BY BUDDY NEVINS
Eugene Pettis will be sworn in as the new president of the Florida Bar next month.
The Fort Lauderdale lawyer is being acclaimed as the first black leader of the almost 100,000 lawyers in Florida.
Pettis might be a great lawyer.
He is also the lawyer who has defended some of the most odious practices of the Broward School Board.
He defended bureaucrats who fired a whistleblower. He fought parents who claimed their children’s illnesses were caused by air pollution in the schools.
He protects front office flunkies who do wrong and battles teachers and parents who do right.
Perhaps the most outrageous case involved Andrew Greene, a part-time teacher. Greene’s troubles started when he decided to run against incumbent Miriam Oliphant in 1992.
School Board upper-level bureaucrats, seeking to protect Oliphant, leaked “derogatory statements gathered in an earlier disciplinary investigation of him” just a few weeks before the election, according to a court decision. The material included information that Greene sought counseling for psychological problems.
Oliphant won two-to-one.
Greene sued and up stepped Eugene Pettis to defend the School Board.
The suit alleged “negligence and invasion of privacy” by disclosing private information. It claimed – correctly – that the School Board staff released the information in violation of state law.
Greene won $850,000 from a jury.
And what did the School Board do? Pettis appealed the verdict.
The Board lost.
Then Pettis testified before the Florida House stating that paying Greene would damage the school system.
This is taking advocacy to a new level.
What would have happened if the Board bureaucrats didn’t leak the information? Maybe Greene would have won.
Oliphant’s political career would have been over, she would have never become Elections Supervisor. There would have been no botched 2002 election that ended with her removal from office.
That’s not all, of course.
If the documents weren’t leaked, Pettis would not have run up thousands in legal fees that we taxpayers paid to defend political dirty tricks by the School Board staff.
A Sun-Sentinel article in 2000 by my pal Bill Hirschman wrote: “a legislative claims committee that estimated the cost of the original suit at $518,000” for the School Board, not counting any money paid to Greene.
Pettis Admired By Many
Pettis has a lot to recommend him as Bar president.
A trial attorney practicing since 1985, he is very well respected in legal circles. He is dedicated to legal education and pro bono work.
Pettis told the Bar that his goals in the coming year are continuing “the advancement of identifying a long-term, predictable source of court funding so that every Floridian will be assured access to our courts.”
Another goal is “achieving true diversity and inclusion within our profession.”
A third goal is to deal with “one of the devastating consequences of the recent economic downturn — the impact on legal aid organizations,” he continued. “We must recognize an obligation to strive for equal access to an availability of legal services for all Floridians in need.”
All noble ambitions. The achievement of any one of them would be a great testament to Pettis. If anyone can accomplish them, Pettis can.
I know what some of you are thinking:
Pettis is eminently qualified to be the next president of Florida’s Bar.
As for the School Board, it is just another Pettis client. Everything I mentioned is just representation of his client.
I’ve got a different take.
Sometimes a lawyer has to do what’s right, rather than defend a bad case no matter what the facts.
Sometimes a lawyer has to seek justice, rather than fight those seeking justice
It would have been nice if the Bar had picked as its president a modern day Clarence Darrow who defends the constitutional principals of the oppressed. They picked instead the School Board paid courthouse hit man.