Thank you so very much for the honor and privilege of serving as your President for the year 2012-13. The Broward County Bar Association is the third largest bar association in the State, behind only Dade and Orange Counties. We have nearly 2,500 members and are growing. My goal as your President is quite simple, to work with each of you this year to make the Association more vibrant and relevant than when I started.
Those of you who attended the Installation Dinner on June 27, 2012, know what a memorable evening it was as we recognized departing Board members and installed our new Board and Officers. Awards were presented for outstanding service to our Association. And the highlight of the evening was recognizing the recipients of the most prestigious awards given each year, the Stephen Booher Award to Judge Jane Fishman, the Joe Carter Award to Andrea Gunderson, the YLS Paul May Award to David Hirschberg, and the Lynn Futch Award to Eugene Pettis. (A complete list of award recipients appears elsewhere in the Barrister). And, we did all of that and more and concluded at 8:30 p.m. through the efforts of our outgoing President Jordana Goldstein.
I want to give special thanks and recognition to our out-going president, Jordana, who also previously served as president of the YLS. Jordana is passionate about this Association and her passion is infectious. In these and other positions she has held, Jordana has always brought enthusiasm and energy to every issue and led in the implementation of many new initiatives.
The August and November elections are an important time for our Judiciary and for our profession. Every two years, a number of our trial judges run for re-election and appellate judges stand for merit retention. We continue to see contested elections against incumbent trial judges although certainly not in the numbers we saw in 2010. Three of our distinguished trial judges have drawn opposition this year. Additionally, there are renewed attacks by special interest groups against the three Supreme Court justices up for merit retention.
Debate continues about Florida’s method of selecting our judiciary. Trial judges are elected with the exception of appointments and vacancies. Appellate judges are initially appointed through the nomination process but thereafter must be considered for continuation in office ‘on merit’ in uncontested elections. As late as 2000, voters had the chance to extend the current system of merit selection and retention in place for appellate court judges to trial judges in their local circuit and county courts. The measure was rejected everywhere in the State.
What is not in debate is the need of our profession to take part in judicial elections/merit retention. At this year’s Law Day luncheon, former Supreme Court Justice Cantero urged attendees to be ‘ambassadors’ for our Judiciary. As an English major, I thought ‘ambassador’ was an interesting word to use in this context so I ‘Googled’ the definition and one of the meanings is ‘somebody or something regarded as an unofficial representative or a symbol of something.’
Each member of our profession should assume the role of ‘ambassador’ for our Judiciary. We are in the best position to know the importance of an independent Judiciary and the attributes and qualifications of our judges.
Your Association leads in the education of voters by sponsoring judicial forums. One was conducted with other voluntary bars last month for trial judge candidates. However more needs to be done and that responsibility rests with each of us. Our Judiciary is limited in their ability to speak for themselves.
We must take every opportunity to speak to civic groups, family, friends, and neighbors. We must inform voters that merit retention and, indeed, re-elections are not to be a referendum on a single ruling or opinion but designed to let voters remove judges who prove somehow unfit for office. And, importantly, we must lead by example by being informed and exercising our right to vote.
The stakes are high. We cannot allow judicial elections to be influenced by the sound of one’s last name, reasons irrelevant to a candidate’s qualifications, or special interest groups. As for the latter, the influence of special interest groups can result in intimidation of the Judiciary. Judges can risk losing their seats if their decisions are not in keeping with the positions of these narrow interest groups.
There are many statements about the importance of an independent Judiciary but one that struck a chord with me was by Andrew Jackson who said: “All the rights secured to the citizens under the Constitution are worth nothing, and a mere bubble, except guaranteed to them by an independent and virtuous Judiciary.”