Labarga: Judges Must Act to Protect the Courts | Daily Business Review

6/16/16-- Orlando-- Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga speaks about access to civil justice and court security at the Florida Bar Convention’s annual judicial luncheon Thursday, June 16 at the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. Sitting,  Michael Higer, left,  Berger Singerman in Miami, president-elect of the bar, and incoming Florida Bar President William Schifino.

Labarga: Judges Must Act to Protect the Courts

Warding off threats to Florida’s justice system requires that the public understands the importance of the courts, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga told 600 judges and lawyers at the Florida Bar Convention’s annual judicial luncheon Thursday.

That message, he said, isn’t getting out there.

Labarga noted that the state legislature slashed the state trial court budget by $2.7 million at the close of the most recent legislative session and put some blame for the reduced funding on the judges themselves.

“Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done,” he told his audience at Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek. “We must make sure that the customers of our court system understand, on a daily basis, the importance of the third branch of government.”

This is particularly important as Florida’s metro newspapers shrink, said Labarga, who will begin his second term as chief justice July 1.

“The biggest media companies in the world today are corporations like Google or Facebook, and they are not telling the people of Florida what they need to know about our judiciary,” Labarga said. “The bottom line is we need to start telling our story using every tool at our disposal.”

The public also may not understand the importance of the courts because so many Floridians lack access to them, said the chief justice, who created the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice in 2014.

About 80 percent of impoverished people and 50 percent of those with moderate means do not have meaningful access to the civil justice system, noted American Bar Association immediate past president William Hubbard, a guest speaker.

“There is a deep structural problem in our justice system,” Hubbard said. “We have procedural rules and a regulatory system built on the premise that there will be a lawyer for every client in every case, but that clearly is not the reality.”

Labarga said his commission is examining legal aid programs, pro bono work and technology innovations to bridge the justice gap.

Lawyers also need to shift to more innovative thinking to compete with technology based legal services companies such as Avvo and LegalZoom, as the justice gap cannot be bridged by pro bono work alone, Hubbard said.

“We can keep plugging away, devising ways to deliver legal services in the same way and funding them by the same methods, or we can engage in fresh thinking.”

The speakers also addressed Sunday morning’s mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub, about 20 miles from the convention hotel, that killed 49 people and injured 53 more.

Labarga said the uptick in mass shootings underscores the need for security at venues where crowds gather, such as courthouses.

“Frankly, there are a number of courthouses in our state that are just not safe,” he said.
The chief justice established a security task force for state appellate courts that will deliver its final recommendations later this month. But trial courts fall under county leadership.

“It is incumbent upon us to work with local governments to ensure the safety of the citizens conducting business in the courthouses, as well as those who work in the court system,” Labarga said.

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