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Nancy Smith

Florida Supremes Closer to Diana Ross Than Justice Harry Lee Anstead

March 6, 2014 - 6:00pm

If anyone finds the Florida Supreme Court's spine lying around, please give me a call. I'm too busy myself looking for the justices' sense of decency.

And please don't anyone tell me, as Justice Jorge Labarga did, that Jose Godinez-Samperio is a matter for the Florida Legislature.

I had to read Thursday's Supreme Court decision three times because I didn't believe all seven justices would deny this young man a license to practice law in Florida for no other reason than he's an illegal immigrant, brought to this country from Mexico at the age of 9.

What are we doing here, people?

Why do we still debate legalizing the status of people who are here not of their own accord, who are American in every way except on paper, and who have demonstrated they will be productive members of society? For heaven's sake, when his parents brought him into this country,Godinez-Samperio was in the fourth-grade.

And hedid everything right, too -- excelled in high school, excelled in law school, passed the Bar, volunteered for all sorts of public service, you name it. There isn't a blemish on his record. In fact, so impeccable is his character that no less than Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, who taught him at Florida State University, put his life aside temporarily to represent him.

D'Alemberte isn't Joe-Schmo-the-rag-man-lawyer.He is a lawyer, a professor, a former politician, former educational administrator, former president of the American Bar Association, and former president of the Florida State University. He is perhaps the pre-eminent legal statesman in Florida today.

Besides pitching to the Supreme Court twice on Godinez-Samperio's behalf, in July 2013 D'Alemberte filed a petition signed by 114 lawyers. In the petitionD'Alemberte argues there's no basis in Bar rules to deny Godinez-Samperio admission, because no valid rule has ever been adopted by the Supreme Court requiring proof of immigration status.

All back to the Supremes again, right? Well, maybe.

The Bar's governors have said they "support the concept" in D'Alemberte's petition but the Supremes should get a little input from the Board of Bar Examiners.

Everybody passes the buck in High Court world.

The Supremes passed the buck to the Legislature on Thursday. But how does a law enacted in a state legislature overrule a law enacted in Washington?

And the petition is still pending -- no action on that. Why didn't justices decide on that Thursday? Maybe they think this is a TV reality show and they're scripting a cliffhanger.

The petition is sound as an iron hull, by the way. Itincludes the signatures of three former Supreme Court justices, two former appellate judges, former Gov. Buddy MacKay, two former American Bar Association presidents including D'Alemberte, and five former Florida Bar presidents.

The fact is, none of the justices wants to take on the federal government when, really, this is the perfect time to do it. What an opportunity it might have been. It's the Supreme Court, not the Legislature, that licenses, disciplines and regulates lawyers. Yet, not a single Supreme is saying,let's man up and tell the world, including the feds, that the judicial branchlicenses Florida lawyers, not the legislative branch, and Florida doesn't care what Eric Holder says about it.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said it well Thursday. I believe todays ruling epitomizes the flaws in our nations broken immigration system and the need for comprehensive immigration reform, she said.

The Legislature will act. House Speaker Will Weatherford's heart is fully engaged with the plight of the Dreamers.

But it comes straight from the mouth of the U.S. Department of Justice: federal law bars undocumented immigrants from getting professional licenses.

Everybody is waiting for the feds to get off their hands. This would have been the time for the Florida Supreme Court to call Holder's bluff.

By the way, California just did. On Dec. 31, 2013, the California Supreme Court granted a law license to Sergio Garcia, an undocumented immigrant, allowing him to practice law in his adopted state. Garcia was brought into the country at 17 months old.

Though the court's opinion wasn't so clear on how Garcia can use his license, the fact is this: The California Supremes did the right thing, the Florida Supremes are singing "You Can't Hurry Love."

In a note to his petition signers Thursday afternoon, D'Alemberte said this: "Obviously, today's opinion is very disappointing. Nevertheless, Jose is handling it with equanimity and remains committed to his dream of becoming a lawyer. We are working with him on next steps, including the possibility of action in the Florida Legislature."

This brings me to my last point -- the Florida Supreme Court's shabby treatment of Jose Godinez-Samperio since 2011 when he passed the Bar. With the exception of Labarga, who relates to allGodinez-Samperio has overcome to get to where he is today, these Supremes make me yearn for the legend among Florida chief justices, Harry Lee Anstead.

Anstead was appointed by Gov. Lawton Chiles. He served the high court from 1994-2009. But the thing I want you to know about him is, he had a thing about the mounting lack of professionalism he observed in the legal profession and set out to effect a cultural change within the courts.

He is a great man, a great lawyer, and a great gentleman. He was a great judge. He controlled his courtroom. You did not misbehave when he was on the bench,

Judges controlled their courtrooms in those days when law was a profession and not a business. Lawyers controlled their partners and associates because if your word was not your bond and your manners were not decent, the news got around fast, and there were consequences.

When Anstead started the "professionalism movement," a lot of lawyers wondered what the hell was going on with the law schools and the Board of Bar Examiners and ultimately, with the Supreme Court.

Why were all these people who didn't get the behavioral basics when they were in pigtails and knee pants allowed into a line of work that, to a large extent, makes the rules that everyone has to live by?

Why do creeps, crooks and cretins with briefcases need to be spoon-fed and schooled on the subject of basic respect and decency as if they were sixth-graders learning the box-step and which fork to use at cotillion.

Harry Lee Anstead and all he did to call our attention to "best practice practices" comes flooding back. I wonder what he thinks of the weak stomach and lack of decency -- call it a lack of professionalism -- among today's justices.

Now that the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has told Godinez-Samperio, an exemplary scholar and human being, that he can't practice law, maybe he can be a victims' advocate for the legions of Floridians who have suffered financially and emotionally at the hands of bullies and bloviators with Bar cards. I'll bet that would make Justice Anstead all warm inside.

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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