The 15th Judicial Circuit Professionalism Council: “When the Council Counsels”.

Published June 2013 By: Michael D. Mopsick, Co-Chair, Professionalism Committee Amy S. Borman, Co-Chair, Professionalism Committee

Did you ever wonder how those anonymous professionalism letters become published in the Palm Beach County Bar Bulletin? Have you thought about how the attorneys who were counseled came before the Professionalism Council? After reading this column, you will not only be able to answer those questions, but you will learn much more. The Palm Beach County Bar Association’s Standards of Professional Courtesy were originally adopted in 1990 and were endorsed by the Judges of the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit in October 2007. The Florida Bar approved the Ideals and Goals of Professionalism also in 1990. The Standards and Ideals apply to all attorneys – and their staff – practicing law in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit. Examples of some of the conduct covered by the Standards include[1]: 1. communicating with opposing counsel prior to scheduling depositions and hearings; 2. giving at least five (5) business days notice for instate depositions and hearings; 3. scheduling depositions and hearings at mutually convenient times; 4. notifying opposing counsel and the court of scheduling conflicts as soon as the conflict is apparent (not the night before!!); 5. granting reasonable requests for extension of time 6. refraining from criticizing the court, opposing counsel, parties or witnesses 7. speaking civilly to courtroom deputies, court reporters, judicial assistants and clerks. 8. endeavoring to be knowledgeable about administrative orders, local rules and each judge’s divisional instructions. So what happens when you do not comply with the Standards or Ideals, or are the victim of bad behavior by one of your peers? A Professionalism Council (“Council”)[2] can be convened to review and discuss the matter, work with the attorney and use the circumstance as a vehicle for teaching. The Council addresses conduct that may not rise to the level of a violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct of the Florida Bar. It does not make findings as to whether a breach of ethics occurred. Rather, it is charged with working with attorneys whose conduct, while technically not unethical, was unprofessional. The Professionalism Council is comprised of the President of the Palm Beach County Bar Association (“PBCBA”), a representative of the Florida Bar Board of Governors for the 15th personal statement help online Judicial Circuit, the Chairperson(s) of the PBCBA Professionalism Committee and three other persons appointed by the Chief Judge. The offending attorney is invited to attend and discuss the matter with the Council members. While the attendance by the attorney is voluntary, it is strongly encouraged. Regardless of whether the attorney attends, the Council takes up the matter and sends a letter to the attorney discussing his or her behavior. The letter is then published in the Bulletin, with names redacted, so monitor cell phone spy software that the event becomes a “teachable moment”. The goal is to educate as to what is – and what is not – appropriate conduct. Is it proper to copy a judge on a nasty email to opposing counsel? Should an attorney contact a judicial assistant and inquire about how the Judge might rule on a motion he plans to file? Should an attorney call another attorney “a liar” in written communications or in the courtroom? These are all examples of matters brought to the attention of the spy spouse cell phone Council within the last few years. The purpose is for the members of the Council to counsel the attorney. They discuss alternate ways of how the matter could have been handled. They help to find mentors for new/young attorneys who may not understand the nuances in procedure or the culture of civility in the practice of law in the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit. Matters can be submitted to the Council by the judiciary, attorneys or litigants. The submission is made to the Chair(s) of the Professionalism Committee. Those submitted by attorneys or litigants are reviewed to determine whether unprofessional conduct likely occurred prior to convening a Council. A submission by a Judge automatically results in a Council hearing the matter. Forms for submission to the Professionalism Committee have been developed and are available on the PBCBA’s website. The Professionalism Council, although not unique among the circuits, is a rare educational tool. In our ongoing effort to restore civility and professionalism in the practice of law, we encourage everyone, lawyers and judges, to take advantage of the opportunities it provides.

[1] Due to space limitations the full list of standards cannot be published in the article. These standards are published here.
[2] . Administrative Order 2.105 establishes the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit Professionalism Council and sets forth the procedures for the Council’s meeting.

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