Florida Bar opposes fee increase; president said increase won’t ‘address core of the problem’

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, (@Jenna_Buzzacco)

The Florida Bar Association may oppose an increase in bar dues to fun legal services for the poor, but Florida Bar President Eugene Pettis said Monday the association understands there is a need to provide legal services to those in need.

The Florida Bar has opposed a petition to the Florida Supreme Court to increase Bar dues by up to $100 to help fund legal services for the poor. The petition is being spearheaded by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero and attorneys for the poor.

In a statement Monday, Pettis said while it is “laudable to see a problem and want to help,” the issue is a “much larger problem than the legal profession can solve alone.”

“An additional $100, we do not believe, will address the core of the problem,” he said.

Pettis said in 2012-13, the last reporting year available, Florida Bar members provided 1.7 million of pro-bono work, or about $340 million worth of services. In addition to the time, Pettis said Florida lawyers contributed $4.8 million to legal services organizations.

“We need to do something greater than putting money into a system,” said Pettis.

Pettis said the Bar’s Board of Governor’s conceptually approved a $6 million bridge loan to The Florida Bar Foundation. The details of the loan are being worked out and will be approved during the July 25 meeting, according to a news release.

That money, Pettis said, will help fill the gap in the short-term and give the Board a chance to address long term solutions.

“There are solutions out there,” he said.

For the fourth year in a row, the governor vetoed funding for civil legal assistance for the poor approved by the Legislature. Florida is one of three states that do not provide any state funding for civil legal aid.

Pettis said he the Bar looks forward to working with others to come up with a way to improve the reach of legal services for the poor. Even in the height of the funding, Pettis said about 20 percent of those in need were able to get services.

“We have one interest in common – improve the reach,” he said.

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