The Florida Bar President Scott Hawkins told members of The Jacksonville Bar Association on Friday that one of his primary roles is to ensure proper funding of the courts.
“One of the primary functions of the president of The Florida Bar is to promote in the Legislature the importance of ensuring the third branch of our great democracy is properly funded,” Hawkins said at the first 2012 meeting of The JBA at the Hyatt Downtown.
“The issue this year is not about imbalance. The issue that I am emphasizing when I speak to legislators is about the level, the nature of the funding mechanism that is in place,” he said.
Hawkins explained that 75 percent of the courts’ revenues come from foreclosure-related filings.
“The end result is obvious, as foreclosure fillings declined in ’10 and ’11, there was insufficient cash, liquidity in the system, to fund the courts. When I identify this problem, I am not suggesting fault on the part of anyone,” said Hawkins.
Hawkins wanted to move beyond blame and asked for help developing a solution to the court’s funding issues
“I want you to help spread the message that this is an odd way to fund a branch of government,” said Hawkins.
“We are not just talking about a service. We are talking about a constitutional branch of government that is the only branch in our democracy empowered with the ability to check the legislative and executive branches.”
Hawkins plans to pursue a new formula for funding the courts that he plans to discuss with legislators.
“There appears to be political will on both sides of the aisle to embrace a new funding mechanism that would shift the bulk of the court core expenses to general revenue dollars. The goal is to try to provide stability, reliability and predictability to funding the court system,” said Hawkins.
Along with recognizing The JBA for having had nine members serve as president of The Florida Bar, Hawkins also discussed the merit retention of judges.
“I am hoping each of you will become part of the apparatus to help educate voters,” said Hawkins. “What you say to voters is important because you are in the best position to help explain to voters why you have certain views of a particular judge or your experience with a judge,” he said.
Hawkins explained that the educational effort was needed because he feared that there might be efforts to “politicize” the judicial campaigns.
“I am concerned that there will be efforts to politicize this election with information that may not be completely accurate,” said Hawkins.
“One of the interesting things about judicial elections is that there is no fact-checking going on. You need to help, we need to help, the Fourth Estate (media) needs to help voters understand what judges do and why this matters.”
Also at the meeting:
• Former The Florida Bar President Rutledge “Rut” Liles provided a memorial for former The JBA President Joe Milton, who died Dec. 4. “Joe led by example and continued to lead until his heart simply wore out. He taught us how to serve, live and die with dignity. Joe, we’re going to miss you,” Liles said.
• Circuit Judge Karen Cole, attorney Wayne Hogan and Robert E. Lee High School teacher Mary Chowenhill discussed the importance of Justice Teaching to the public understanding of the judicial system. They said the next Justice Teaching training session is Feb. 16 and offers free CLE credit.