Florida Chief Justice Peggy Quince encourages lawyers to do more pro bono work

09/11/09 Seán Kinane
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The Chief Justice of Florida’s Supreme Court, Peggy Quince, was the first African-American female to be appointed to a Florida district court of appeal in 1993.

In an address this afternoon to the St. Petersburg Bar Association, Chief Justice Quince stressed that lawyers should volunteer their services and should strive for a criminal justice system that insists on treatment rather than just incarceration for people with mental illnesses.

In the 1980s Quince worked in the Tampa office of the state Attorney General's Criminal Division. She was appointed to the state’s Supreme Court in 1988 by late Governor Lawton Chiles and then-Governor-elect Jeb Bush.

“It’s work, and work, and more work. As the Chief Justice of course I am obligated to do the cases that are assigned to all of us. And of course there’s the administrative side of it.

Chief Justice Quince is not able to make specific comments about cases that are before the Florida Supreme Court or are likely to come before the Court.

Last year the Court invalidated a gaming agreement between the Seminole Indian tribe and Governor Charlie Crist. At the time, the Supreme Court said the Governor unconstitutionally exceeded his power in the 2007 compact. But Quince says a new agreement signed by Governor Crist and the Seminole Tribe in August is likely to pass constitutional muster.

“It needed to have some Legislative input and that’s what they’re in the process of doing now. And so they’re following the process as it’s laid out.”

Quince told the lawyers assembled at the Mirror Lake Lyceum in downtown St. Pete that they need to keep pressure on the state Legislature to find more dedicated funding sources for courts.

One of the most famous cases that Quince has heard while on the Florida Supreme Court followed the contested 2000 presidential election. The Court’s method for recounting ballots was determined to be a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court on December 12th, effectively handing the presidency to George W. Bush.

“I think it was democracy at work. It was an opportunity for the citizens to see the court system operating. You saw cases at every level of our court system concerning our election. You saw people accept what the court system had to say. There were no tanks in the street. And we abided by what the final Court – the United States Supreme Court – said. And I think that’s a wonderful thing for people to see that democracy really works.”

Chief Justice Quince cited both the oath of office and the creed of professionalism to stress that lawyers need to “go out and do public good.” She suggests that lawyers should increase their amount of pro bono representation. One attendee, Stetson University College of Law Assistant Dean for Student Life Michael Farley, agrees that it’s important to instill in young lawyers the idea of volunteering their time to help the community.

One-half million people with serious mental illnesses are in jails and prisons, Quince says, and another half million are on probation. She says that treatment would be a less expensive and more effective way of dealing with the problem than “spending almost one-half billion dollars per year in Florida getting people ready to go to trial.”

Chief Justice Quince doesn’t anticipate any high profile cases in the Florida Supreme Court’s near future.

“Well, we don’t have anything, I think, right now that really is controversial, that the public is going to take a lot of interest in. There are always a certain segment of the population that are interested in any case that comes before the Supreme Court. But I don’t think we have anything on that level of Bush v. Gore or abortion cases or those kinds of things which really brings out a larger segment of the public. We don’t have anything like that pending right now.”

Chief Justice Peggy Quince

Florida Supreme Court

St. Pete Bar Association

Stetson University College of Law

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