Michael Moline, Florida Phoenix
Florida judges no longer will need to learn how to at least try to ensure “fairness and diversity” while applying the law under a rule change that the Florida Supreme Court has adopted by a nearly unanimous vote.
Florida’s Code of Judicial Conduct still requires 30 hours of classes every three years about “judicial professionalism, opinions of the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, and the Code of Judicial Conduct.”
However, the court has stripped language mandating education in “fairness and diversity” to count toward the requirement.
“Although we have deleted from rule 2.320(b)(2) the unilluminating and frequently contested term ‘fairness and diversity,’ course content on procedural fairness and nondiscrimination will continue to qualify for ethics credit,” the court said Thursday in an unsigned order.
“And a review of the relevant code provisions shows that civility and equal regard for the legal rights of every person are at the heart of judicial professionalism,” the court added.
Signing the order were Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz and justices Charles Canady, Ricky Polston, John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans, and Renatha Francis. All of them except for Canady and Polston were placed on the court by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The court acted on its own initiative, but the change is fully in harmony with efforts by DeSantis to strip the public schools, colleges, and universities, and also public and private workplaces, of instruction promoting racial and ethnic balance or fairness toward the LGBTQ community.
Justice Jorge Labarga, appointed by former Gov. Charlie Crist, protested the move.
“While I appreciate the majority’s observation that the existing rules should be sufficient to cover appropriate ethics courses on these topics, this unilateral action potentially eliminates vital educational content from our state courts’ judicial education curriculum and does so in a manner inconsistent with this court’s years-long commitment to fairness and diversity education,” Labarga wrote.
“Moreover, it paves the way for a complete dismantling of all fairness and diversity initiatives in the State Courts System. I strenuously dissent.”
He noted that in 2020 the court issued an administrative order targeting “bias that is based on race, gender, ethnicity, age, disability, financial status, or any characteristic that is without legal relevance” in the state courts’ operations. That same order called for “a curriculum for a virtual implicit bias judicial education program,” Labarga added.
A year later, the court ordered development of “curricula for judicial education programs on bias elimination,” Labarga continued.
“Now, inexplicably, and without prior input from relevant parties, a mere one-and-a-half years later, this court sees fit to eliminate an express consideration of fairness and diversity from the continuing judicial education curriculum,” he wrote.
“As stressed by the majority, the canons in the Code of Judicial Conduct do prohibit bias and prejudice in their various forms. However, the purpose of providing express consideration to fairness and diversity education has been to complement the canons, and in the hopes of addressing the extremely complex issue that is discrimination, to educate the judiciary on strategies for recognizing and combatting discrimination. For these reasons, such a decision at this level of institutional gravity is, in my opinion, unwarranted, untimely, and ill-advised.
“I respectfully dissent.”
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