Lawyer of the Year: Keeping government fair, ethical

From the city’s first ethics code to the JEA, Carla Miller keeps watch.

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In recognition of her 23 years of service to the people of Jacksonville to ensure ethical conduct and transparency in city government, Carla Miller is the 2020 Jacksonville Daily Record Lawyer of the Year.

“I have tremendous respect for her knowledge and experience. Carla is clearly the most well-versed person in the city of Jacksonville on ethics,” said former Mayor John Peyton, who appointed Miller the city’s ethics officer in 2007.

After graduating from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 1979, Miller joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville, where she prosecuted white-collar crime.

Carla Miller is the 2020 Jacksonville Daily Record Lawyer of the Year.
Carla Miller is the 2020 Jacksonville Daily Record Lawyer of the Year.

Miller was in private practice in 1997 when she volunteered to serve on the city Ethics Commission, recruited by Mayor John Delaney and the city general counsel.

“I knew John Delaney and Rick Mullaney in law school. One of John’s campaign platforms was to enhance the city’s ethics laws,” Miller said.

She helped write the first ethics code for local government that was adopted into law two years later. The city also established a 24/7 confidential whistleblower hotline to give city employees and the public a means to report suspected unethical activity.

“We wrote in it that the city should have an ethics officer. John Delaney wanted me to do it, but I had my private practice, so I said I’d do it, but I’d volunteer,” Miller said.

She accepted the ethics officer appointment from Mayor John Peyton in 2007 and became a city employee.

In 2011, Miller became director of the city Office of Ethics, Compliance and Oversight.

She was named a fellow of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University in 2013. It was established 30 years ago to strengthen teaching and research about ethical issues, foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion and to share its work in the public interest.

Since forming a nonprofit dedicated to promoting ethics development and education,, Miller has become a well-known ethics consultant. She has helped many other municipalities in the U.S. and foreign governments, including Greece at the request of the European Union, develop and enforce ethics practices.

Miller said while every government has its unique elements, the needs are consistent when it comes to ethics.

“The basics are the same. When I was in Greece, they asked the same questions I’m asked in the U.S. and in Jacksonville. The issues are the same and the goals are the same when people want to improve ethics and make their government fair,” Miller said.

Most recently, Miller was the first to raise a red flag about the failed attempt to sell JEA, the city-owned electric and water utility. She initiated an investigation with the city Inspector General that revealed conflicts in the negotiation process and led to the end of the proposed sale, as well as the resignation or termination of several JEA top executives involved in the negotiations.

Jacksonville Bar Association President Elizabeth Ferguson said Miller exemplifies the traits of the Lawyer of the Year.

“Each of the nominees are excellent examples of the best of what the Jacksonville Bar Association has to offer. They must demonstrate the standards and characteristics the Jacksonville Bar Association values, including professionalism, integrity and an outstanding commitment and service to the community.

“Carla Miller exceeds each of these requirements,” Ferguson said.