By Daniel A. Bushell
Did you know that our District Court of Appeal judges almost unanimously prefer the iPhone over Android and Blackberry devices? Or that they have considerable disagreements over the ethics of online social media use? You would if you had accepted the invitation to participate in the Florida Conference of District Court Judges’ Annual Education Program held September 9-11, 2012 in Amelia Island. You also would have been made privy to many other nuggets of information —substantive, trivial, or otherwise — and given unparalleled opportunities to spend time with and learn from appellate judges and lawyers from across the state.
Granted, it wasn’t easy to get to there. Amelia Island is far from almost anywhere — at least anywhere appellate lawyers live and practice law. Mid-September is, of course, the busiest time of year for most appellate lawyers. But as the saying goes, according to the effort is the reward, and this program was no exception.
Soon after arriving, judges and attorneys were invited to unwind after a day on the road at a Welcome Reception sponsored by the Appellate Practice Section. As would prove to be true throughout the program, the mood at the reception was casual, and Section members were able to interact informally with appellate judges and practitioners from throughout the state. The dress code was also casual (“resort casual” to be precise), but judicial glosses on that term varied greatly, with some attendees wearing jeans and others wearing sport coats.
It was down to business (casual) first thing Monday morning. Seminar topics included same-sex marriage litigation and the resulting public/political back-lash; litigation over prison overcrowding in California; and the use of military tribunals to try Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The afternoon was dedicated to technology: a South Dakota Supreme Court Justice led a discussion on the ethical issues raised by new technologies and online communication, and an exploration of how brief-writing might (and perhaps should) evolve to make them easier to read on tablets and other “screens” in an age when paper is becoming passé. Attorneys’ participation in the educational program concluded Tuesday morning with an interactive presentation on the surprising role of judicial reinterpretation of existing statutes in furthering Nazi policies in 1930s Germany and implications for judges today looking to avoid repeating mistakes of the past.
Although the presenters were interesting, the judges’ questions, comments, and critiques afterwards offered even more insight for appellate lawyers. And downtimes were equally valuable. Officially, the program included a Section member lunch with our Supreme Court justices. But there were many other networking opportunities, such as Monday night, when many judges and lawyers took advantage of a break to enjoy one of Amelia Island’s many outdoor activities, restaurants, and entertainment spots.
So if you didn’t make it to the program, you missed out. But don’t despair. There’s always next year’s program, which may be easier to get to. Even if it’s not, the networking, educational, and recreational opportunities offered at this program will be well worth the trip.