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New Commission Seeks to Increase Legal Resources for Floridians

Florida Supreme Court
Nick Evans

Florida Chief Justice Jorge Larbarga has created a new Commission to study the unmet legal needs of lower and middle-income Floridians in an effort to increase access to the courts for people who have to represent themselves.

Florida Bar Foundation President Emerson Thompson says the new commission is meant to help low and middle income individuals, most of whom appear in family court.

“So you’re not talking about great issues that would concern the New York Times,” Thompson says. “You’re talking about the basic things that make life livable.”

The 27 members of the commission hail from the legal community, private sector, and judicial, executive, and legislative branches of the Florida government. They will meet every quarter over the next two years with a goal of identifying and examining access issues keeping lower and middle income Floridians from getting legal assistance.

That also includes examining and promoting coordination with current legal assistance programs around the state, finding ways to streamline the court process, and seeking stable funding for existing and new resources.

Florida Bar President Gregory Coleman, says while over 30 other states have similar commissions, Florida’s will stand apart. “30 percent of this commission is going to be very high profile business leaders,” Coleman says.

That includes Senior Vice President of Publix Supermarkets, John Attaway, Jr., Chief Counsel of Walt Disney Company, Jeffrey Craigmile, and Chairman and CEO of Cheney Brothers, Byron Russell.

At the end of their term in June 2016, the commission will produce formal recommendations to the Florida Supreme Court, Governor, and congressional leaders. While the current commission will serve for the next two years, Justice Labarga’s order recommends the establishment of a permanent “access to justice” Commission.

Alex Fahnlander is an undergraduate English student at Florida State University. Outside of WFSU, she serves as Assignments Editor and Continuity Director for FSU’s student-run radio station, WVFS and as a Resident Assistant in a freshman residence hall. After graduation Alex hopes to pursue a career in radio production. In her spare time she enjoys listening to her favorite podcasts, drawing portraits, watching The Office, and developing stories for future graphic novels.