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The Bar Bulletin
Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jan. 3, 201905:20 AM EST

From the President: Have you heard? Justice is the word

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Let’s work to keep it that way in 2019.
Katie Dearing

By Katie Dearing, JBA President

Happy 2019 and I hope each of you had an enjoyable and indulgent holiday season.

Now that we’ve digested our holiday feasts, depleted our bank accounts, completed our year-end travel and joyfully ushered our children back to school (almost), we’re all energized and ready to map out some New Year’s resolutions and rejuvenate some good habits.

The trouble with resolutions though, is that after about a month (or less), we’ve forgotten about them or simply decided that they weren’t all that important after all.

So for our purposes here, let’s stipulate that we’ll all eat better, exercise more, generate more business, succeed at work and find work-life balance.

Now that we’ve committed to be our best selves, I won’t write an article about a “new year/new you.” Instead, let’s look at the year we just closed out and what it may tell us about the year ahead. 

As I write this article, year-end lists summarizing 2018 are coming out and one caught my eye. Merriam-Webster announced that its 2018 word of the year was “justice.”

The distinction is based on look-up data, meaning that it was among the top words looked up online last year and that users looked it up far more in 2018 than in 2017.

Whether criminal justice reform, the Justice Department, or social justice, it seems “justice” was on the minds of the people last year. 

As a lawyer, that doesn’t surprise me. It seems the third branch of government, our branch, where parties go in search of justice, is front and center these days.

Our friends and neighbors ask what we think of cases they read about, of Supreme Court confirmation hearings and seemingly every legal issue discussed on television.

As the leader of an organization with a mission that includes aiding in the administration of justice, I find this year’s word selection truly fitting of the times.

Access to justice issues pervade state and local Bar discussions. Three Rivers Legal Services, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville Bar Association Pro Bono Committee are busier than ever. People in our community and throughout the state need help and they don’t always know where to turn.

Our members helped guide them and responded to their needs this year, whether assisting residents in the Panhandle recovering from Hurricane Michael, raising money for the North Florida Medical Legal Partnership or handling local pro bono matters.

I know 2019 will reveal the same commitment among our members to helping those less fortunate.  

As the world was reminded this fall with the SCOTUS hearings, the word “justice” also refers to a title, as in a judge or justice.

Though that title has new meaning for me personally, I really felt its import while chaperoning in December a field trip to the state Supreme Court in Tallahassee.

When our tour guide pointed out the portraits of former justices that adorn the walls, noting aloud that only one female portrait hangs and the only other two women to have served on the bench are about to retire, one fifth-grade girl perceptively asked, “Why do mostly men get to be justices?” (Why, indeed, my dear; why, indeed?).

After the guide deftly told the students the court was waiting for them to join, I reflected on the fact that public confidence in the administration of justice necessarily depends on public understanding and buy-in to the system.

If that girl doesn’t see women in the role, will it undermine not only her personal goals or potential, but her understanding and acceptance of the system itself? That certainly would be unjust.

I am proud to join an extraordinary group of dedicated judges, men and women, who embody the qualities of being just, impartial and fair.

As attorneys, it is incumbent upon us to promote justice as we continue our practice of law in the new year in the hope that “justice” will remain the word.

Katie Dearing is President of the JBA Board and judge-elect for the 4th Judicial Circuit.

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