April 24, 2014

Of Counsel - Florida Law

Florida Bar President Scott Hawkins is On Guard

He's keeping a close eye on the Florida Legislature.

Art Levy | 7/26/2011

Scott Hawkins
Scott Hawkins, 53

Titles: President, Florida Bar; partner and vice chairman, Jones, Foster, Johnston & Stubbs in West Palm Beach

Specialties: Intellectual property, trade secret disputes, software litigation, commercial litigation, healthcare disability litigation, utility contracts, land-use litigation and labor issues

Family: Wife, Lisa; daughter, Allison

Hometown: Tampa

Education: UF law degree, 1983; UF bachelor's in economics, 1980; University of Edinburgh master's of business administration, 1985

Getting ready: "I have been working with an executive
coach for about a year, frankly, to help me with time manage-ment and strategic use of time."

Recent reads: "On Thinking Institutionally" by Hugh Heclo; "How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life" by Alan Lakein; "The Lawyer Myth: A Defense of the American Legal Profession" by Rennard Strickland and Frank T. Read
[Photo: Scott Wiseman]

Scott Hawkins was taken aback in April when House Speaker Dean Cannon, a Republican from Winter Park, proposed a slew of changes to the state's judiciary, including splitting the Florida Supreme Court into two divisions, one to hear civil cases and another for criminal cases. Another proposed change would have forced judges to win 60% of the vote during elections to stay on the bench. Other proposals would have given more influence to the Republican-controlled Legislature to make court rules and select future state Supreme Court justices.

Hawkins, then president-elect of the Florida Bar, quickly joined Mayanne Downs, the Bar's president, and lobbied against many of the changes. By the end of the legislative session, most of the proposals, including the one to break up the Supreme Court, were dead. The experience taught Hawkins a lesson: Guard against surprises. "I feel that there were positions being taken last session that were not merited or justified and that could cause significant adverse consequences for the citizens of Florida," says Hawkins, who takes over as president of the 90,000-member Bar this month. "I'm pleased that the package did not go through, but I recognize it may come back."

As a result, Hawkins plans to be vigilant as he begins his yearlong presidency, particularly given that the mood in Tallahassee hasn't been particularly warm toward lawyers and the judicial system. Apart from watching whatever might happen next session, here's what Hawkins plans to focus on during his term.

» Budget: Hawkins points out that the judiciary's budget amounts to less than 1% of the state's budget and that Florida ranks 45th nationally in the number of trial judges per capita. The Florida Supreme Court suggested this year that Florida is short 80 judicial posts, 26 for circuit court judges and 54 for county court judges.

"I anticipate a significant amount of my time will be spent communicating with legislative leaders and other governmental figures regarding the necessary funding to maintain the third branch of government, the judiciary, which is supposed to be co-equal," he says.

"The annual process of the courts having to compete like a state agency for funding is incongruent with the branch being co-equal," he says. "We are way underfunded. There are judgeships that have been certified as being necessary, but they've not been funded because there is not adequate funding."

» Bar matters: Hawkins plans to appoint a commission this month to study the Bar's grievance review process. He also wants to make sure those attorneys who work for government bodies and boards are adequately represented on the Bar's governing boards.

"Government lawyers represent 18% of our lawyer population today, which is huge," he says.

» Juggling roles: During his year as president-elect, Hawkins estimates he spent 30% to 40% of his time on Bar business and the rest working for his firm. He expects his percentage of Bar work will jump this year.

"I will delegate a lot at the Bar. There's going to be a bit of a tension point between trying to help clients with pressing issues and fulfilling my obligations and my fiduciary duties to the Bar — but the Bar is the first priority."

Tags: Politics & Law, Government/Politics & Law

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