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PostFlorida Lawyers; Florida Law (David Duggan, USA, 03/12/20 4:55 am)
I hazard to weigh in on this controversy because I am no longer actively engaged in the solicitation of new clients for compensation and never did so in Florida. Ten years ago I shut down my Chicago practice, as I found that I could no longer in good conscience take others' money when I did not believe in our legal system, which suffers from a trifecta of evils: it takes too long, costs too much and produces results that are too capricious. For whatever my opinion is worth, and living in the vortex of these evils, Cook County, Illinois, the all-time world leader in wrongful convictions caused only in part by tortured confessions, planted evidence, and false co-conspirator testimony, midwifed by a judiciary known for the depth of its knee-pads in supplicating before members of the Irish mafia who have controlled the politics here from time immemorial, I would move to the continental system of criminal justice in a heartbeat. Boris: I share your son's pain.
That said, I have some observations on the Florida bar formed from the perspective of 1200 miles and 40 years of practice in New York and IL. Forty years ago I was involved in a pre-Madoff Ponzi scheme case that roped in a good chunk of the South Florida Orthodox Jewish community, medical practitioners throughout the state, and the evangelical Christian community of North Florida and Atlanta, GA (go figure). Hugo Black Jr. (son of the late Supreme Court justice) was one of the plaintiffs' lawyers; he had been drummed out of his native Alabama because of his father's decisions on the Warren Court. The federal judge, a Dartmouth grad and Black's tennis partner, was also a combination of Ivy-Leaguer and good ol' boy (he had a King James Version on his chambers desk). Many of the other lawyers on the case were Brooklyn ex-pats, and I don't think they moved there just for the weather. Reading up on the case law, I came to the conclusion that the Florida legal system was not keeping up with the fact that the Sunshine State had just eclipsed Michigan as the nation's 7th most populous state. And this was 20 years before "hanging chads" became part of the Florida legal lexicon.
At the same time that I was working on this case, another Miami federal judge was under indictment for having fixed a case. Alcee Hastings was a Carter appointee and the first black federal judge in South Florida. The feds brought in a judge from Maine to try the case. A once-cooperating witness refused to testify and Hastings was acquitted, thereby saving Miami the sort of conflagration which had occurred when four Dade County police officers were acquitted for having bashed up black motorcyclist Arthur McDuffie, causing his death. Rodney King avant la lettre. Several years later the House of Representatives voted to impeach Hastings on the basis of the evidence at his trial, and the Senate removed him from office. Tellingly, however, he was not "disqualif[ied] to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States..." as permitted by US Const. Art. I, sec. 3, cl. 8. Hastings then ran for Congress and was elected in 1993 and is now the longest-serving member of Florida's congressional delegation. I can't make this stuff up.
Fast forward to the double-aught decade and my folks had a condo in Florida (who didn't back then?). As was his wont, my father (former general counsel of a NYSE-listed company) had questions and criticisms of the way the condo board was being run, particularly as it affected the golf course. I was engaged (hired is too generous a term) to research the duties of the board to maintain a first-class golf facility (i.e., without water pooling on the driving range so that you could judge the distance of your shots with the roll). To say no more, I was not impressed with the way that the Florida courts were interpreting board members' fiduciary duties to maintain first-class golf facilities.
Florida is now the 3rd most populous state in the country (having eclipsed New York) and its population has more than doubled since 1980 (Michigan has maintained its 8th-place ranking). About 15 years ago, the Wall St. Journal ran an op-ed piece describing the Michigan Supreme Court as the best in the country, noting its respect for property rights and the "rule of law" rather than the "make-it-up" school of jurisprudence. Although this belief may have been born of Midwestern "homerism" with a dash of Anatomy of a Murder (novel by Michigan Supreme Court Justice John Voelker--under a pen name) thrown in, I don't think that the Michigan courts have anything to fear from their Florida brethren in terms of admittedly subjective judicial rankings.
JE comments: I'm beaming with local pride here, David! In these dark times, one digs deep for optimism. Your quip "you can't make this stuff up" is turning into the theme of 2020. For starters, who could have imagined that the entire world would go into quarantine?
Here's a title suggestion for future historians: 2020: A Journal of the Plague Year.