Florida Bar Adopts New Professionalism Expectations

The Florida Bar Board of Governors adopted a new set of “Professionalism Expectations” on January 30, 2015. These Expectations¬† are divided into seven categories:

1. Commitment to Equal Justice and to the Public Good;

2. Honest and Effective Communication;

3. Adherence to a Fundamental Sense of Honor, Integrity, and Fair Play

4. Fair and Efficient Administration of Justice;

5. Decorum and Courtesy;

6. Respect for the Time and Commitments of Others; and

7. Independence of Judgment.

The vast majority of the expectations are expressed as “should” or “should not” which is to signal, as stated in the Preamble, that these are recommendations of correct action rather than matters covered by the Professional Rules of Conduct. A few of the expectations are stated as “must” or “must not” to indicate that they correlate with the Rules.

For a full copy, see here:

I am not convinced that this additional layer of recommendations will add much to the professionalism of Florida Lawyers, but let’s see.

Lawyer Well-being and Mental Health in the News

Several recent articles have called attention to the challenges that lawyers face in the midst of this stressful profession.

The Florida Bar News recently highlighted the problem of lawyer suicide in a provocative article by Scott Weinstein, Clinical Director for the Florida Lawyers Assistance Program.

http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/8c9f13012b96736985256aa900624829/5c5dc6e5081d87cf85257df5004a43cc!OpenDocument

The March 2015 ABA Journal also features an article by Stephanie Francis Ward on lawyers who self-medicate to address the stresses of the profession. This article includes an excellent directory of national referral services.

http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/lawyers_who_self_medicate_to_deal_with_stress_sometimes_steal_from_those

I discussed both of these articles in the context of the Chapter 6 duty to report misconduct materials, and the class quickly evolved into a lively discussion of the challenges confronting law students, and the role that drugs, alcohol and mental health play.

Please note the upcoming ABA Mental Health Day activities scheduled for March 27, 2105.

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/law_students/initiatives_awards/lshealth.html

The time is now to have your law school participate in this important national initiative. This is an opportunity to highlight professionalism and the relationship to wellness, and distribute information information including your local lawyers assistance program.

Federal Judge Fines Indian Tribe and Its Attorney for Frivolous Lawsuit

Federal Judge Marcia Cooke has ordered the Miccosukee tribe and its lawyer Bernardo Roman III to be sanctioned for over $1 million. Roman, on behalf of the Tribe, had sued three prominent Miami attorneys for malpractice and fraud. According to Judge Cooke, the lawsuit had “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.” She ordered the payment of $975,750 in costs and fees to law partners Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, and an additional $95,640 to lawyer Dexter Lehtinen. She further sanctions Roman under Rule 11 and refers his case to the Florida Bar for further action.

The Miami Herald Article on the case can be found here.

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/west-miami-dade/article7044377.html

The Judge’s Order can be viewed at: Miccosukee Tribe v Cypress Omnibus Order

Florida Bar Changes Advertising Policy on “Past Results”

The Florida Bar Board of Governors has voted to drop its advertising guideline on “past results.” The prior interpretation was that it was inherently misleading to state past results in any lawyer advertisement. The Florida Bar acted In response to Judge Beth Bloom’s decision in Rubenstein v. Florida Bar (discussed in my blog post of December 10). In addition, the Bar had commissioned a survey by Frank N. Magid & Associates to survey whether the public was misled by advertising reporting past results. This Magid survey did not support this hypothesis.

For more on these recent developments, see the Florida Bar News, January 1.

http://www.floridabar.org/DIVCOM/JN/jnnews01.nsf/cb53c80c8fabd49d85256b5900678f6c/c7aaf9d47e1c0b8d85257db100723587!OpenDocument&Highlight=0,past,results*

From my perspective, most interesting are the statements of Bar President Bill Coleman in the Florida Bar News which suggest that the Bar is re-examining its policy of requiring advance filings with the Bar of all billboard, radio, television and direct mail ads.

Let’s see what 2015 brings in this ongoing debate.

Debate on Lawyer Advertising in Florida Continues

Attorney Robert Rubenstein has sued the Florida Bar over its new and improved 2013 attorney advertising rules. Following the issuance of the new regulations, Rubenstein developed an advertising campaign that included information regarding past recoveries for clients. Consistent with the Florida Bar’s procedures, these ads were submitted for review, and the Florida Bar issued opinion letters which reported that the past performance advertisements complied with the revised Rules.

View an example of the advertisements in question at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFjHTQF4dkQ

By early 2014, the Florida Bar issued new guidelines regarding advertising past results, and then the Bar notified Rubenstein that it was withdrawing its opinion letter on compliance. By March 2014, Rubenstein sued the Florida Bar on first amendment grounds.

In the instant case, heard by Federal Judge Beth Bloom, the Florida Bar challenged jurisdiction on the basis of standing and ripeness. Judge Bloom disagreed and denied the Florida Bar’s motion.”Plaintiffs have clearly demonstrated a very real threat of prosecution for engaging in their advertisement of past results.”¬† The slip opinion is available at 2014 WL 6610972.

Joe Nocera’s Op-Ed in the New York Times

The debate on the funding of judicial elections and the impact of campaign finance is well covered by Joe Nocera in the Tuesday, October 28 column called Are Our Courts for Sale?

Definitely worth asking why we aren’t pushing harder for public finance of judicial elections in light of the increasing impact of private contributions in judicial campaigns.

Nocera quotes Professor Joanna Shepherd from Emory Law School and her report entitled Skewed Justice.

All of these are great resources to supplement our discussion of judicial ethics in Chapter 7.