News Briefs: Spring 2010

UF Trial Team wins Florida Bar competition

The University if Florida Levine College of Law Trial Team won first place — which amounts to the state championship — at the highly competitive Florida Bar Chester Bedell Memorial Mock Trial Competition Jan. 20-21 in Orlando. This marks the sixth time UF Law has won the prestigious competition.

Members of the winning team include Dana DiSano (awarded Best Advocate), Dan Hogan, Kevin Sharbaugh and Melissa Welch. Also competing from the team were Wayne Atkinson, Allison Kirkwood, Jamie Stephens and Kara Wick. Others integral to the team’s success were James Baley, Rhett Parker, Tania Alvavi and Nick Zissimopulos.

“This truly was a team effort. Since late October, we spent nearly every free moment preparing for this competition,” DiSano said. “we all appreciate the dedication of our two coaches, Nick Zissimopulos and Tania Alavi, who spent countless hours helping us improve our advocacy skills in the months leading up to this competition.”

UF Law again ranked as Florida’s only top tier law school

U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s top graduate schools released in April once again place the University of Florida Levin College of Law as Florida’s only top tier law school. UF Law is 47th overall, and 24th among all public law schools. Its Graduate Tax Program is third overall, and continues to rank first among publics. Its Environmental Law Program is tied for seventh among public universirties and 16th overall.

Peer and lawyer/ judge assessment scores place UF Law in the top 40 on both counts: 38th overall and 17th among publics in peer assessment, and 39th overall and 18th among publics in lawyer/judge assessment. Assessment scores are oten regarded as the most accurate rankings categories, since they do not rely on self-reported financial and placement data that may be subject to manipulation and are unverifiable.

“Compared to last year, the college rose in both assessment scores and our internal calculations showed improvement in every category but one covered by the U.S. News ranking formula,” said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. “I emphasize, however, that any improvements are due to out ongoing efforts to become an even better law school, and not in response to external rankings.”

“I reiterate each year my concerns about the validity of rankings, but I have also always said we ignore them at our peril,” Jerry said. “I am pleased that the U.S. News ranking reflects our longstanding status at the state’s premier law school.”

The University of Florida Levin College of Law was also ranked first in Florida, eighth overall and fourth among public schools by Super Lawyers in 2009 in the first natuional ranking of law schools to consider “output,” i.e. the caliber of a school’s graduates.

“Our school has been preparing its graduates for significant leadership roles for more than 100 years,” Jerry said. “Out 18,000-plus alumni include numerous leaders in law, business, government, public
service and education at the state and national level. No other law school has produced as many presidents of the American Bar Association in the past four decades — five including
2010-11 President Steve Zack.”

UF Law graduates also are represented by the majority of The Florida Bar presidents, including its immediate past president, John G. White III, and president-elect, Mayanne Downs; four governors of Florida; and hundreds of state senators and representatives and Florida Cabinet members. Nine graduates became college presidents, including at UF. More than a dozen have served as deans of law schools. It ranks fourth among public law schools in 2010 (eighth overall) in the number of its graduates serving as federal district and circuit court judges; more than 250 graduates serve as state appellate and trial judges in Florida, and many serve in those roles in other states as well.

The school also boasts an impressive list of distinguished visitors to campus, including five U. S. Supreme Court justices in the last five years. A series of major renovation and new construction projects in recent years has transformed the college’s physical space and placed it at the forefront of major law schools providing students with state-of-the-art facilities.

A $25 million expansion and renovation project that concluded in 2005 made the UF Law library the largest in the Southeast and among the top 20 in the country, and added two “towers” with state of-the-art classroom space. The first phase of construction on the 20,000 square-foot Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center was completed in time to host the October 2009 oral arguments for the First District Court of Appeal. The facility houses a fully functional trial and appellate courtroom with a 100-seat gallery, bench for seven judges, judge’s chambers, jury box, deliberation room and attorney’s tables. Construction on the second floor is expected to begin in fall 2010, with completion expected in spring 2011.

*The top tier has traditionally been defined as the top 50, second tier 51-100, and so on. This year, on the U.S. News website, the two top tiers are listed together as the top 100, and “Tier 3” begins with 101. — Debra Amirin

UF Law school first to open all-inclusive domestic violence clinic

By Scott Emerson

A $449,785 U.S. Department of Justice grant to the University of Florida Levin College of Law will fund a unique collaborative effort to assist low-income domestic violence victims with comprehensive legal, medical, mental and social services in one location.

The new Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic is a partnership between the UF College of Law Center on Children and Families and Virgil D. Hawkins Civil Legal Clinics, UF’s College of Medicine, Shands HealthCare, and Gainesville’s nonprofit Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network. The innovative clinic will be staffed by UF law students certified to work with survivors of domestic violence and by social and mental health workers from Shands at the University of Florida and Peaceful Paths. The clinic, which opened in May, will be located in the obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics clinic at Shands at UF in Gainesville. The location was chosen due to the number of abuse victims treated in the clinics.

“Currently, those experiencing domestic violence may have to set up several appointments to seek help through numerous providers, which can be very diffi cult for these victims,” said Teresa Drake, director of the clinic, a nationally recognized educator on domestic violence and a former assistant state attorney with the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Florida where she served as division chief for the domestic violence unit. “The staff at the clinic will conduct comprehensive needs assessments to determine what services are required and guide them through each process. The services provided by the clinic will include medical treatment, mental health and housing counseling, and legal consultations regarding protective injunctions, child support and court proceedings.”

Florida Bar President Jesse H. Diner visits UF Law

UF Law students were offered a rare glimpse into their own futures as members of The Florida Bar during the Feb. 23 visit of Jesse H. Diner, president of The Florida Bar. In what has become an annual event at UF Law — which has hosted three Bar presidents in as many years — Diner, who was accompanied by Alvin Alsobrook, a member of The Florida Bar Board of Governors, spoke eloquently on the Bar’s efforts in support of the state’s legal practitioners.

In the intimate setting of a small classroom, about 25 students enjoyed Diner’s brief presentation followed by a 40-minute question and answer session. Diner, a shareholder of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., firm Atkinson, Diner, Stone, Mankuta & Ploucha, P.A., spoke on a variety of subjects, but lingered on the Florida Legislature’s responsibility to properly fund the state’s judicial system.

“Court funding is a new and extremely important initiative of The Florida Bar. The state’s judicial system is being treated like a state agency,” Diner said. “Everyone recognizes our three-branch system of government and the separation of powers, yet everywhere we turn we run into a brick wall in terms of
funding.”

The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court have been working to raise public and legislative awareness of the negative effects of under-funding on the state’s judicial system, which Diner said suffered a 10 percent cut in funding last year. The reduced funding resulted in layoffs and reduced court services during a time of skyrocketing foreclosure actions, which has restricted citizens’ access to the courts.

“People have a difficult time getting their disputes resolved in a timely manner,” he said. “The courts are absolutely clogged.” Though the dramatic increase in foreclosure filings provided an unexpected boost to the courts’ income through fi ling fees, Diner said he expects the legislature to raid that money from the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund to pay for other state budget items that are not related to the judiciary — even as the courts remain overwhelmed and courthouse buildings and paper-based filing systems grow more archaic.

During the Q&A session, one law student asked what responsibility the Bar has in assisting its members in job searches, especially as it applies to young lawyers.

“I think it is The Florida Bar’s responsibility to help young lawyers find jobs whenever and wherever,” Diner said. “The Bar’s Career Center website to help young lawyers connect with employers debuted in October, and we offer discounted business services as member benefi ts. … I remember when I graduated from law school, how hard it was to get that fi rst job, and you feel, ‘If I could just get that first interview, I could get that job.’ ”

Once young lawyers have that first job, Diner recommends they go the distance to prepare for every case, to put themselves into the shoes of their opponents to understand every angle and every argument that could be used against them. During his 37 years of practice, he said he’s never found a short cut for preparation.

“Don’t ever become satisfied with being good. Don’t ever stop digging deeper to be better,” he said. “When they tell you the law is a jealous mistress, they’re not kidding.”

—Lindy McCollum-Brounley

The promises, pitfalls & perils of social media

Social media is fun, free and easy, and more people each day use it for business as well as for pleasure. But what are the liabilities and legal pitfalls of using Facebook, Twitter and other social media? Are there special concerns related to client confidentiality or public institutions operating under the Sunshine Law? The Levin College of Law and University of Florida Strategic Communications Planning Committee presented a seminar on the safe and effective use of social media on Jan. 22 in the Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom.

The seminar is available as a free webcast at http://strategiccommunications.law.ufl .edu/, and includes presentations from Jon L. Mills, director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, professor of law, and UF Law dean emeritus, who provided an overview of the inherent conflict between social media and information disclosure in public institutions; Stephen C. O’Connell Chair and Professor of Law Lyrissa Lidsky, who spoke on laws and topics related to the Internet and social media, libel, public forums, free speech and academic freedom; UF Chief Privacy Officer Susan Blair, who spoke on confidentiality, and offered case studies, recent developments, and resources; UF Associate Vice President and First Deputy General Counsel Barbara Wingo, who provided an overview of social media legal and policy considerations specifi c to UF, including public records, Sunshine Law, Acceptable Use Policy, and student disciplinary issues; UF Human Resource Services Vice President Paula Fussell, who reviewed employment-related issues; and, University Relations Vice President Jane Adams, who spoke on the networking power and potential of social media.

Center for Governmental Responsibility fellows make a difference with public service

The Center for Governmental Responsibility Public Interest Law Fellowship program is a cooperative effort between The Florida Bar Foundation and the center, which began in the mid-1980s and provides low-income and indigent citizens with valuable legal assistance. The fellowships are financed by the foundation from Interest on Trust Accounts (IOTA) and more than $700,000 has been provided to help pay for the practical legal education of selected third year law students. Students, supervised by licensed attorneys, gain hands-on experience as advocates for the poor and serve non-profit and government agencies such as Florida Institutional Legal Services, Southern Legal Counsel, Three Rivers Legal Services, the State’s Guardian adLitem program and the Eighth Circuit public defender’s office. Included as part of the students’ nine-month commitment are projects to promote to the law school and greater community awareness of poverty issues and public interest, and a required course in poverty law. Visit www.law.ufl.edu/uflaw to read The Florida Bar Foundation Public Interest Law Fellows’ articles to learn more about their experiences.

Moring and Aronovitz previal in Maguire Appellate Advocacy Competition

Florida Moot Court Team members David Hughes, C. Andrew Roy, Philip Moring, and Cary Aronovitz (supported by alternates Kevin Combest and Shelly Garg) argued before a panel of fi ve retired chief justices of the Florida Supreme Court in the 26th Annual Maguire Appellate Advocacy Competition held in the UF Law Martin H. Levin Advocacy Center on March 5.

The distinguished panel of retired chief justices, all of whom are UF Law alumni, included the Hon. Harry Lee Anstead (JD 63), Hon. Stephen H. Grimes (JD 78), Hon. Parker Lee McDonald (JD 50), Hon. Ben F. Overton (JD 67), and Hon. Charles T. Wells (JD 64).

“Today, we recognize not only the great legal minds that comprise this distinguished panel of judges, but also their strong ethic and unwavering professionalism,” said Rob Davis, president of the Florida Moot Court Team, after welcoming the guests to the competition. “As we embark on our legal careers, these are traits that all of us, I am confident, will emulate with pride.”

The purpose of the Maguire competition is to provide competitors with useful critiques regarding their oral arguments before going on to compete against other moot court teams from across the nation in the American Bar Association’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition.

Together, Moring and Aronovitz won the competition for the respondent. Justice Overton announced the winners and also gave Moring the award for Best Oralist. Justice Anstead followed by congratulating the competitors.

— Jessica Miles (3L)

SALSA and HLLSA merge to form new Latino/a Law School Association

UF Law’s two Hispanic organizations, the Hispanic Latino/a Law Student Association and the Spanish American Law Student Association, have merged to create a new organization named the Latino/a Law School Association (LLSA). The new executive board, along with faculty advisor Professor Berta Hernandez-Truyol, hope the result will be a stronger organization with the purpose of reaching out to and including all Latino/a law students. “I am very excited about the merger and want to offer our members a great first year by providing them with the opportunity to attend academic events, participate in community service, and socials where they can have fun in a friendly, relaxing environment,” said President Carmen Tankersley. The executive board includes, from left: Gabriel Alonso, treasurer; Carmen Tankersley, president; Benjamin Goodman, vice president; and, Mirelis Torres, secretary.

UF Law Students attend ADR conference in Washington, D.C.

During spring break in March, five UF Law Gators for Alternative Dispute Resolution (GADR) members represented the University of Florida at the Mediators Beyond Borders Third Annual Congress in Washington, D.C. Attendees were Zarra Elias (3L, senior president), Chase Wiley (2L, vice president), Alison Wender (1L), Michael Kelley (1L), and Rachel Loeve (exchange student from the Netherlands).

The theme of the annual conference was, “Preparing to Serve,” and its main purpose was to bring the leaders and members of the organization together to exchange ideas and learn various skills to promote and spread various conflict resolution programs and initiatives. More than 140 members from all over the world attended the conference, including renowned author Bernard Mayer,United States Ambassador John W. McDonald and President Jamil Mahuad, president of Ecuador from 1998-2000. Attendees also included student representatives from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, University of Winnipeg Faculty of Law in Canada, and University of Maryland School of Law. The five law school representatives from GADR proudly representedUF Law at the conference. The students learned practical mediation skills from professionals as well as various ways for students to participate in mediation missions in local and foreign communities.

—Chase Wiley (2L)

Congratulations to the UF Jessup International Moot Court Team

In February, the Jessup team competed in the 51st Annual Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, the world’s largest moot court competition with participants from more than 500 law schools in more than 80 countries.The Jessup team placed sixth out of 24 teams competing in the U.S. Southeast Super Regional round, reaching the quarterfi nals for the first time in school history. The participants were 2Ls Matthew Kozyra, Jason Taylor, Steven Blickensderfer, Lindsey Franco, and Jennifer Shepard. The team also took home the title of fifth best brief out of the 24 teams that competed. Individually, Steven Blickensderfer was named 15th best oralist out of all individual oralists at the Southeast Super Regional round. UF Jessup competes annually in the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, which focuses on public international law and humanitarian law.

UF Law names professor and student of the year

by Ian Fisher (3L)

When Rob Davis learned he was going to argue in front of Chief Justice John Roberts last year he said he was surprised and thought someone was pranking him. He was surprised again this semester when he was named student of the year by the John Marshall Bar Assocation, or JMBA.

“There were five people who were finalists and they’re great people, so that’s a question I had. Why me?” Davis said. “But it’s certainly an honor.”

Davis won student of the year while Professor Lee-ford Tritt won professor of the year for the second consecutive year.

“I’m very humbled by the honor of being named professor of the year,” Tritt said. “And I feel so unworthy of this recognition when I reflect upon the great depth of wonderful professors that the law school is blessed to have. My colleagues daily inspire me and guide me. In reality, the students are prepared and trained so well by the professors who teach first year courses that teaching 2Ls and 3Ls is an effortless pleasure.”

Davis, who will work at Holland & Knight in Orlando after graduation, had a great experience at UF Law and congratulated the fi nalists for student of the year: Clay Carlton, Jon Philipson, Jennifer White and James Tyger. The highlight of law school for him was arguing in front of Chief Justice Roberts for the Moot Court Final Four.

Tritt, who taught Estates and Trusts, Estate Planning and Fiduciary Administration this year, thanked his students for pushing him to improve, but said he knows there is still more room for improvement. “There is really nothing more important to me than striving to be a good teacher,” Tritt said. “This award means that I will continue to strive to be a better teacher so that I can be worthy of this honor.”