Thank you Chief Judge Schwartz. May it please the Court. Distinguished members of the Bench, Distinguished members of the Bar, newly admitted members, family and friends.
On behalf of the more than 4,500 men and women of the Dade County Bar Association, I welcome you to the profession. But first, I want to hear your reaction right now to one important point: GO MARLINS!!! I urge all of you to join the DCBA, and to become active. The DCBA is the largest voluntary bar association in Florida. We have great committees and luncheons, and it is the networking opportunity for all new lawyers. On Wednesday, October 22 at the Hyatt Downtown Miami, we will have our General Membership luncheon with guest speaker Sister Jeanne O’Laughlin, President of Barry University and community leader.
After today, some of you will practice law, and some of you, perhaps the smarter ones, will not. Some of you will go to court and try cases and some of you will not. All of you though are authorized to be attorneys only by the Supreme Court of Florida. It is the Court, the judicial branch, which allows you to be lawyers. You are now officers of the Court.
Well, my fellow officers, your branch of government is now under siege. It is under siege from a funding crisis, and from forces in politics, not the majority of the populace, which would threaten the existence of this branch and the ability of all persons to access the courts. You might remember that phrase, Access to the Courts, from your BarBri course.
Article I, Section 21 of the Florida Constitution provides:
The courts shall be open to every person for redress of any injury, and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.
As you know, the internet is the great equalizer. With the internet, one person has access to information in seconds which just a few years ago would cost hundreds if not thousands of dollars, and would have taken several associates and law clerks to locate.
The Courts and contingency fees are also great equalizers. Our justice system reflects the capitalistic values of our society. If you have resources, you will fare better than if you do not. Contingency fees are the only resources from which an overwhelming majority of people in this country are able to retain a lawyer and to go up against megalithic corporations who can well afford their own attorneys.
This country as the greatest democracy in the history of mankind has a tradition expressed in our constitution of 3 branches of government, and of allowing access of all of our citizens to the courts. This is an era in which some European nations for the first time are beginning to embrace the contingency fee.
Yet, ironically there is a movement afoot in Florida to limit these fees by constitutional amendment, and to limit or cap compensation of the victims of medical malpractice, and to cut the funding to the Courts. The same politicians who claim that they are against big government and overregulation, now want to regulate the amount of fees charged by an attorney. These politicians know, as the people of this state may not yet fully appreciate, if you limit these fees, you eliminate the ability of injured people to bring any of these complex, time consuming cases; in other words, to access to the courts. The result of such limitations would be that cases would not be prosecuted, that injuries would not be compensated, and that wrongs would not be righted. Certain members of our society would not be responsible for the errors they commit, and the lifelong suffering that they cause.
We in this room are soldiers in a common battle against forces which would deny these rights. Welcome to the battle, officers of the Court.