April 4, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

The Family Law Section of the Florida State Bar is pulling out all the stops to prevent SB 668 from becoming law. Whether that activity violates federal anti-trust laws remains to be seen, but this article makes it abundantly clear that, once again, family lawyers are bitterly opposed to shared parenting (Daily Business Review, 4/2/16). And, once again, they’re using some of the most scurrilous tactics imaginable to get their way.

The Florida Bar's family law section made an unprecedented decision to hire emergency lobbyists after its top-priority bill to overhaul the alimony system picked up a major unrelated amendment that was intolerable.

That of course is simply false. SB 668 had two components – alimony reform and parenting time reform - for weeks before passage. But, as the linked-to article demonstrates, the Family Law Section’s latest opposition didn’t begin until after it had already passed.

The section hired two high-profile lobbyists for $105,000 on the last day of the legislative session to press the governor to veto the bill the section helped draft.

That’s right, the family lawyers panicked on the very last day of the session, i.e. after the bill had already passed. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t already have lobbyists at the capitol every day.

The section already had standing lobbyists—Nelson Diaz and Edgar Castro of Southern Strategy Group in Miami—retained for $6,833 a month, or $81,996 annually. But, after a child-sharing provision was added to the bill, the section quickly engaged Rutledge Ecenia and the Rubin Group of Fort Lauderdale for $75,000 along with the Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners, featuring prominent lobbyist Al Cardenas, for $30,000. The additions brought the section's total lobbying costs for the year to $186,996.

The idea that, in some way, those high-priced lobbyists didn’t know the contents of SB 668 from the start is either (a) completely absurd of (b) a good reason for the Bar to fire them. The fact is that I and everyone else interested in the bill knew the parenting provision was in the bill.  The reason they hired the “emergency lobbyists” is because they’d lost; both houses of the Legislature passed the bill by overwhelming majorities. So the Bar figured it had to double down and throw still more money at still more lobbyists in the hope of twisting Governor Rick Scott’s arm.

And the sheer magnitude of the spending lets us know just how panicked the lawyers are.

The section is one of six to hire lobbyists this year plus the Florida Bar itself to monitor bills, draft new legislation and lobby legislators. Other sections with lobbyists cover business law; public interest law; real property, probate and trusts; trial lawyers and workers' compensation.

However, the family law section was the only one to hire emergency executive-level lobbyists, and the tab far exceeds spending by the other groups, nearly matching the main Bar's expenses of $187,500.

For one section of a state bar association, that’s real money to spend during a single legislative session. Indeed, the Family Law Section almost outspent the rest of the Bar combined. In case we didn’t already know how virulently opposed family lawyers are to children maintaining real relationships with their fathers post-divorce, we certainly know it now.

As I’ve said before, equal parenting ameliorates conflict between parents and family lawyers don’t like that one bit. They know perfectly well the type of damage shared parenting can do to their take-home pay, so they do pretty much anything to oppose what is established to be in children’s best interests and supported by large majorities of everyday people.

Of course, it’s those everyday people, including their children, who take a backseat to the self-interest of well-heeled attorneys every time. As Molly Olson and Terry Brennan pointed out in their Sun-Sentinel op-ed not long ago, it’s that very disdain for the voters that elected officials will someday come to rue. Our current presidential primaries are proof positive that elite self-interest as the sole raison d’etre of government is in serious danger of running its course.

And Governor Scott may want to pay attention, because nothing says “disdain for the People” quite like vetoing a bill that our elected representatives overwhelmingly passed simply because of the back-room words of tailored suits earning $187,000 for a few weeks of schmoozing. Truly, if Scott wants to throw a pie in the face of the people who elected him vetoing SB 668 would be a good way to do it.

On the other hand, he might want to notice that a lot of Florida family lawyers don’t go along with the fevered blandishments of the Family Law Section. Just yesterday I quoted attorney Lori Barkus thus:

“The timesharing portion would provide judges with a starting point that parents are equally loving and capable. A judge then has full discretion to decide a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child and that particular family. This would be a giant step towards increasing fathers’ participation in their children's lives post divorce.”

That’s what a principled lawyer sounds like. Shared parenting may not be in Barkus’s financial interest, but she’s enough of a mensch to put children and families ahead of her own pocketbook. She’s a lawyer and she knows she can make a living, even without the status quo that promotes parental conflict.

Speaking of principled family lawyers, I wonder if the Florida Bar tells its members that they’re free to not pay all their dues. I checked the Bar’s website and if they mention the fact, it’s carefully hidden. But what’s clear is that the Florida Bar is a mandatory organization. That means that, in order to practice law in the state, a person has to be a member of the Bar and pay dues.

But, as readers of this blog know, mandatory membership organizations, like labor unions and trade associations, can’t lobby state legislatures. If they do, they violate their member’s free speech rights, as a number of U.S. Supreme Court precedents have made clear. Like the California Bar, the North Dakota Bar and others, the Florida Bar looks very much like it’s in violation of Supreme Court precedent. Some Florida lawyer needs to sue.

"If the section is not in favor or opposes the bill, then the next logical step is to put forth the necessary lobbying efforts to defeat the bill," [Attorney Maria Gonzalez] said.

The section could afford to pay because it runs a continuing legal education attended by about 1,600 people last year and charges its 3,700 members extra dues of $45 a year, in addition to $265 in annual bar dues.

That’s about as clear as it gets. The Family Law Section routinely uses members’ fees to lobby the state legislature. If they don’t allow members to opt out, that’s a violation of federal law.

The Family Law Section’s willingness to violate federal law is just another indication of how dead set family lawyers are against not only children’s welfare, but the will of the people of the state. That’s disgraceful, but sadly, all too common.

Whatever Governor Scott does, it’ll say a lot about who he is and what he values. Will it be the welfare of children and families or protection for lawyers? We’ll soon know.

Thanks to Terry for the heads-up.

Florida, #FloridaBar, #SB668, #lobbyists, #illegal lobbying

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