Jennemann told Jacksonville Bankruptcy Bar Association members Wednesday a "listening tour" she took after her fall 2011 appointment as chief judge found frustration with the varying practices and procedures throughout the 35-county district, one of the busiest in the country.
"We are learning to think districtwide," Jennemann told the 68 people attending a Bar event at The River Club.
"It takes time," she said.
Jennemann said the district was formed Oct. 28, 1962, which is more than 50 years ago. She said procedures have evolved but said lawyers who practice in the district courts must adapt to varying policies and procedures. Over the past several years, the court has dealt with record numbers of bankruptcy cases.
Jennemann was appointed to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida in November 1993. She succeeded Judge Paul Glenn of the court's Jacksonville Division as chief judge.
Glenn served as the chief judge from 2003-11.
Jennemann, who is in the district's Orlando Division, is one of the eight bankruptcy court judges in the four divisions of the Middle District – Orlando, Jacksonville, Tampa and Fort Myers.
Jennemann told the association last year, in her first state of the district report, that she had several goals, including greater uniformity in districtwide procedures, improved communication and training.
She repeated on Wednesday the four C's she advocated last year — civility, cooperation, collaboration and communication — and added a fifth, continuity.
"We've made a lot of progress. It will take a lot of work," she said.
The administrative order signed Tuesday focuses on procedures.
"The Court has embarked on a project to unify its procedures district-wide and to ensure that the new procedures are simple, fair, necessary and best meet the needs of our diverse constituencies," states the order she signed.
"In order for the Court to select the best new procedures possible, we need a small group of lawyers and staff to 'steer' us in the right direction," it said.
It calls for the chief judge to appoint the members, which will include the operation deputy, a court employee to act as administrative assistant to the committee, a representative of the U.S. Trustee's Office, a Chapter 13 trustee, a Chapter 7 trustee and one or more attorney members from each division of the court.
The chief judge may appoint a chair and adjust the size of the committee as needed. It will meet at least quarterly and can use the court's video-conferencing facilities.
"This has been a very busy, busy year for the bankruptcy court," Jennemann told the Bar members.
Based on overall filings, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Middle District of Florida is the third busiest court in the nation, following Central California, which is the Los Angeles area, and Northern Illinois, which is the Chicago area.
About 10 million of Florida's 18 million people reside in the Middle District of Florida. It covers 35 of Florida's 67 counties, including the metropolitan areas of Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Ocala, Daytona and Fort Myers.
Glenn and Judge Jerry Funk serve in the Jacksonville Division, which encompasses 16 counties. Both attended the meeting Wednesday.
Before her appointment to the court, Jennemann was a shareholder in the Jacksonville law firm of Mahoney Adams & Criser, where she specialized in bankruptcy law, and was an associate at the Jacksonville-based Smith Hulsey & Busey firm.
She also served as a law clerk to Judge Robert Doumar, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Norfolk Division. She received her J.D. degree from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., a master's degree in liberal studies from Rollins College and an undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz.
Jennemann said last year just a fraction of the almost 6,500 bankruptcy attorneys in the Middle District are Bar members. The Jacksonville Bankruptcy Bar Association consists of about 155 members and more are expected to join soon.
Jennemann updated the group, reminding it of the quarterly "Court Connection" newsletter and talking about the collegiality of the bench and the "incredible support of the Bar."
Jennemann was joined by Middle District Court Clerk Lee Ann Bennett, Glenn and Funk to update the group on other issues.
Bennett told the Bar members the court has adjusted to losing 17 positions due to budget cuts and funding formulas. She explained the workload was adjusted for efficiency and people were "engaged and positive."
Bennett outlined the court's committee work and procedure teams and encouraged lawyers to regularly visit the office's website for updates.
Funk and Glenn also provided updates and encouraged the lawyers to provide pro bono services and to engage with other Bar associations.
"You evolve by being around them," Funk said, listing The Jacksonville Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association.
Glenn also addressed uniformity of procedures.
"We continue to emphasize uniformity among divisions," Glenn said. He also congratulated Bennett for continuing to operate the clerk's office smoothly in the wake of losing the staff positions.
"She has always run that clerk's office well," he said. Jennemann said the court clerk's staff was cut to 105 positions.
Funk also talked about uniformity among both the judiciary and the lawyers.
"If lawyers would all do things the same, too, it would make our jobs easier," he said.
Jennemann said during her presentation that professionalism also would be a focus.
Funk and Glenn emphasized professionalism as well.
"The main thing is to be nice," Funk told the lawyers.
"And prepared," continued Glenn. "You develop a reputation for being prepared or not being prepared."
Glenn went on.
"The most important thing you have is your reputation," he told the lawyers.
Chief Judge Karen Jennemann of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court Middle District of Florida signed an administrative order Tuesday to create a districtwide steering committee to study unified court procedures.