Senator Maria Sachs States the Purpose of the Legal Profession
On Saturday, August 25, 2012, Florida Alimony Reform held a successful Town Hall Meeting in West Palm Beach. Our guest speaker was Senator Maria Sachs (D), an incumbent running against another incumbent due to redistricting in the newly outlined senate district 34. One of my FAR colleagues and I met with Senator Sachs in early July and learned that not only does she support alimony reform in Florida, but she is willing to sponsor or co-sponsor our alimony reform bill in the Florida Senate this upcoming legislative session assuming she is re-elected to office. (Alimony payers in district 34 take heed!)
The Lawyers Must Serve the People!
When Senator Sachs spoke at the aforementioned FAR meeting, I took notes and here are a few things she said. She stated “…that the lawyers should serve the people, not the legal profession.” She also said “…that under the law, everyone should have an opportunity for putting their lives back together. The laws should be written in order to treat all people equally. This is especially true in cases involving dissolution of marriage.”
My daily prayer as of lately is that Senator Sachs is indeed re-elected and that her words indeed come to fruition this legislative session in the form of new and improved alimony laws that are fair to all parties.
The Lawyer’s “Hippocratic Oath”
In May 2004, The Family Law Section (FLS) of the Florida Bar published the latest version of the Bounds of Advocacy – Goals of Family Lawyers (The Goals). The Bounds of Advocacy begins by stating the “Goals for Family Lawyers in Florida”. Here is the Preface:
The idea for the Bounds of Advocacy was originally conceived in November 1987 by James T. Friedman, then president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and originally published in 1991. Subsequently, a revision was published in 2000. In 2002, Caroline Black, Chair of the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, and Chair-Elect Richard West, appointed this committee to review the Bounds of Advocacy of the AAML and to adapt them to Florida practice for the guidance of family lawyers in our state. This committee has reviewed, modified, and adapted the AAML Bounds of Advocacy to conform to Florida law and practice. We submit it to The Florida Bar and the Family Law Section to be used as guidance in this important area of practice.
In this 43 page document, it states that “few human problems are as emotional and complicated, or seem so important, as those people bring to family lawyers. The break-up of a family will be felt not only by the couple but also by other family members, friends, and others with personal or business relationships with the parties. The problems and expense of the family law system can be daunting.”
It also states that “the Goals reaffirm the attorney’s obligation to competently represent individual clients. They also promote a problem-solving approach that also considers the client’s children and family as well. In addition, they encourage efforts to reduce cost, delay, and emotional trauma and urge interaction between parties and attorneys on a more reasoned, cooperative level.”
Other statements made in this document are that “one traditional view of the family lawyer (a view still held by many practitioners) is that of the “zealous advocate,” whose only job it is to win. However, the emphasis on zealous representation of individual clients used in criminal and some civil cases is seldom appropriate for family law matters. Public opinion increasingly supports other models of practice and methods of conflict resolution. A counseling, problem-solving approach for people in need of help in resolving difficult issues and conflicts within the family is another model. This is sometimes referred to ‘constructive advocacy’. ‘Constructive advocacy’ must be the goal of all family law attorneys. This approach must include a consideration of all available means of settling disputes. Family lawyers should recognize the effect that their words and actions have on their clients’ attitudes about the justice system, not just on the ‘legal outcome’ of their cases. As a counselor, the lawyer encourages problem solving by the client.”
Hmmm. Let’s rewind. Family lawyers should recognize the effect that their words and actions have on their clients’ attitudes about the justice system, not just on the ‘legal outcome’ of their cases. It sounds like a paraphrasing of what Senator Sachs stated at our town hall meeting… These bounds don’t just apply to individual attorneys but to the FLS as an entirety.
The Citizens of Florida Must Hold the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar Accountable!
I encourage everyone to read this publication and I will see about making it available on our web site. After reading the document, I conclude that theoretically speaking, the FLS of the Florida Bar is indeed held to a level of ethics that they must abide by. That is, they must serve the people, not the legal profession. Based on this fact, it seems highly likely that our proposed bill will be embraced by the FLS because it truly would make alimony fair in the state of Florida and that alimony will be a win-win for both parties of dissolution as well as their families. The current laws in Florida’s are oppressive, not applied equally, and are not based in the 21st century.
FAR’s Proposed Legislation is FAIR.
FAR’s proposed bill was carefully written over several months with the advice of many family attorneys, psychologists, and financial advisors. FAR’s co-directors Alan Frisher and Chuck Reinertsen met with the Family Law Section on September 12, 2012, and now the proposed bill is in their hands. The current laws are lopsided and were written in a different time and era. All you need to do is visit the FAR web site and read the horror stories or watch the video testimonials of some of our members. The proposed bill is a fair and balanced bill that achieves what Senator Sachs had stated.
Not yet knowing what opposition we, the citizens of Florida, will encounter from the FLS as we go forward, I remain hopeful that they will recognize the intention of fairness that went into the writing this bill and they will remain faithful to the Bounds of Advocacy and support our proposed legislation.
Right now, the experience of our FAR members is that alimony provides a great amount of litigation, family unrest and unfair judgments or coerced settlements. Let’s face it. Attorneys make money off injustice because people will go to court to right a wrong. As long as the law is written to allow judges to make unfair judgments in favor of one party over another, the injustice is put in play and the litigation begins. The current reality is in direct opposition to what is demanded in the Bounds of Advocacy. Our proposed bill is firmly in line with the Bounds.
The Bounds of Advocacy Demand Ethical Behavior
As we all await the response of the FLS of the Florida Bar, I do want to remind them of these Bounds and what is expected of them. Just as doctors my take the Hippocratic Oath before they can practice medicine, The Bounds of Advocacy are the legal equivalent of what is expected of family attorneys. I can’t repeat Senator Sachs’ eloquently words often enough – “the lawyers must serve the people and not the legal profession”.
Why is alimony reform necessary? Because thousands of people in our great state are suffering under abusive alimony orders and it is the right thing for our current society. Call me an optimist, but good and doing the right thing will always prevail.