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Should Bar Focus on Black/Hispanic Judicial Disparity?

Kudos to our new Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis, who has decided to make this a focus of his Presidency:
The Florida Bar Association says there are only 26 blacks and 58 Hispanics among the state’s 594 circuit court judges. Of the 319 county court judges, only 32 are blacks and 26 are Hispanics. Also, only six blacks are currently among the 61 judges on the five district courts of appeal, along with only two Hispanics.
Such statistics have led Eugene Pettis, the Florida Bar’s first black leader, to establish the President’s Task Force to Study the Enhancement of Diversity on the Bench and Judicial Nominating Commissions.
The task force has met a few times and will hold another session at month-end, aiming to hand in its report in late May, the panel’s chairman, Frank P. Scruggs II, said.
Scruggs, a Fort Lauderdale resident and partner in the law firm Berger Singerman, is a widely respected attorney who headed a landmark study in 1990-92 for the State Supreme Court on racial and ethnic bias in the judicial system. The commission’s work produced  legislation dealing with matters such as the judicial code of conduct, as well as juvenile justice.
Some critics have linked the lack of racial diversity among judges in part to the very small number of minorities on the Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC) which recommends candidates for judgeships to the governor when new seats are created or there is a vacancy.
The governor appoints five members of each JNC and picks four members from nominees submitted by the Bar; the appointments are for four years.
The Florida Bar News, which reported the statistics, said the number of blacks on those commissions has dropped from nearly 25 percent to four percent and to less than 10 percent for Hispanics.
 “I am hopeful that this group will additionally focus on some solutions to these concerning trends so that the Bar and the Governor’s Office may use them to facilitate and accomplish our common goal of making sure our judiciary is reflective of our community,” Pettis said in making the announcement.
I'm genuinely surprised by these numbers.

What do you all think of this?

Seems to me if you take out Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County the disparities would be even more acute.


  1. What percentage of the bar are black and Hispanic? Also, general population? Without that information, the numbers are meaningless. Should a black or Hispanic have a better chance at appointment to the bench than a white?

  2. "According to the 2006 Florida Bar fee statement, of 54,734 respondents, 47,064 are white, 4,469 are Hispanic, 1,767 are African American, 628 are Asian or Pacific Islander and 68 are American Indian or Alaskan."

    That means of admitted attorneys in 2006:

    3.75% are African American
    9.50% are Hispanic

    According to your numbers, of Circuit Court Judges:

    4.37% are African American
    9.76% are Hispanic

    According to your number, of County Court Judges:

    10.03% are African American
    8.15% are Hispanic

    Given that there is a minimum of 5 years in practice before going for Judge, using 2006 membership numbers is a little off, but not that much.

    So, it seems that African American attorneys are OVERREPRESENTED on the Circuit and County Benches, and that Hispanic are OVERREPRESENTED on the Circuit bench, and UNDERRESENTED on the County Bench.

    So, 12:54 asks a good question - should White lawyers have a more difficult time ascending to the bench than non-whites? Is that progress?

  3. I thought we were all living in a post-racial world now anyway.

    Also: can someone please explain to me who or what shumie is?

  4. I think the numbers in Miami are higher which is why you are surprised

  5. So the fact that nominating commissions don't have more minorities on them is a reason we don't have enough minority judges? That presumes minority committee members would endorse members of their own ethnicities over other candidates. it also suggests non minority committee members pass over qualified minority candidates. If we have evidence that has happened Id be interested in hearing about it. Also, are Florida's numbers significantly better or worse than, say, NY, CA or TX? Although it would be nice to have a judiciary that better reflected its constituency, unfortunately the bench can only be selected from the community of lawyers that remains, for the time being, mostly white. I guess that is what Mr. Pettis is looking to understand better, and I commend his admin for the effort.

  6. Shumie is a who, not a what.

  7. It's actually both: a person and an adjective (shumie time, shumie modifies time) and a noun (call the shumie). It's an all purpose word! Plus he owns a cigarbar and Miami's hottest, hippest, south nightclub: REN.

  8. Thank you, EYE ON Shumie. That was a very helpful, instructional comment -- even if said comment leaves me wanting more.

  9. I think the Bar needs to reconsider its stats. The article states that there are only two Hispanic DCA judges, yet there are three at the 3d DCA alone: Lagoa, Suarez, Fernandez. Still deficient considering number of Hispanic attorneys in South Florida.

  10. Maybe I am missing something. Since when is the judiciary a "representative" branch of government? Seems to me that the "representative" branch of government is the legislative branch. I have nothing against having more QUALIFIED minority judges. But I am not for more minority judges just for the sake of having more minority judges or to somehow make the bench "representative" of any group.


  11. You can check the bench for the numbers. YOu can check the JNC makeup as well.

    I wrote a front page Blog piece for the Gerstein Justice Blog last year on the subject. I was way ahead of Mr. Pettis on the issue.

    The issue begins an ends with the applicants. There are virtually no African American applicants applying to become Judge when a seat opens up. As a result, the JNC has no black applicant to send up to the Governor of the six finalists and the Governor has none to choose from.

    So, if Pettis wants to accomplish anything in this area, he needs to encourage more qualified applicants to actually take the time to submit the application.

    Cap Out .....

  12. Does a white judge who adopts their spouse's hispanic last name count as white, hispanic, or both?


  13. May 15, 2012. Two years before Pettis takes up the initiative, I wrote:



    In the past 15 months, since Governor Rick Scott took office in January of 2011, he has had the occasion to appoint 15 Judges in Miami Dade County to the County, Circuit and Appellate court bench.

    (By contrast, in Broward, there has only been one appointment in that same amount of time).

    Governor Scott has appointed eight males and seven females. He has appointed five Hispanics. He has appointed ZERO judges of color.

    His appointments:

    Victoria Brennan
    Lisa Walsh
    Michael Hanzman
    Dawn Denaro
    Spencer Multack
    William Altfield
    Thomas Rebull
    Rosa Figarola
    Ivan Fernandez
    Donald DJ Cannava
    Angelica Zayas
    Norma Lindsey
    Richard Hersch
    Rodolfo Ruiz
    Ariana Fajardo

    But, let's be fair. The Governor relies on the JNCs to send him up to six qualified names for any open positions on the County, Circuit, or 3rd DCA. So, the real question is, how many African American names have reached the Governor's desk? Best that we can tell, out of a possible 90 names (15 open seats multiplied by 6 nominees per seat), the answer is exactly two (2): Judge Rodney Smith and Attorney Tanya Brinkley. So, is it the fault of the Governor? Obviously not. Maybe it's the fault of the JNC.

    But, let's be fair. The JNC relies on the members of the bar to apply for these open seats. In the past 15 months, the two JNCs have publicized 15 openings and requested applications from any attorney wanting to become a County Court Judge, a Circuit Court Judge, or a Judge on the 3rd DCA. The two JNC's (Eleventh Judicial Circuit and the 3rd DCA) have received hundreds of applicants for these open seats. How many of the applicants were African American? The best that we can tell (and we do not know the race of every attorney that has applied), the answer is four (4): the previously mentioned Judge Rodney Smith and Attorney Tanya Brinkley and attorneys Michelle Delancy and Gordon Murray.

    So, now you know the whole story. Maybe this is not the fault of Governor Scott or our local JNC's. Why are there not more African American attorneys applying for these open seats? Certainly there are many more than qualified attorneys of color in our community that deserve to be on the bench.

    We currently have ten African Americans on the bench in Miami-Dade County:

    Circuit Court Judges: Bagley, Trawick, Prescott, Gayles, and Thomas.

    County Court Judges: Graham, Lundy Thomas, Hendon, Smith, and Seraphin.

    There are 123 Judges on the County and Circuit bench in Miami-Dade, so these ten judges represent 8% of the total bench.

    But, having said all that, would it surprise you to know that, based on the latest numbers reported by The Florida Bar, (there were 93,293 lawyers as of May 1, 2012), that the percentage of lawyers in Florida that report themselves as African American is only 3.74%. That works out to less than 3,500 African American attorneys, statewide.

    So, when I first posed the question as to why there were no judges of color on the 3rd DCA, I thought the problem might come from the top and I immediately looked to the Governor's office. But, taking a much more in depth look at the picture, one finds that maybe there are simply not that many qualified African American lawyers out there that are applying for any of these open seats.
    Why are there so few African American lawyers in Florida? Why are there so few African American lawyers applying for all these open seats?

    We asked for comments from Wilkie D. Fergsuon Jr. Bar Association President Nicole Ellis and from the Gwen Cherry Black Women's Bar Association President Kymberlee Curry Smith but we have not heard back from either attorney. If they do email us, we will provide our readers with their comments and thoughts.

    What are you comments and thoughts on this issue?

  14. lawyer-judge biasApril 22, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    Re: Anonymous at April 21, 2014 at 2:12 PM

    Unfortunately you quote Florida Bar statistics which are not representative of the population. Unfortunately the legal profession is not as racially or ethically integrated as the population.

    "According to the 2010 United States Census, Florida had a population of 18,801,310. In terms of race and ethnicity, the state was:

    75.0% White American (57.9% Non-Hispanic White, 17.1% White Hispanic)
    16.0% Black or African American
    0.4% American Indian and Alaska Native
    2.4% Asian American
    0.1% Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
    3.6% from Some Other Race
    2.5% Multiracial American

    In the same year Hispanic and Latinos of any race made up 22.5% of the population."

    "So, 12:54 asks a good question - should White lawyers have a more difficult time ascending to the bench than non-whites? Is that progress?"

    Lawyers should not be judges. They are separate professions requiring different skills, training and temperament. Lawyers zealously advocate for clients under the adversarial system of law. Judges are supposed to be neutral arbitrators. However former lawyers cannot be neutral judges, due to the Lawyer-Judge bias in the American Legal System, see the book by Prof. Ben Barton.

    "Virtually all American judges are former lawyers. This book argues that these lawyer-judges instinctively favor the legal profession in their decisions and that this bias has far-reaching and deleterious effects on American law. There are many reasons for this bias, some obvious and some subtle. Fundamentally, it occurs because – regardless of political affiliation, race, or gender – every American judge shares a single characteristic: a career as a lawyer. This shared background results in the lawyer-judge bias. The book begins with a theoretical explanation of why judges naturally favor the interests of the legal profession and follows with case law examples from diverse areas, including legal ethics, criminal procedure, constitutional law, torts, evidence, and the business of law. The book closes with a case study of the Enron fiasco, an argument that the lawyer-judge bias has contributed to the overweening complexity of American law, and suggests some possible solutions."

    PJTV: Bias! The Case Against Lawyers and Judges

    Reviews for The Lawyer-Judge Bias in the American Legal System

  15. shumie is a time, is a place, is a motion, shumie is the way we are feeling.


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