bar Ideals and Goals of Professionalism, The Rules Regulating The Florida Bar, and the decisions of the Florida Supreme Court.

A combined taskforce has been created to address the Supreme Court mandate regarding professionalism efforts and a local panel in our circuit. The taskforce is chaired by Thirteenth Judicial Circuit Judge Ashley Moody and includes members of the Professionalism and Ethics Committee, Committee on Professionalism, and the HCBA Peer Review Program. A Thirteenth Judicial Circuit plan and structure will be put in place for implementation. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Dividing Assets In Divorce: The Value of Homestead Portability

By Bridget Remington

In 2009, Florida’s Constitution was amended to allow homestead owners to transfer to a new homestead the difference between the prior homestead’s “just” (fair market) value and “assessed” value. Art. VII, §(4)(d)(1) Fla. Const. Unfortunately, the birth of “portability” coincided with the housing bubble burst, limiting the relevance of portability as just values tanked. However, two trends may rekindle interest in the value of portability: rising home values and increased divorce among baby boomers who have owned homesteads long enough to experience a substantial difference between just and assessed value.

What Is Portability?

When homestead property changes ownership, it is assessed at just value as of January 1 of the following year. It is reassessed every year, but the assessed value cannot increase by more than 3 percent of the previous year’s assessed value. § 193.155(1), Fla. Stat.  (2012). Homestead exemptions are then subtracted to reach the taxable value. The difference between just value and assessed value ― the “cap differential” ― can be ported to a new homestead. § 193.155(8).

Say Tom and Betty Babyboomer purchased their homestead in 1995 at $100,000 just value. They weathered the ups and downs of the housing market, and today the homestead’s just value is $400,000. Because of the cap, however, the assessed value is only $170,000. Tom and Betty’s cap differential is $230,000, or almost 60 percent of just value. If they were to “upgrade” to a $750,000 home, the $230,000 differential would be subtracted from the just value of the new homestead, so the assessed value would be $520,000. § 193.155(8)(a). This would be the floor for future increases to assessed value. If they “downgraded” to a $200,000 home, they would port the percentage of just value (60 percent) for an assessed value of $120,000 on the new homestead. § 193.155(8)(b).

Portability and Divorce

Divorcing spouses can divide the cap differential if they both “abandon” the homestead. An equal division is simple when the homestead is sold. But what if Betty divorces Tom and keeps the house? Abandonment does not require physical abandonment, only the filing of a notice of abandonment of homestead with the property appraiser. § 193.155(8)(g). However, her abandonment will cause the homestead to be reassessed at just value, and the differential will be applied the following assessment year. But if Tom relinquishes any claim to the differential, the transfer in ownership to Betty will not require reassessment at just value because the transfer is pursuant to a divorce. § 193.155(3)(a)(2). If Tom has no plans to establish a new homestead in the next two years, he may want this “asset” placed on Betty’s side of the marital balance sheet.

If the parties want to split the differential unequally, they must be married on the date the homestead is abandoned. § 193.155(8)(d). Therefore, notice of abandonment of homestead must be filed before final judgment is entered.

Family law attorneys should anticipate the cap differential receiving greater attention as a valuable marital asset in the upcoming years.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Intellectual Property: Supreme Court Rules Isolated Human Genes Unpatentable

By Stephen G. Anderson, Ph.D.

On June 13, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., 133 S. Ct. 2107 (2013), holding that merely isolating a naturally occurring DNA molecule from its surrounding genetic material does not render it patentable subject matter. Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Clarence Thomas emphasized that “patent protection strikes a delicate balance between creating incentives that lead to creation, invention, and discovery and impeding the flow of information that might permit, indeed spur, invention.” Id. at 2116 (internal citation omitted). In striking that balance, the court also held that certain DNA molecules synthesized in a laboratory, known as complementary DNA (cDNA), are eligible for patent protection because they are not technically found in nature.  The decision will undoubtedly have a substantial effect on existing biotechnology patent portfolios, as well as significant implications for the future of the biotechnology industry.

At the center of the dispute in Ass’n for Molecular Pathology was U.S. Patent No. 5,747,282, issued to Myriad Genetics, Inc., which claimed the isolated DNA of two genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations in the BRCA genes are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. Armed with the ’282 patent, Myriad retained the exclusive right to isolate these genes, a necessary step in screening patients for the cancer-causing mutations. Competitors and others filed suit.

The court first addressed whether isolated DNA molecules are patentable subject matter. Section 101 of the Patent Act states “[w]hoever invents or discovers any new and useful ... composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.” 35 U.S.C. § 101. Implicit exceptions to Section 101 include laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas, which are “the basic tools of scientific and technological work that lie beyond the domain of patent protection.” 133 S. Ct. at 2116. 

By claiming the naturally occurring DNA sequences of the BRCA genes, “Myriad did not create anything,” the court said. Id. at 2117. In fact, “[t]he location and order of the nucleotides existed in nature before Myriad found them.” Id. at 2116. Thus, the isolated DNA molecules were held unpatentable subject matter.

The court, however, reached a different conclusion with respect to cDNA.  Generally, human genes are divided into protein-coding regions (“exons”) and non-coding regions (“introns”). An isolated gene contains both the exon and intron DNA sequences, but a cDNA molecule contains only the exon DNA sequences. Thus, according to the court, “a lab technician unquestionably creates something new when cDNA is made.” Id. at 2119. Even though the cDNA contains the naturally occurring exon sequences, the court determined that it “is not a product of nature and is patent eligible under § 101.” Id.

The ultimate effect of the court’s decision on the biotechnology industry remains to be seen.  In the meantime, allowing patents on cDNA but not on mere isolated DNA balances the goals of the Patent Act, creating an incentive for invention, while freeing up the basic tools of scientific research and development for future innovation.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Appellate Practice: The End Of Terms Of Court

By Ezequiel Lugo

Once upon a time, “terms of court” made sense. In 1868, only seven circuit court judges served the entire state. Back then, these judges had to “ride the circuit,” sitting in each county seat for “two terms of his court” each year. Art. VI, § 7, Fla. Const. (1868). Having a fixed “term of court” ensured that the judges stayed in each county long enough to serve that county’s needs.  

At the appellate level, the Florida Constitution of 1868 required the Florida Supreme Court to hold three terms annually. Art. VI, § 4, Fla. Const. (1868). These appellate terms of court set fixed times for the justices to travel to Tallahassee to consider appeals. Fla. H.R. Civil Justice Subcomm., HB 7017 (2013) Final Bill Analysis 2 (May 16, 2013) (hereinafter “Bill Analysis”). When the district courts were created, these new courts were similarly required to hold two terms of court annually. See § 35.10, Fla. Stat. (2012).

In the modern era, terms of court are governed by statute. See §§ 25.051, 35.10, Fla. Stat. (2012). Although terms of court are no longer required to ensure judicial attendance, they still serve one important function at the appellate level: The end of a term marks the end of the court’s ability to recall its mandate. The mandate is the appellate court’s method of communicating its decision to the lower tribunal. Martin v. Martin, 139 So. 2d 406, 408 (Fla. 1962). Appellate courts have the power to recall a mandate “for good cause.” Simpson v. State, 505 So. 2d 1378, 1380 (Fla. 1st DCA 1987). For example, a court may recall a mandate to clarify its decision or resolve conflict. See Id.

Currently, the appellate court’s power to recall a mandate and modify a decision “generally ends with the term the mandate issued.” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Judges of the Dist. Ct. of Appeal, Fifth Dist., 405 So. 2d 980, 983 (Fla. 1981). But since modern courts meet year round, the arbitrary “term” cutoffs mean that some decisions are subject to modification for nearly six months, while others may be subject to modification for just a few days. Bill Analysis 3.

In its last term, the Florida Legislature fixed this historical quirk. Deeming terms of court to be “an archaic concept,” Bill Analysis 2, the Legislature repealed terms of court effective January 1, 2014. Ch. 2013-25, Laws of Fla.; Bill Analysis 1-3.

Starting next year, the Florida Supreme Court may: (1) establish terms of court; (2) authorize lower courts to establish their own terms of court; or (3) dispense with terms of court altogether. Ch. 2013-25, § 9, Laws of Fla. No matter how terms are used for scheduling, though, an appellate court will have the power to recall its mandate and modify a decision for up to 120 days after the mandate has been issued. Ch. 2013-25, § 10, Laws of Fla. For appellate practitioners, this means easier calendaring and a simple path to advising clients on finality issues.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Pro Bono Judicial Summit

By Judge Matthew C. Lucas, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit

On May 17, 2013, more than 20 state and federal judges gathered at the Chester H. Ferguson Law Center for what is believed to be the first pro bono judicial summit in our circuit. Although many worthwhile opportunities abound to engage lawyers in the important work of providing legal service to the poor and indigent, this conference instead focused on the judiciary’s involvement in this important area. Judicial officials from the county and circuit courts and the Second District Court of Appeal joined federal magistrate, bankruptcy, and district judges to hear presentations from local pro bono service providers and to share ideas about how judges may effectively — and ethically — promote pro bono service in their respective courts. (Members of the judiciary are governed by numerous restrictions as to what extent they may permissibly support pro bono service and service providers under the judicial canons and ethics opinions. See, e.g., In re Amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct, 983 So. 2d 550 (Fla. 2008) (modifying judicial canons and explaining limitations on judicial participation in pro bono events and ceremonies).) The event was widely appreciated as an opportunity to discuss an ongoing dilemma in our judicial system ― how a litigant’s constitutional right of access to court may be hindered by a lack of legal representation.

Members of the judiciary hold a unique vantage of the need for legal services in their courts. Indeed, under Canon 4(b) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, “[a] judge is encouraged to . . . participate in other quasi-judicial activities concerning the law, the legal system, [and] the administration of justice.” (The commentary to this canon states, “[s]upport of pro bono legal services by members of the bench is an activity that relates to the improvement of the administration of justice.”) After hearing presentations from Circuit Judge Matt Lucas, who moderated the program, and U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Catherine Peek McEwen, the chair of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit’s Pro Bono Committee, about strategies and limitations of which judicial officers should be aware when trying to foster pro bono service, four legal aid organizations offered presentations about the scope of their services.

First, Nancy Lugo, pro bono manager for the Bay Area Volunteer Lawyers Program of Bay Area Legal Services (BALS), talked about the various kinds of legal representation BALS organizes throughout the Tampa Bay area, particularly in the area of family law. Next, Rosemary Armstrong, who helped sponsor the summit, introduced the judges to a new organization, Crossroads for Florida Kids, which was “created to promote and facilitate pro bono legal representation of children in dependency and delinquency proceedings.” Michael Shea of St. Michael’s Legal Center in Tampa talked about his program’s efforts to provide and organize pro bono service for families whose limited resources may be above qualifying poverty levels but below the ability to hire an attorney.

Finally, speaking to the importance of instilling pro bono service early in a legal career, Amy Bandow, an assistant director at Thomas M. Cooley School of Law, discussed her school’s Service to Soldiers: Legal Assistance Referral Program, as well as the availability of the school’s students to serve supporting roles (as “associates”) for practitioners representing pro bono clients.
It is hoped that this summit will be a catalyst for future meetings among the wider judiciary as we continue to address this important topic.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Clerk Of The Circuit Court Message: In Partnership

By Pat Frank

Partnerships do work. When we pool our resources, the end result is invariably better. This applies to so many situations, personal as well as professional. Although the Clerk of the Circuit Court is an independently elected constitutional officer, our office does not exist on an island ― although I sometimes wish, in stressful times, that I were on one!

On a more serious note, I am grateful for the partnerships we have formed, working together for the common good, with the Hillsborough County government, the City of Tampa, and other constitutional officers and members of the Florida Legislature, to name a few. I am also truly appreciative of our partnerships with both the Hillsborough County Bar Association and The Florida Bar.

Your leadership has stood strongly for us when we faced serious threats to funding from legislation pending before the Florida Legislature ― opposing cuts that would have greatly hindered our ability to do our job and fulfill our constitutional duties. You have recognized that it is essential for us to have sufficient funding now more than ever, as we transition to e-filing with the goal of creating an overall paperless court system. 

We are now in the process of implementing our new Odyssey case-maintenance system in the criminal court areas. Here, too, we are partnering ― in this case, with the state attorney, the public defender, the sheriff’s office, the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, the Florida Department of Corrections, and the Department of Juvenile Justice. By working together, we enhance the overall exchange of electronic information, doing it more rapidly and accurately.

Partnerships define us in other key areas of our operations. For example, Project 1 is a historic agreement for shared implementation of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. Our office is partnering with Hillsborough County, the county’s Civil Service Board, and the City of Tampa in this groundbreaking project. ERP systems are integrated software solutions that can replace dozens of existing programs, typically focusing on financial and human resource software. Integrated systems share common data between modules.

Project 1 also includes the following agencies that use one or more of the county’s accounting, budget, procurement, human resources, and/or payroll systems: the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit; the County Attorney’s Office; the Environmental Protection Commission; the Board of County Commissioners; the Auditor’s Office; the Law Library; the City-County Planning Commission; the Public Transportation Commission; the Soil and Water Conservation Board; the Office of the Supervisor of Elections; and Victim Assistance.

The point is, we don’t operate in silos ― especially now, as technology has flattened out our operations to make us more accessible to you, as well as to the public we serve.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Susan Johnson-Velez Makes History As New Bar Year Begins

By John F. Kynes

When Susan Johnson-Velez moved from Houston, Texas, to Tampa some 20 years ago to practice law, she didn’t have an affiliation with any Florida law school and few, if any, professional connections.

Not exactly the best way to begin a promising career in Tampa’s historically tight-knit legal community, especially for a woman.

But Johnson-Velez was undeterred. She joined the Hillsborough County Bar Association and eventually became a board member.  

This past June, Johnson-Velez made history when she was sworn in as the HCBA’s first African-American female leader in the organization’s 117-year history.

An avid marathoner, she has used her personal discipline and legal acumen to become successful and to thrive, both as a lawyer focusing on land-use issues and as a dedicated single mother of two children, Julian and Catalina.

When she first arrived in Tampa in the early 1990s, Johnson-Velez quickly recognized the value of being actively involved with the HCBA.

At her installation ceremony in June, Johnson-Velez recalled when she first agreed 15 years ago to become co-chair of what is now the HCBA Diversity Committee. She spoke about how welcoming the HCBA is for new members.

“The friendships we form help to balance the everyday stresses and strains of our profession,” Johnson-Velez said.

She also talked about leading the HCBA this year.

“What pushes us and inspires us is the drive to make this Bar association the best,” Johnson-Velez said.

Concluding her remarks, Johnson-Velez shared a well-known quote about success that she says her late father shared with her and her siblings when they were young.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better, and your better is best,” Johnson-Velez said, quoting her father.

She added: “That’s my challenge for myself and for the HCBA this coming year. To do our best, and to be our best.”


The fall season and a new Bar year also bring new opportunities for HCBA members.

Opportunities to forge new relationships with other HCBA members and members of the judiciary by attending one of the many free HCBA events held during the year.

Opportunities to take advantage of the numerous educational events and CLE luncheons available through the HCBA.

And opportunities to give back to the Bar and to the Tampa Bay community through the many programs and events planned by the HCBA’s 30-plus committees and sections.

Like most endeavors in life, you usually get out of something what you put into it.

So challenge yourself, and take full advantage of what the HCBA has to offer.

Stay connected to your colleagues and become informed about upcoming events through the HCBA’s various social-media platforms.

Consider joining the HCBA’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service, and help grow your practice through case referrals.

Also, make it a point to attend the HCBA’s 17th Annual Bench Bar Conference and Judicial Reception scheduled for November 6 at the Hilton Tampa Downtown. The CLE programming, membership luncheon, and judicial reception associated with this event will be one of the highlights of the fall season, I’m sure.

Above all, try to enjoy yourself and the relationships you develop through your involvement with the HCBA.

Hopefully, through the opportunities provided by the HCBA, and with some personal commitment, you will find greater fulfillment in your legal career and your personal life this Bar year.

Let us know what we can do to help.

See you around the Chet.

State Attorney's Message: Confidential Witness Addresses

By Mark A. Ober

The prosecution of a criminal case involves respecting the rights of a defendant while still protecting the victims of crimes. Sometimes, the challenge of finding this balance arises during an otherwise straightforward part of the criminal process, such as discovery.

Under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.220(1)(a), if the defendant elects to participate in the discovery process, the state is required to provide the defendant with “a list of names and addresses of all persons known to the prosecutor to have information that may be relevant to any offense charged.” This list would normally include the victim of the crime, as well as the victim’s address, but in some cases the victim of the crime is in fear of the defendant.

In a domestic violence case, the victim may apply to participate in the Address Confidentiality Program administered by the Office of the Attorney General. Fla. Stat. §§ 741.401-741.409. If the victim is accepted into the program, the victim will designate the attorney general as his or her agent for the purposes of service of process and receipt of mail. The victim’s address would be exempt from disclosure through public records requests and from disclosure through discovery. Fla. Stat. §§ 741.405 & 741.465.

Even in a case that is not domestic violence-related, the court may enter an order preventing or restricting disclosure of a victim’s address if certain conditions are met. Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.220(e).  The pertinent criminal rule provides that this may occur if the court finds “there is a substantial risk to any person of physical harm, intimidation, bribery, economic reprisals, or unnecessary annoyance or embarrassment resulting from the disclosure, that outweighs any usefulness of the disclosure to either party.” Id.

This issue was addressed in Holmes v. State, 557 So. 2d 933 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990). In that case, the court recognized that withholding the address and employment information of the victim implicated important constitutional rights of the accused. Holmes v. State, 557 So. 2d 933, 935 (Fla. 5th DCA 1990). The court went on to acknowledge that the Florida Supreme Court has recognized a narrow personal safety exception to the disclosure requirement. See State v. Hassberger, 350 So. 2d 1 (Fla. 1977). In order to withhold this information: “First, an actual, not implied, threat to the witness or his family must be shown. Second, the government must disclose to the judge in camera the information sought to be withheld from the accused. The judge must determine whether the facts must be disclosed in order not to deny effective cross-examination to the defendant. Finally, the accused must be given an opportunity to show any special need for the requested information.” Holmes, 557 So. 2d at 936. 

As state attorney, I have a duty to protect those who have been the victim of a crime while ensuring that the criminal justice process is able to function in a just manner. My office will use the legal protections available to us to accomplish this goal.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Welcome To The HCBA Young Lawyers Division!

By Jacqueline Simms-Petredis

Welcome to another exciting year for the Hillsborough County Bar Association Young Lawyers Division!

The YLD has a large array of activities for you to get involved in the legal community and beyond. We offer opportunities to mingle with other young lawyers, HCBA members, and members of the judiciary in fun and informal settings.

As the incoming president, I am excited to continue the YLD events that have defined our organization over the years, as well as enhance their reach. However, we need the help of all HCBA YLD members!

Some of our familiar projects include Steak and Sports Day, Holidays in January, the Robert J. Simms Mock Trial Competition, Law Week, and the Cornhole for a Cause tournament benefitting Big Brothers Big Sisters. The YLD also intends to deliver more ways for its members to give back through pro bono legal service, including through our partnership with Bay Area Legal Services in the Family Forms Clinic, Wills for Heroes, and Crossroads for Florida Kids. YLD events such as Judicial Shadowing, Coffee at the Courthouse, the State Court Trial Seminar, and CLE luncheons are also a great way to develop your legal skills and strengthen your legal expertise.

Be on the lookout for one of the first YLD events of the year ― our annual Golf Tournament. The tournament attendance has increased to record numbers in the past two years, so watch for upcoming announcements about registration to take advantage of the early-bird discount. The tournament is open to lawyers and non-lawyers, so encourage your shareholders, colleagues, clients, and friends to join us on the greens!

Throughout the year, the YLD also hosts other networking events such as regular luncheons and quarterly happy hours. These events feature speakers on quality-of-life issues, opening your own legal practice, and pro bono service.

The YLD will also work this year to spread the word about its hugely successful and Florida Bar-award-winning project from last year, the documentary film chronicling the history of the desegregation of the Hillsborough County legal community, titled “Before the Law Was Equal.” We plan to promote the film locally through a website available to the public. The website will archive the footage and materials obtained during the production of the documentary, as well as market it to other YLD affiliates and lawyers throughout the state.

If you are interested in helping plan any of these projects or events, please join one of our committees. Our events can always use more volunteers and new faces as we continue to enhance our programming. We look forward to your involvement in the YLD as we continue our tradition of making a difference in Hillsborough County!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

President's Message: Time Marches On, And So Do We

By Susan Johnson-Velez

The year was 2004. I had agreed to serve as editor of the Lawyer and was facing the task of writing an article for each issue of the magazine. Fast-forward nine years, and as I prepare to share my thoughts and musings with you for this Bar year, I began reflecting on this universal truth: With every season’s passage and with every personal growth, our lives and the people in them change, but somehow also remain the same.

I can say this with such confidence merely by looking back at my first article in 2004. It featured an anecdote about two “queens of melodrama”: my then 10-year-old daughter, Cat, and our then 10-month-old Weimaraner puppy, Mia. Although it seems like only yesterday that I was describing (and frequently witnessing) the tendency of both toward melodrama, they, like just about everyone and everything around me, have changed.

That 10-year-old girl joins me in marveling at the fact that she is now almost 20 and a University of Florida sophomore. And that Weimaraner puppy is now almost 10 years old, and her once-seemingly boundless energy is beginning to show signs that it in fact does have limits.

But even as we watch the world change around us, there are so many issues that remain and require our collective attention. Issues such as judicial independence and diversity/inclusion are two examples. The fact that these issues are still at the forefront is proof that they will not be resolved in a single Bar year. However, we must continue to highlight them in the hope that doing so will move us that much closer to the finish line.

To that end, through various programs during the coming year, we will promote “Benchmarks: Raising the Bar on Civics Education.” This initiative of The Florida Bar and its Constitutional Judiciary Committee is designed to give attorneys activities that they can use to teach the fundamentals of government and the courts to adult civic and community groups. Benchmarks aims to inform adults through engaging activities about judicial review; the Bill of Rights and reviewing laws to see whether they are constitutional; facts and knowledge about U.S. government and the courts; and judicial labeling. The program has several activities that attorneys can use when they speak to community groups. Each activity has an overview to outline how the activity should be presented and supporting materials, such as PowerPoints and handouts. A detailed presentation on the Benchmarks program is being planned as part of the Bench Bar Conference in November. I hope you will attend that session and then accept the invitation to participate in this important public education effort.

I also hope to refocus the Bar’s diversity efforts in the upcoming year. Although I have always found the Hillsborough County Bar Association to be a welcoming place, I know that for a variety of reasons that experience is not shared by all. We have long focused on the diversity issue, but it may be time for a shift in focus to inclusion. As diversity consultant Verna Myers noted in her recent book “Moving Diversity Forward”: “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” I hope to create an environment that encourages much more dancing.

I can already tell that it’s going to be a busy year, and I am excited that it is, at long last, underway. Our calendars will soon be filled with the lunches, CLEs, fun runs, and other events and traditions that mark our typical Bar year. As the world changes around us, those things will stay the same. And I fully expect that the enduring performances of Cat and Mia, my queens of melodrama, will also remain happily and comfortingly static.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Editor's Message: A Sense Of Community

By Rena Upshaw-Frazier

I was ecstatic when Susan Johnson-Velez asked me to serve as this year's editor of the Lawyer magazine. It is not often that one gets to take part in an award-winning publication in such a meaningful position. It was even more special that this publication is one that my colleagues, mentors, and legal peers read regularly and hold in high regard.

I think back to reading the Lawyer magazine as a “baby” attorney, looking for pictures of anyone I knew ― or wanted to know ― at the Bar events, and discussing the articles with colleagues. Sometimes, a mentor would flag an article for me to read.

This magazine has been and is an integral part of our legal community. I immediately accepted the position.

Of course, my wide-eyed enthusiasm did not come without some trepidation. I know that the position comes with great responsibility. It requires excruciating attention to detail and a keen sense of policy and tradition. Time pressures and deadlines are inherent to the role.

With a busy litigation practice, active participation in community associations, and three school-aged children, I had ― actually, still have ― a bit of anxiety about meeting the expectations.

However, my trepidation pales in comparison to the honor that I feel in contributing to an organization and publication that provide a foundation and sense of community for our legal profession.

The Lawyer magazine allows us to glimpse into the legal issues that are important to our colleagues practicing within our legal areas, other legal areas, and the judiciary. It keeps us current on upcoming Bar events and opportunities, and it shows us what we missed at those that we could not attend. It tells us who has a new position and who won a distinguished award so we may send notes of congratulations. It tells us about pro bono opportunities and highlights the work and missions of our colleagues dedicated to helping those who cannot help themselves.

At the risk of sounding foolishly sentimental, the Lawyer magazine bridges the gap formed by the physical distance of our community and brings us a little closer together.

With the divisive matters that at times overwhelm society, a sense of support, foundation, and community is important.

Politically, socially, and racially sensitive trials and elections garner national media attention. Sometimes we internalize negativity toward those whose outlooks, views, or leanings differ from ours. Current events sometimes become taboo in discussions among colleagues for fear of exposing differences with deep, emotional connotations.

However, differences are important and necessary in a functioning community. Recognizing and accepting those differences allows us to understand and appreciate our similarities. Together, our differences and similarities merge to form a sense of community ― our legal community. In that vein, we hope that you enjoy our cover theme this year, highlighting photographs that showcase the diversity of our community.

Thank you for allowing me to embark on this new Bar year with you and trusting me with this special position. I hope to increase everyone’s sense of community.