The Florida Bar News: Pettis to lead the Bar (12-20-2011)

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Ft. Lauderdale attorney Eugene K. Pettis has become The Florida Bar’s president-elect designate and will be the first African-American in Bar history to hold the top job. No other candidates came forward to challenge Pettis in this year’s Bar elections.

Eugene K. Pettis Pettis, who has served on the Bar Board of Governors since 2005, will be sworn in as president-elect at the Bar’s Annual Convention in June 2012, when Tampa’s Gwynne Alice Young will be sworn in as president. He will take the oath as Bar president in June 2013.

“Our Creed of Professionalism states: ‘I will further my profession’s devotion to public service and to the public good.’ I can’t think of a better way to fulfill our creed than to serve The Florida Bar,” Pettis said when his election became official. “The reach of the Bar and its members’ contributions to public good is unparalleled. Through my travels across the state, I have seen hundreds of lawyers who are using their skills in service to their communities. These observations have ignited in me even greater pride in our Bar.”

A founding partner of Haliczer Pettis & Schwamm, Pettis is a trial attorney who has been practicing law since 1985.

In 2005, he was elected to the Board of Governors 17th Judicial Circuit. He currently serves on the Executive Committee of the Board of Governors and co-chairs The Hawkins Commission, which is performing a comprehensive review of the discipline system of The Florida Bar.

For three years, Pettis chaired the Bar’s committee (recently renamed the Constitutional Judiciary Committee) that fights to preserve the independence of Florida’s judiciary and led the committee as it launched its Benchmarks program for attorneys to teach civics education to adults. He remains committed to making sure Florida’s courts receive the funding they need to function effectively — and named that as one of his top three presidential goals.

“First, I will continue the advancement of identifying a long-term, predictable source of court funding so that every Floridian will be assured access to our courts,” Pettis said. “We must also appreciate that an effective judicial system also includes well-funded court clerks, state attorneys’ offices, and public defenders, which all contribute to our quality of life and democracy.”

At a time of falling revenues for state government, he acknowledged that can be a special challenge.

“So our challenge is to make it clear that sufficient funding for our court system is not an option, but is essential,” Pettis said.

Beyond court funding, “I hope to elevate the efforts of the Bar in achieving true diversity and inclusion within our profession,” Pettis said.

“We have all been engaged in the dialog of diversity over the past decade. Most agree that diversity is good. However, there is much debate whether our dialog has translated into real, measurable changes. The Florida Bar has made diversity and inclusion an objective in its strategic plan. I will work at every level of the Bar — through sections, voluntary bars, standing committees, and the governor’s office — on JNC and judicial appointments to achieve inclusion of all sectors of our profession. I truly believe the strength of the Bar rests in the whole; together, there is benefit for us all.”

Another goal is to address “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. The Florida Bar, through The Florida Bar Foundation, must meet the call in the coming years.”

The Bar must also help its members, particularly its newest members who face the challenge of joining a rapidly growing profession at a time the economy is restricting employment opportunities.

“We must also recognize, as the Bar continues to grow by nearly 3,000 lawyers each year, currently at 93,008 lawyers, job opportunities are scarce,” Pettis said. “Therefore, many individuals are simply hanging up their shingles in solo practices. We need to make sure that we are providing better outreach to members and mentorship opportunities. We must make sure there is an effective transition into the practice.”

Pettis said being the first African-American Bar president demonstrates both the importance of diversity and that barriers are disappearing.

“A key factor to success is believing, and we most believe that which we see,” he said. “So the fact that I will become the first African-American president of The Florida Bar will be symbolic proof that we as a profession have come a long way toward true inclusion for all. I am certainly not the first person of color that has been qualified to serve, but many of the obstacles of yesterday are gone, and we recognize there is strength in one Bar; representative of all sectors of our profession and communities.”

A graduate of the University of Florida in 1982 with a B.A., he went on to get his law degree at UF in 1985. Currently, he is on the board of trustees at the university’s Levin School of Law and serves on several university advisory committees.

In addition to his admission to The Florida Bar, Pettis is also admitted to the Federal Bar for the Southern District of Florida, Northern District of Florida, and Middle District of Florida.

Pettis has extensive trial experience in the areas of medical malpractice, personal injury, employment law, professional liability, and commercial litigation. He also represents clients in administrative hearings and other alternative dispute resolution forums.

In 2009, he was honored and admitted by The Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, an academy recognizing lawyers who are regarded by their peers as leaders in the community who have contributed significantly to the legal profession.