Honoring the life and legacy of one of the titans of the personal injury profession. This article features a distinguished attorney who has been nominated by the FJA Young Lawyers Section Board. The YLS Board Members submit specific questions for each Titan to answer.
Enjoy this Q&A with FJA Deputy Executive Director and General Counsel, Paul Jess.
Q. What is the most important thing you focus on in your cases?
A. My “cases” are legislative issues. The most important thing to focus on is political reality. If we are trying to pass legislation, is there a path with the leadership of the House and Senate to realistically think it can be done? What amendments might we have to accept to get a bill passed and would it be worth passing it with those amendments? If we are trying to defeat legislation, where are the choke points where it might be killed? Focus on lobbying the legislators who control those choke points. If it looks like bad legislation will pass, can we get it amended to eliminate or, at least, mitigate the damage? Finally, once the above analysis is complete, work the legislators who can make it happen – and keep working them until sine die.
Q. What are your top 3 professional goals in the next year?
(1.) To be an effective part of the team that creates an improved Workers’ Compensation system in Florida.
(2.) To be an effective part of the team that has a positive influence on the 2018 Florida Constitutional Revision Commission.
(3.) To be an effective part of the team that makes huge improvements in contributions/bequests to the FJA Research and Education Foundation Endowment.
Q. If you weren’t a lawyer, you would be ____?
A. I was an intelligence officer on active duty in the U. S. Navy before going to law school. I came very close to remaining in the Navy on active duty rather than becoming a reservist and going to law school. If I had done that, I would have probably gone to the Naval Post-Graduate School for a Masters and/or Doctorate in Intelligence and remained a professional intelligence officer for a career.
Q. What is the most important professional principle you live by?
A. As a lawyer and a lobbyist I think it is most important to maintain credibility and integrity, especially in a legislative/political process that is full of liars and frauds.
Q. Who do you look up to?
A. I look up to people like the Fellows of the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers. I have too many friends and mentors who are Fellows, but just as examples, lawyers like Sammy Cacciatore, Howard Coker, Wayne Hogan, John Romano, Neal Roth, Chris Searcy, Dick Slawson and Steve Yerrid.
Q. How do you stay abreast of last minute amendments to bills that may be detrimental to our clients?
A. This used to be very difficult twenty years ago. Floor amendments in the last two weeks of the Session would often be adopted on bills before any lobbyist had a chance to see them. If a bad amendment got on a bill in the House, you had to run over to the Senate and try to get a senator to try to strip it off when the House bill came up on the floor of the Senate.
Today, it is much easier. Anyone can go online and view amendments soon after they are first filed. Plus there is a program, Lobbytools, which helps you keep track of important bills and notifies you when amendments are filed on them. The FJA has a lawyer on staff, Don Freeman, whose main job during session is reading amendments as soon as they are filed and alerting the rest of the legislative staff if there is a problem. Deputy General Counsel, G.C. Murray and I are backup readers for Don.
Q. How concerned should we be about the impending constitutional revision commission and what negative impact it could have on FJA members and their clients?
A. We should be very concerned about the 2018 Constitutional Revision Commission. It could not only put damaging “tort reform” on the ballot to become part of our Florida Constitution, but it could also put “court reform” on the ballot. For example, remember that just a few years ago we saw proposals in the Florida House of Representatives to split the Florida Supreme Court in two (a separate court for criminal and civil cases).
Q. What, if anything, can we do to minimize the potential damage?
A. We will need to lobby the commissioners. We will also need to be prepared to mount a campaign to defeat any bad proposals at the polls.
Q. If we encounter issues that could possibly be addressed legislatively, how do we bring them to your attention – and would you consider any suggestions for potential proactive legislative issues?
The best way to bring legislative issues to the FJA is to contact Jeff Porter, our Legislative and Political Director, or Lynn McCartney, our Assistant Legislative Director. Yes, we consider all FJA member suggestions for proactive legislation. Proposals are sent to one of our FJA legislative committees, and, if approved there, to the FJA Board of Directors.
Q. When you were a young lawyer, what was the biggest threat facing your clients/your practice and how was that threat dealt with?
A. When I first came to the FJA (then the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers) it was during the 1988 campaign against “Amendment 10.” Amendment 10 would have capped non-economic damages at $100,000 in ALL cases. If that amendment had passed seriously injured clients would not have been able to get justice.
We fought back with outstanding TV commercials including messaging casting it as a proposal to benefit polluters, drunk drivers, and criminals. We raised $10 million to broadcast those commercials.
When I left the Akerman law firm to come work for the Academy, I made then Executive Director, Scott Carruthers, promise that if we lost the election, he would keep me on the payroll through the rest of the year. Of course, we won the election, and my “temporary” job with the Academy lasted a little longer than I anticipated. (27 years to date).