Thursday, January 14, 2016

Appellate Law: Introducing Mary Beth Kuenzel, Clerk of the Second District Court of Appeal

By Valeria Hendricks

The first clerk of Florida’s Second District Court of Appeal was Joseph Gillen. Some 50 years later, Mary Beth Kuenzel, the cousin of Gillen’s granddaughter, has become the court’s sixth clerk. Although she revealed this bit of history at her induction ceremony, Mary Beth began her remarks on a somber note by recognizing Jim Birkhold's dedicated service and many contributions to the court before his sudden death.

Mary Beth is certainly qualified to lead the court’s clerk’s office. She has served the court for more than 20 years as a staff attorney. She has worked on numerous committees within the court, including its social media and practice preferences committees. Before joining the court, Mary Beth received her bachelor’s degree from FSU and worked for the Florida House of Representatives, where she eventually served as the director of communications in the Speaker's Office. She later attended Stetson University College of Law, graduating in 1993. Mary Beth lives in St. Petersburg with her husband, Kevin, an architect, artist, and attorney (in that order). 

Although Mary Beth has been the clerk for only a short time, she credits the deputy clerks for their helpfulness, professionalism, and great institutional knowledge. Anyone who has practiced before the Second DCA can agree on the unsurpassed quality of the deputy clerks. During that short time, she has already identified two challenges facing the court and how practitioners can help.

The first challenge is the “proper classification of appeals and original proceedings, as they come in the door.” According to Mary Beth, that “determination is made in a vacuum, but it determines many things, from the type of record to filing deadlines.” Mary Beth says appellate lawyers can help the clerk’s office with the initial classification by explaining the basis for jurisdiction by a notice of appeal or petition and by setting forth the pertinent dates if, for example, rendition was tolled.  

The second challenge Mary Beth identified is technology. Technology, of course, is a beneficial tool. But Mary Beth admits that it has made some things more complicated because the clerks are asked to help attorneys and pro se litigants figure out how to do things from an information technology standpoint. “It has also changed expectations about how quickly things should be done,” says Mary Beth. “The appellate court clerks are still in the development process of e-filing, e-records, and easy accessibility. We can receive e-filings, but we’re still sending out paper copies of orders and the like.” Mary Beth also observes, “As we approach electronic viewing of records (and we’re not there yet), appellate lawyers can help the clerk’s office and their clients by ensuring that confidential information is properly noted, redacted, and protected.”

The HCBA’s Appellate Practice Section welcomes Mary Beth Kuenzel as the clerk of the Second District Court of Appeal.