CHIEF JUDGE MARX ANNOUNCES MARCH TRIAL SCHEDULE

The Chief Judge has announced the March Trial Schedule. The number of jurors being called in to serve has been reduced.  The dates and divisions holding the trials are as follows:

March 1-March 31, 2021:

  • Mondays are reserved for Circuit Criminal trials
  • Tuesdays are reserved for County Court trials (all case types)
  • Wednesdays are reserved for Circuit Civil trials
  • Thursdays are reserved for Circuit Criminal trials
  • Fridays are reserved for special panels. These panels will be for one trial and one judge.

Pre voir dire will take place in the jury assembly room which has a seating capacity of 70 based on social distancing guidelines.  The pre voir dire eliminates individuals who cannot speak the language, have COVID anxiety, or other unavoidable scheduling issues.

The Clerk’s office will continue to question prospective jurors outside of the building regarding the COVID questions before they enter the jury assembly room.

Trial dates scheduled for the remainder of the month and for February are listed on the 15th Circuit Courts website at www.15thcircuit.com.

21 LAWYERS WILL RECEIVE FLORIDA BAR PRO BONO AWARDS IN SUPREME COURT CEREMONY JAN. 28

The Florida Bar will recognize 21 lawyers for their work on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged clients at a Jan. 28 ceremony streamed live online by the Supreme Court of Florida.

Established in 1981, The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards are intended to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor by recognizing those who make public service commitments and to raise public awareness of the substantial volunteer services provided by Florida lawyers to those who cannot afford legal fees. Florida Bar President Dori Foster-Morales will present the 2021 awards.

The awards recognize pro bono service in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits as well as service by one Florida Bar member practicing outside the state of Florida. They are presented annually in conjunction with the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award which is given by the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court. Awards recognizing pro bono contributions also will be presented in the categories of Voluntary BarLaw FirmYoung Lawyers DivisionDistinguished Judicial Service and Distinguished Federal Judicial Service.

 

In the most recent reporting period from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, Florida lawyers provided more than 1.2 million hours of pro bono services to those in need $6.3 million to legal aid organizations.

This year’s ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 28, at 3:30 p.m. Watch it live on Facebook,  WFSU: Gavel to Gavel and the Florida Channel, as well as on YouTube.

 

A full version of each of the honoree’s accomplishments can be found here.

 

Here are the 2021 circuit honorees. Honorees’ photographs are linked.

Christa Diviney (photo)
1st Judicial Circuit (Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties)

Christa Diviney, a Board Certified Criminal Trial lawyer, has volunteered 495 hours of pro bono work since joining the firm of Matthews & Jones, LLP, in 2018. For nine years, she worked prosecuting computer crimes and crimes against children in the 14th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s office. Protecting children is the focus of Diviney’s pro bono work.  In 2019, she was awarded the Excellence in Advocacy Award by the Florida Statewide Guardian ad Litem Office. “I am honored Guardian ad Litem recognized my work,” she said at the time. “Representing children’s interests helps ensure that a vulnerable population doesn’t suffer further infringement of rights.” Volunteer work for Diviney includes speaking to attorneys, representatives of law enforcement and government agencies, and local community members on various topics relating to child exploitation, law enforcement investigations, and litigation processes. Diviney earned her J.D. degree from the University of Florida, Levin College of Law, in 2008 and a Master of Arts in Mass Communications the same year.

Lynwood F. Arnold, Jr. (photo)
2nd Judicial Circuit (Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties)

Lynwood Arnold was a member of the Board of Directors of the Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee at the time of his death in August 2020. Arnold served on the Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee’s Promise Zone and Mobile Law for All committees and was instrumental in creating and implementing these out-of-the box programs that have made significant changes in the way pro bono services are provided in Leon County to the most vulnerable populations. For the Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee, Arnold provided more than 1,500 hours in direct pro bono services since 2015, which is when record-keeping started.  He was an active volunteer with the program before then, too, so that number is much higher. When faced with the COVID-19 epidemic, Arnold was one of the first people to create a statewide model to deliver eviction relief and legal services to those in need. Working with the Real Property, Probate, and Trust Law Section, of which he was a long-time member, the Florida Attorneys Counseling on Evictions (FACE) program was created.

John P. Booth (photo)
3rd Judicial Circuit (Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties)

John P. Booth retired as assistant general counsel of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) in 2016 but didn’t retire from helping those in need. After his 33-year career serving the citizens of Florida, Booth began serving the low-income community of North Florida by volunteering as a pro bono attorney. As a volunteer with Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc. (TRLS), Booth provides legal assistance to many clients each year by conducting legal research; reviewing criminal records; providing legal advice; and drafting FDLE applications and court pleadings. During the past four years, Booth assisted 73 clients seeking to clear their criminal histories in order to obtain gainful employment and/or decent affordable housing. Booth has contributed approximately 46 hours of legal service to the low-income community of the Third Judicial Circuit in the past year alone. Booth earned his J.D. degree in 1979 from the University of Florida and his Bachelor of Arts in English in 1971 from Florida State University.

Carrington Madison Mead (Photo)
4th Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval and Nassau counties)

Carrington “Rusty” Madison Mead is a passionate advocate for people in need in his community as well as throughout the state of Florida. Mead has been volunteering with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for almost 20 years and has participated in many pro se assistance clinics, group information clinics, and Ask-A-Lawyer, free, legal advice clinics. Mead has donated almost 470 hours of pro bono time through his assistance with approximately 80 separate outreach and clinic events and almost 80 full representation cases. He is a founding member of the Florida Association of LGBT Lawyers and Allies. He helped create the bimonthly Name Change Clinic and serves as the expert resource for this clinic. Mead is also a referral attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense Fund, American Civil Liberties Union and GLAAD. Mead also assists with the Guardian ad Litem’s Defending Best Interest Project and now in his third year of volunteering with the DBI Project, has spent approximately 95 hours on 12 cases. He “has demonstrated a profound level of commitment and support to individuals with need in our local community,” said Angela M. Scott, of Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association, “as well as to helping further the education and advancement of young lawyers in their pursuit of helping others.”

Matthew C. Frey (photo)
5th Judicial Circuit (Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion and Sumter counties)

Matthew C. Frey obtained his J.D. degree from the University of Florida. He currently works with Campione & Hackney, P.A., in Tavares, the same firm where he has worked since he graduated. Frey practices in a variety of civil law areas, including bankruptcy and real estate litigation. Since November 2018, Frey has been a volunteer with Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc. Frey has regularly participated with their mobile helpline, taken full representation cases and conducted recurring bankruptcy clinics in Lake County until COVID-19 required all in-person clinics to be canceled. During that time, Frey donated almost 200 hours of pro bono legal services to low-income clients. In 2019, he was recognized by Community Legal Services as the Lake County Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. Despite the numerous complications posed by COVID-19, Frey continues to provide legal advice in a virtual clinic setting and full representation in Chapter 7 bankruptcies. He is one of the few pro bono attorneys who has provided full representation in Chapter 13 bankruptcy cases.

Mary Ellen Murphy Borja (photo)
6th Judicial Circuit (Pasco and Pinellas counties)

Mary Ellen Borja is selfless, passionate and giving according to those she works with at Bay Area Legal Services – Volunteer Lawyers Program (Northwest). Since the inception of their program in 2015, Borja has been a dedicated volunteer staffing the Domestic Violence Intake at The Haven Domestic Violence Shelter. This work includes consultations, assistance with pro se pleadings, limited representation, and full representation for those most needy. One client was a single mother of toddler twins who needed the services of a domestic violence shelter. Borja not only provided her a consultation for a divorce, but also for a domestic violence injunction for protection case. Borja helped the client navigate the judicial system to ensure her safety and the safety of her children. She provided approximately 12.5 hours for both cases. In 2019 alone, Borja provided more than 50 hours of pro bono services through intake clinics, local community events, and legal fairs. Borja’s commitment to closing the gap to justice is evident. She is always eager to help and assist when the need arises.

Rachael Greene (photo)
7th Judicial Circuit (St. Johns, Volusia, Flagler and Putnam counties)

Rachael Greene has given an estimated 47 total hours and taken on five pro bono cases with the Guardian ad Litem Program in just the last 12 months. In one case, Greene was Pro Bono Attorney ad Litem for a 3-year-old, non-verbal child. She visited with the child, his siblings and his mother in her home and visited the child at his daycare. She worked closely with the GAL volunteer, Child Advocate Manager, and the Department of Children and Families Dependency Case Manager to obtain appropriate services for the child. She successfully advocated for the child’s wishes in court.  In addition to her GAL work, Greene was also pro bono attorney for a victim of domestic violence in her dissolution of marriage as the legal aid agency in Volusia County did not have funding to take the case. Greene represented the woman in court, at mediation, filed pleadings on her behalf, communicated with her attorney in the dependency case, and, of course, met and talked with her regularly. Greene earned her J.D. degree from Florida State University College of Law in 1998 and is an attorney with St. Johns Law Group. For the past decade, Greene has focused on family law issues.

Susan L. Mikolaitis (photo)
8th Judicial Circuit (Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties)

Susan L. Mikolaitis has been a pro bono volunteer with Three Rivers Legal Services for more than 11 years. She is an enthusiastic advocate for the needs of the poor, less advantaged and disenfranchised. During her time with Three Rivers Legal Services, Mikolaitis has provided more than 200 volunteer hours representing and assisting pro bono clients as well as participating in Advance Directives Clinics at rural senior centers. In addition to providing a valuable service, Mikolaitis brings clarity and laughter to a serious decision-making process. Many of Mikolaitis’ pro bono clients live in rural communities and counties where there are limited legal resources. Mikolaitis has spearheaded a project to provide Advance Directives to school personnel who are on the front lines, interacting with students and parents as our schools have reopened due to the COVID-19 shut down. Mikolaitis is a 2003 graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law and is currently an attorney at Bingham & Mikolaitis, P.A., in Alachua.

Beth Kathryn Roland (photo)
9th Judicial Circuit (Orange and Osceola counties)

Beth Roland is one of the Guardian ad Litem’s most outstanding pro bono attorneys. A partner at a busy family law firm, Roland still consistently drafts high-quality, insightful briefs for the GAL Program. Roland was one of the project’s earliest volunteers and she continues to take cases. Since June 2017, Roland has donated more than 286 hours to brief 23 cases for the Defending Best Interests Project. Roland is a tremendous voice for Florida’s dependent children, and her devotion to pro bono service is evident to all who have the pleasure of working with her. Roland has positively influenced so many lives and embodies all of the qualities represented in The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award. Roland earned her J.D. degree in 1992 from Wake Forest University School of Law and is an associate attorney at the Family First Firm in Central Florida, where she practices in the areas of probate, trust administration, guardianship, estate planning and Medicaid.

James Russel Headley (photo)
10th Judicial Circuit (Hardee, Highlands and Polk counties)

James Russell Headley earned his J.D. degree in 2003 from Stetson University College of Law.  Before joining The Florida Bar and becoming an attorney, Headley was in the U.S. Army. Following a medical retirement from the Army in 1999, Headley began helping veterans at the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization. He handled hundreds of cases for veterans in need of assistance with their Veterans Administration claim for compensation, pension or educational benefits. Since becoming an attorney 16 years ago, Headley has counseled hundreds of veterans regarding filing for Service-Connected Compensation with the U.S. Veterans Administration.  He has never charged a veteran for this service. Headley also helps with record requests, research for potential claims, and with applications for potential veterans’ benefits. Headley reported more than 200 hours of pro bono service last year. Before attending law school, Headley graduated from the University of South Florida with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. In 2003, in addition to earning his law degree, he received his Master of Business Administration from Stetson University School of Business Administration.

Mary Lou Rodon (photo)
11th Judicial Circuit (Dade County)

Mary Lou Rodon accepted her first pro bono case in 1985 and has been winning awards for her pro bono contributions since 1989. Her work represents more than 3,000 hours of her time. Rodon’s compassion for others, professionalism and respectfulness and kindness when dealing with other attorneys, court staff and pro se litigants make her one of the best Dade Legal Aid turns to. Most of the pro bono work done by Rodon is through Dade Legal Aid’s Put Something Back Pro Bono Project. Beyond the Put Something Back Project, Rodon has volunteered 515 hours on matters in Dependency Court, where she handled home studies, home visits, hospital and mental health hospital visits and juvenile detention visits. Protecting children is Rodon’s life’s work. Rodon also accepts Guardian ad Litem cases directly from the courts and has been described as a superb Guardian Ad Litem who never shies away from difficult cases. Everyone Rodon has touched with her pro bono work has a story of gratitude to tell.

James Howard Turner (photo)
12th Judicial Circuit (DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties)

James Howard Turner began volunteering with Legal Aid of Manasota in 2013 and during the past seven years, he has donated more than 1,582 pro bono hours and has assisted 978 clients. Turner has aided in collections, evictions, contracts and general civil matters. Described as knowledgeable, compassionate and committed, Turner arrives at the Legal Aid office for a full day each week to meet with clients. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, he works with clients in non-traditional ways in order to ensure they receive the services they desperately need. While Turner is inspiring and dedicated to providing equal access to justice in his community, he feels he is the one benefiting most from pro bono work. Turner says: “Pro bono advocacy has been the most fulfilling chapter of my legal life.” Turner earned his J.D. degree from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in 1977 and was admitted to the Michigan and Florida Bars in 1978. Since 2013, his legal practice, James Howard Turner, has been devoted to serving the most vulnerable underrepresented clients in Sarasota and Manatee counties through Legal Aid of Manasota.

Sarah E. Kay (photo)
13th Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County)

Sarah E. Kay has provided pro bono legal services through Bay Area Legal Services Volunteer Lawyer Program, the Hague Convention Attorney Network for International Child Abduction, and has offered pro bono legal services for referrals from the Council on American Islamic Relations Tampa Chapter. Kay has demonstrated a commitment to pro bono service throughout her legal career. She has at least one active pro bono case at all times. In total since 2010, Kay has performed more than 1,150 hours of pro bono service. She also encourages and supports others in providing pro bono service. When she first became an attorney, she completed the Domestic Violence Awareness Project training through the Hillsborough Association for Women Lawyers (HAWL) mentoring program, so she could assist domestic violence victims and supervise her HAWL mentees as they earned their legal pro bono hours. At Kay Family Law, PLLC, Kay who is Board Certified in Marital and Family Law, practices in the areas of family law and special needs law.

Cecile M. Scoon (photo)
14th Judicial Circuit (Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties)

Cecile M. Scoon’s 36-year law career began as an assistant staff judge advocate for the U.S. Air Force before she established her own practice primarily handling employment discrimination cases and family law. For the past two years, she has been the first vice president of the League of Women Voters Florida and its Action Chair on Amendment 4.  It is through those roles she established statewide training for attorneys to work with felons seeking to restore their voting rights. Although Florida voters approved an amendment to the Florida Constitution in 2018 to automatically restore felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences, a law passed by the Legislature required that they also pay any fines and fees that were part of their sentences. Doing so proved difficult for many. The law, however, allowed felons to petition courts to modify their sentences. With that in mind, Scoon drafted a Continuing Legal Education course to teach attorneys how to work with felons to petition courts for modifications. Scoon also daily reviews questions from volunteer lawyers, researching legal questions that are not easy to answer and supervising two volunteers and a paid halftime employee who are focused on responding to citizen inquiries.

Jay D. Mussman (photo)
15th Judicial Circuit (Palm Beach County)

Jay D. Mussman, a senior counsel in Day Pitney’s Boca Raton office, leads the firm’s pro bono efforts in Florida and personally provides pro bono services primarily through the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County’s Low Income Taxpayer Clinic and Florida Rural Legal Services’ Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, both of which assist individuals involved in tax controversies with the IRS. Once he started practicing law in 1988, Mussman quickly became involved in pro bono activities working with Dade Legal Aid – Put Something Back. For two decades, Mussman remained active volunteering more than 430 hours in pro bono services, accepted numerous cases as a real property, probate, and trust law attorney, and led the initiative to build and expand their pro bono program. He even developed a mentoring program and actively recruited other pro bono attorneys. Through Florida Rural Legal Services, Mussman has provided since 2016 more than 600 hours through the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County and since April 2020 more than 135 hours through Florida Rural Legal Services. For Mussman, ensuring equal access to justice is at the core of what it means to be an attorney.

Joseph Mack (photo)
16th Judicial Circuit (Monroe County)

Joseph Mack joined The Florida Bar in 2019 but began volunteering through Legal Services of Greater Miami’s Pro Bono Program in Monroe County even before then.  Having moved from Maryland, Mack was volunteering under the supervision of the Monroe County advocacy director before his Bar admission in October 2019. He had been practicing law in Maryland since 2005 and did not hesitate when told he had to perform his service under the supervision of an attorney in Florida. Immediately upon becoming a member of The Florida Bar, Mack put his years of experience advocating for low-income individuals to great use by helping Legal Services of Greater Miami. When COVID-19 paralyzed the rural communities of Monroe County, Mack assisted with Section 8 housing cases, landlord tenant cases, family law matters including child custody disputes, and assisting individuals with sealing/expungement and restoration of civil rights so that they can secure gainful employment. A fierce advocate for his clients and consumer rights, Mack dedicates his career to fighting injustice.

Jill Robin Ginsberg (photo)
17th Judicial Circuit (Broward County)

Jill Robin Ginsberg’s work ethic – whether in the field of law or the community – coupled with her altruism inspires many. Ginsberg is a volunteer with Legal Aid Service of Broward County working mainly with their MISSION UNITED Veterans Pro Bono Legal Project. The Project, in partnership with the United Way of Broward County, provides access to civil justice for military veterans. In 2015, Ginsberg won the 2015 Mission United Star Attorney Award. She averages more than 250 pro bono hours per year. Through her pro bono work, Ginsberg restored rights to a ward when his guardians refused; she helped restore people’s benefits; helped people maintain benefits when they were about to lose them; arranged a guardianship when a client had no one and there was no one to assist; and she probated for veterans to get the funds from estates when they could not access the funds. Ginsberg earned her J.D. degree from Brooklyn Law School in 1987 with a concentration in tax and family law. She is currently a partner attorney at Ginsberg Shulman in Fort Lauderdale.

Elizabeth Siano Harris (photo)
18th Judicial Circuit (Brevard and Seminole counties)

Elizabeth Siano Harris has more than 20 years’ experience drafting appellate briefs, resulting in authored opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit; the Florida Supreme Court; and the District Courts of Appeal in Florida. Harris uses her knowledge and experience in the appellate court to volunteer with the Guardian ad Litem’s Defending Best Interests Project (DBI). She provides a persuasive voice for Florida’s dependent children, and her advocacy helps ensure their best interests are met. Harris has donated more than 70 hours of her time to brief three cases for the DBI Project. In addition to her work for the GAL Program, Harris has taken on several other pro bono cases through the Appellate Practice Section’s Pro Bono Committee, spending more than 100 hours on an important termination of parental rights case that reached the Florida Supreme Court and spending hundreds more hours on multiple appeals in the First and Third District Courts of Appeal. Harris attended the University of South Florida and graduated with her Bachelor of Arts in 1988 and earned her J.D. degree from Florida State University College of Law in 1991.

Kim A. Cunzo (photo)
19th Judicial Circuit (Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties)

Kim A. Cunzo has volunteered through Florida Rural Legal Services (FRLS) accepting pro bono cases over the past 12 years. She has provided pro bono assistance to more than 80 clients through FRLS providing hundreds of hours of pro bono services. She provides all levels of pro bono services from counsel and advice to representing clients in complex legal matters. In 2018, Cunzo was instrumental in helping start the FRLS courthouse family law clinics where she volunteered to meet with clients at the courthouse to assist with advice and helping with pro se paperwork. She then helped FRLS in 2019 start a new Veterans Clinic in partnership with Indian River State College. When the pandemic hit, Cunzo continued to volunteer as FRLS transitioned the in-person clinics to remote clinics. She has accepted cases in areas such as adoption, alimony and child support, divorce, paternity, child custody and timesharing. Cunzo earned her undergraduate degree in 1998 at the University of South Florida and obtained her J.D. degree from St. Thomas University School of Law in 2002. She established the Cunzo Law Firm in 2009 in Fort Pierce.

Shanthy Balachanthiran (photo)
20th Judicial Circuit (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties)

Shanthy Balachanthiran has a passion to help those less fortunate inspired by the determination and success earned by her father when the family immigrated to the United States when she was four years old. Her commitment and her leadership in providing pro bono service is inspiring. As the Lee County Bar Association Pro Bono Committee chair, Balachanthiran has opened up various social service channels within the organization and community to expand opportunities and access for legal representation to the poor. Balachanthiran has offered free legal services and assistance to clients in the areas of landlord/tenant matters, disability rights, family law matters, federal tax controversy, consumer rights, and guardian advocacy. Besides the hours she has performed in pro bono service, she recruited more than 350-plus hours of pro bono assistance for a local legal services organization after training multiple attorneys in the areas of legal need. She has dedicated more than 250 hours over the years to providing pro bono legal services.

Dennis F. Fountain (photo)
Out-of-state

Dennis F. Fountain has an extensive record of pro bono volunteerism.  Even now since he has closed his practice in Central Florida and retired to rural Virginia, he continues to help those in need through The Florida Free Legal Answers website, the state’s virtual legal clinic. The Florida Free Legal Answers site went live on May 1, 2017, and since then 10,716 questions have been asked and Fountain has answered 2,756 of them. Fountain has spent well more than 200 hours helping those in need. He has been referred to as a “workhorse” by The Florida Bar for being one of its most prolific performers on the Free Legal Answer site. Fountain does this pro bono service because for him, it’s the right thing to do. “No matter how small the injustice, I want to stop that level of injustice when I can,” said Fountain. “At least, I’ve touched some people’s lives in a valuable way, and they know it, and that makes me feel good.”

Zoom – The Best Thing To Happen To Mediation

January 2021
By: Mark Greenberg 

 

Two months ago, my colleague, Maxwell Christianson, wrote an article titled, “Zoom – The Worst Thing to Happen to Mediation.”  I respectfully disagree.

Our legal system accepts change slowly, and often begrudgingly. Video conferencing technology is a perfect example. Pre-COVID-19, I cannot think of any court that routinely allowed video conference attendance, other than criminal first appearances. Few, if any, Florida courtrooms even had the capacity for it.  COVID-19 changed all of that. Our court system adapted to COVID-19 by allowing video conference hearings, usually via the Zoom platform. Now both Judges and Attorneys are big fans of Zoom hearings, to the point that few expect courts to revert to only in-person hearings after the pandemic.  Attorneys have learned to conduct depositions remotely and mediations have occurred with the parties not “physically” present, some even thousands of miles apart. Our firm tracks our settlement rate and it is virtually identical (within 3 percentage points) between live and video mediations. Every mediator I have spoken to confirms the same; that Zoom is just as effective as live, in‑person mediations if cameras are on.  Only when people are calling in, effectively transforming video mediations into telephone mediations, do settlement rates

There are some differences with video mediations, however.  Zoom allows the parties to remain at home or their office, and in a more comfortable environment.  This lets them focus on the case, but as Max points out, does not require them to “invest” in coming to the live mediation.  Of course, with children at home for school and daycare limited, those with children find Zoom far more compatible to attending, rather than trying to arrange for safe child care in order to attend mediation. People are also far more comfortable at home than sitting inside a conference room  with masks on for hours at a time.   Max posits that in‑person mediations encourage the parties to stay longer, but I have found the opposite.  It is far easier to pause a Zoom mediation for 30 minutes in order for a parent to pick up a child, than to have them drive an hour from live mediation to do so and then expect them to return. Further, no out of town parties have to catch a flight, placing a hard stop on mediation.

Otherwise, the same factors influence mediation whether by Zoom or live.  Is there a trial date soon forcing a hard decision?  Have the parties spent enough money that they are tired of attorney’s fees and wish to settle?  Are the parties willing to compromise to move forward in their personal and/or business relationship?  Would the parties prefer a certain result or an uncertain verdict? Have the attorneys adequately prepared their clients for mediation, including what are the realistic case outcomes should they not settle?  None of these factors change when the parties are meeting by video conference as opposed to live.  Indeed, sometimes having parties who do not get along physically separated can lead to a better mediation, not worse.  Simply put, Zoom has allowed mediations to occur at different times, in different locations, and without the parties spending additional funds simply to attend.

With large corporations, video facilitates the actual decision maker participating in mediation, instead of a local representative who is less informed on the file. This is particularly true with surplus lines insurance companies who underwrite large risks nationwide.  With video mediation, the mediator can speak directly with the actual decision maker, read their facial expressions and body language, answer their questions, develop rapport, and often facilitate a quicker and easier resolution of the case. In contrast, with live mediations attended by a local adjuster, the real decision maker enters the picture when the mediator leaves the room and the attorney picks up the telephone to call home office.

Are there times in‑person mediation is better?  Of course. You cannot give a hug,  apology, shake hands, break bread, or share tears over video.  In cases where that will be of substantial assistance, in‑person mediation will be superior.  If there is a concern that one or more parties is unlikely to be paying attention to the mediation (despite being on video), then in‑person would be a much better choice. In the majority of cases, however, Zoom mediations have resulted in lower costs, less travel for everyone, and have the same settlement rates as live mediations. It is the best thing to happen to mediation.

 


Mark Greenberg is the founder of Breakthrough Mediation and Arbitration. He is a successful trial attorney with over 100 verdicts, while representing both Plaintiffs and Defendants. He has a rare combination of First-Party Insurance Coverage and Third-Party Liability experience, along with business disputes, construction defects, community association, and family law matters. Mark has successfully mediated numerous disputes saving parties over $20 million dollars in legal fees.

FLORIDA SUPREME COURT WARNS PUBLIC ABOUT EMAIL “FLORIDA LEGAL DOCUMENT” SCAMS

TALLAHASSEE – An ongoing international email scam aimed at bilking people out of money has resurfaced again using fraudulent Florida court documents. They often appear to come from the Florida Supreme Court.

It is part of an ongoing series of similar scams stretching back several years. They appear to come from locations in Florida like Shalimar but may target people elsewhere in the United States or other nations. Many of the intended victims are unfamiliar with Florida law.

The current scam has targeted people in Europe, including Spain and Sweden, and claims connections with other nations like Hungary and South Africa. All the documents are falsified to suggest they came from the Florida Supreme Court.

Some contained legal terminology not used in Florida, such as calling attorneys “barristers.” They may use other legal words more common in Europe and may cite nonexistent state or federal statutes.

Florida’s state courts do not send out binding official legal notices by email. Anyone receiving emails that reference a Florida court document should never pay money without checking further.

People who want to inquire about potential scam emails can do so by forwarding copies of the email and its attachments to the Florida Supreme Court at supremecourt@flcourts.org. The Court’s Marshal’s Office and other appropriate law enforcement agencies can investigate scams that falsely use the name of the Florida Supreme Court or forge signatures of its judges.

A similar version of the current scam surfaced in early 2019 and was the subject of a public warning at the time. An earlier public warning about other scams were released in 2017, and yet another public warning was issued in 2014.

These previous email and telephone scams have targeted Spanish speakers with threats of deportation, professionals over licensing issues, and members of the general public for supposedly missing jury duty. One scam a few years ago demanded a court “fine” for “illegal software use.”

Anyone receiving such scam documents should report them to local law enforcement. Copies of redacted examples of the recent scams are attached to this press release.

Mediating in the Age of the Corona Virus

December 2020
Author: Kenneth D. Stern

 

Most Mediators and litigators prefer to mediate in person, rather than by ZOOM.   However, I have mediated a number of cases virtually, because one party or attorney is concerned about the risks inherent in an in-person mediation, and you can rest assured that a ZOOM mediation can be just as effective in settling a case.  Most experienced Mediators are quite capable of conducting an effective virtual mediation.

With everyone on-screen, you can see the facial expressions, tone of voice, and much of the body language of everyone, and little is lost by mediating virtually.

Even if your client is not present with you in your office, a virtual mediation conference will enable you and your client to have confidential discussions, whereby you and your client can converse without the other side or even the Mediator hearing you.

A virtual mediation conference provides separate breakout rooms, permitting both or all attorney-client pairings to converse in total confidence and to caucus with the Mediator without the other side hearing or seeing you.  And of course, joint sessions can be had, with everyone present.  In addition, a virtual mediation can greatly reduce the costs of attending an in-person mediation.  It eliminates the expense of having clients, insurance adjusters, corporate counsel, and other corporate representatives fly in and generate the costs of airplane fare, hotel lodging, and meals attendant on many in-person mediations.

What are the technical requirements to participate

in a virtual mediation conference?

Don’t worry, the Mediator will do all the work to set up your virtual mediation.  In advance of the mediation date, the Mediator will advise you of which breakout room has been assigned to you and your client.  (I typically put the Plaintiff and his/her counsel in Breakout Room No.1,  the main Defendant and counsel in Breakout Room no. 2, and so on, if there are other parties.)   Your Mediator will send you an email containing: (a)  a link for you (and your client and any other representatives of your party, to use if they will not be present in your office) to click, to “check in” with ZOOM to join the session;  (b)  the Meeting ID and the PassCode which you and your client will need to enter to join the session, and (c) an “Activation Code” which you and your client will use to enter the Breakout room assigned to you both.

What if you can’t get sufficient hearing time to resolve objections

so that you can complete discovery before mediation?

Now that our Circuit Judges are resuming non-jury trials,  the number of time slots available for hearings on motions will diminish, perhaps almost to the point of evaporating, as our Judges try to reduce the backlog of cases that did not settle at mediation.  You have options here, and you may want to use a combination of them.  Be creative: try to get agreement on pending motions or on issues therein;  try to reduce a long motion so that it can be dealt with at a UMC;  and stipulate to matters that are not in serious dispute.

If you have a slew of motions raising objections or discovery issues that have to be ruled upon before you can depose witnesses or the opposing parties, try to get your opposing counsel to agree to using a Special Master;  that way, you can arrange to have all discovery issues heard and tentatively ruled upon.   The Special Master will send a Report and Recommendations to the Judge, and both parties will have the opportunity to file Exceptions.  Usually, these are few, and the Judge can then enter rulings on every discovery issue which was not excepted to;  this can save many months of frustration.

In one case in which I served as a Special Master, the Judge had advised the attorneys that it would take 12-14 months to have all the preliminary discovery issues heard and resolved.  After receiving and reviewing all the pending motions to compel, objections, assertions of privilege, etc., I then conducted two days of back-to-back hearings, some evidentiary with testimony, and filed a 51-page Report and Recommendations.  Only one counsel filed Exceptions, and these were few. The Judge entered her rulings, adopting all of the recommendations that were not objected to, and considering the few others in light of the Exceptions filed.  More than a year was saved in resolving all these motions and the issues raised;  the expense of holding all hearings before a Special Master, while not small, was far less expensive than 14 months’ worth of hearings would have cost.  And the parties could now proceed to take all the depositions which had to await the resolution of these issues.

Corona Virus be Damned:  Full speed ahead!

Virtual mediations, like virtual hearings and even virtual nonjury trials, are now a part of the fabric of legal practice.  And even if there are no concerns about the virus, virtual mediations are increasingly being used to save the expenses of everyone flying in to attend in person.  Don’t hesitate to avail yourself of this worthwhile alternative to in-person mediations.


Kenneth D. Stern is a retired Circuit Judge who served here in the Fifteenth Circuit.

Prior to becoming a Judge, he was a Trial Attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice, and an Assistant U.S. Attorney here in the Southern District of Florida.  He then moved to Palm Beach County and practiced both federal and state litigation, before being appointed to the Bench by Governor Jeb Bush.  Since his retirement from the Bench, Judge Stern has been serving as a Florida Supreme Court Certified Circuit Mediator, AAA-approved Arbitrator, and Special Master.  He can be reached at kdstern@gmail.com or (561) 901-4968.

Zoom – The Worst Thing to Happen to Mediation | Opinion

November 2020
Author: Maxwell M. Christiansen

 

COVID-19 has obviously changed the way people handle business. These days, we stay away from each other if we can. Why? Because it has been recommended by the CDC and virtually all our elected officials. Society expects distance. If we don’t absolutely need to have that meeting in person, it’s going to be over Zoom or some other video conferencing service. Some businesses have been meeting this way for a while, but for most this is the new normal, and we don’t really have a choice. So it begs the question: do we accomplish as much over Zoom?

For mediations, I believe the answer to that question is sadly, “no.” Zoom mediations do not work as well as mediations in person. Zoom is great for certain meetings where the convenience of meeting from anywhere in the world outweighs the interpersonal benefits of meeting in person. Depending on the goal of the meeting, it may not be as important to physically be together in the meeting. That is not the case for mediations. Last year, if I asked a colleague how his mediation went, there was over a 50/50 chance that he would say, “it settled!” The most common answer I get these days is, “Impasse.” As a litigator during the pandemic, I have not yet personally witnessed or even heard of a successful Zoom mediation, and the reason is obvious: the parties are not physically coming to the table.

There are two major reasons why being actually present at the negotiation table facilitates a mediation, 1) the parties are physically confined in one location with each other, and 2) they invest a significant amount of energy to attend mediation.

Confining the parties in one location for mediation has been shown to be a major factor in reaching settlement. Most mediators will recommend the parties not leave the mediation if a resolution appears possible. If the mediation runs long, the mediator may even suggest everyone eat dinner at the mediation. Mediators know the parties’ willingness to settle deteriorates when they pause the negotiation, even for half an hour.

The change of setting is also important. Even if the parties choose not to meet in the same room, but instead in neighboring rooms (against the mediator’s advice), both parties still physically come to the negotiating table. Typically, the parties arrive at a neutral location. In doing so, they exit their element and enter the mediation. The setting of an in-person mediation reminds the parties that the other is there too, nowhere else, and for the same reason – to leave the dispute in the past. They understand that they are together for a brief moment, and that is their chance to try to smooth things over, ask for what they want, make concessions in return, and explain their reasoning. Open, honest, and effective communication is very important to a successful mediation. Lay everything out on the table, listen to the other side, ask for what you need to reach an agreement, and see if you can get there with compromise.

Such communication may be harder to achieve over Zoom because the interpersonal atmosphere is reduced to staring at a computer screen. With Zoom, the parties simply open their laptops from home or the same office from which they have been managing their lawsuit, and their mind may still be in “litigation mode.” It feels like just another conference call about the case. The opposing party is just another box on their screen that they can turn off if they want. Some thoughts may arise: “Who else is in the room on the other side? What do they have on their desk that we don’t have here?” The parties’ temporary trust for each other can become strained, and in the end, the symbolic handshake is not possible.

Mediations in person also require the parties to make a substantial effort to actually meet. By showing up, they level with each other before mediation even starts. If the mediation is voluntary, the parties mutually decide to invest their time to travel to the mediation to consider the other party’s perspective on the case, usually with the understanding that mediation could last a while. The parties both cancel most of their other activities that day, and the process itself is a major investment of energy. That investment has a particular psychological effect on the parties that can cause them to shift away from dispute and towards resolution. They made the effort and they want it to pay off.

In contrast, parties to a Zoom mediation do not invest enough energy to trigger that binding psychological effect. It is far easier to end the mediation over Zoom. The parties do not need to get up and leave the building, they simply need to click “Leave Meeting,” and the mediation impasses.

It is therefore my opinion that mediation is not as effective over a Zoom call. Moving forward, I urge my colleagues to confirm whether their clients want to mediate over Zoom, or whether wearing the mask and keeping a six foot distance in a room is satisfactory.


Attorney Maxwell M. Christiansen was born and raised in the Palm Beaches. He graduated from Emory University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in 2012, majoring in Neuroscience & Behavioral Biology and minoring in Mathematics. Max graduated from the University of Florida Levin College of Law in 2016 with a Juris Doctor and Certificate in Intellectual Property. Max is an associate business attorney at The Law Offices of Paul J. Burkhart and litigates various business disputes on behalf of corporate clients, including breach of contract, fraud, construction, and Internet defamation claims. Notably, Max has successfully removed from various websites, such as Google, damaging and untrue reviews posted anonymously on the Internet.