Below is F. Scott Westheimer’s Sarasota County Bar Association President’s Message printed in the August 2011 issue of The Docket. You can read a PDF of the article here.
Thankfully, the time has finally come for my last Docket column. I want to thank everyone for all of their hard work for the Bar Association over the last year. It has been a true honor and privilege to serve our Bar Association which I feel is the strongest in the state. Our Board of Directors is an exceptionally talented group which deserves special thanks, and I am proud to have served with them. Hunter Carroll deserves special recognition for his extraordinary efforts on the multitude of legislative issues we faced. As always, Jan Jung did another excellent job this year as our Executive Director and she deserves everyone’s thanks. After his coronation this September, you will be in the well-qualified (I hope) hands of President-Elect Derek Byrd.
Next year will pose a new set of challenges for our Bar Association as well as Florida’s judicial branch as a whole. The next legislative session will undoubtedly include renewed attacks on the court system and renewed efforts to effectuate some of the recent session’s failed proposals to weaken the judicial branch. I am sure Derek and the Bar will have a coordinated plan in 2012 to oppose the upcoming proposed constitutional amendment, which would impose Senate approval for Supreme Court justices; require only a majority legislative vote to change Court Rules; and remove the confidentiality of judicial investigations in certain proceedings. This is a not-so-subtle attempt to weaken the judicial branch and attack the separation of powers as mandated by the Constitution.
Further attempts to block the door to the courthouse and prohibit individuals from their constitutional right to a jury trial will continue unless the Bar, our clients, and the public are educated against the dangers of these constitutional attacks. I highly recommend viewing an excellent documentary which was recently aired on HBO, Hot Coffee, by director Susan Saladoff, which gives a very in depth view of the fictions and falsehoods disseminated by the so-called “tort reform” movement and shows its real purpose which is to block individuals access to the court (and jury trials). As one expert asks, if we trust juries nationwide to determine the death penalty in criminal cases, why does it make sense then to not trust juries to award damages in civil cases by implementing caps or other “reform” tools? The film also has an excellent view on “court packing” and the risks behind these endeavors. I would highly recommend that Bar members view this film and recommend it to their friends to held educate them on this issue.
I want to thank J. Brent Jones, who pointed out a mistake I made during my last Legislative Update at the June Bar meeting. Two pieces of proposed legislation eventually failed. One proposed allowing the defense ex parte interviews of claimant’s health providers, and another would have set a new clear and convincing evidentiary standard in medical malpractice cases to prove a breach of the standard of care for failing to order supplemental diagnostic tests. Also, after the meeting, the Governor used a budget veto to strike the Speaker of the House’s proposal for an “independent review” of the court system at the cost of approximately $400,000.00.
Finally, I want to thank all the Section and Committee Chairs, Docket Editors, the numerous Docket contributors, and everyone else who devoted so much of their time and energy this year for our Association. It was an honor to serve as your President. A special thanks also to former Chief Judge Lee Haworth, who did an outstanding job during his term as Chief Judge with the multitude of challenges he faced.