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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

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  • | 6:00 p.m. April 2, 2004
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Coffee Talk (Tampa edition)

Guardianship reform

There is fresh momentum for additional reform of Florida's chronically troubled guardianship system. State lawmakers set up a task force in 2003 to recommend yet another round of changes to how courts supervise those who manage the assets of young or disabled wards.

The task force, chaired by Jed Pittman, Pasco County's circuit court clerk, resumes its second and final year of public hearings this month at Stetson University's law school campus in Gulfport.

During the first year, the task force got an earful from the likes of Susan Sexton, administrative judge for the Hillsborough County circuit court's guardianship, mental health, probate and trust division.

Sexton told the task force last October in Dade City that it is tougher to become a licensed beautician in Florida than it is to be a professional guardian. The Hillsborough judge urged the task force to see to it that the state requires more training and tougher certification for guardians.

Attorneys for guardians are often placed in an ethical dilemma when auditors question expenditures by their clients, says Sexton. The solution would be to allow judges to appoint counsel for the wards when there are conflicts of interest, she says.

Sexton says the public should be better educated about the need for aging citizens to make their wishes known regarding asset disposition. Advanced directives should be established before the elderly become incapacitated so there are fewer misunderstandings and less potential for financial exploitation while they're alive.

State legislators are sending mixed signals about their concern for guardianship issues. While creating the task force, the House and the Senate have yet to fund a grant program for next year that would help public guardians look after indigent wards, according to Michelle R. Hollister, executive director of the Statewide Public Guardianship Office.

The need for guardianships will only increase with Florida's growing elderly population and its longer life expectancies. The number of Alzheimer's cases alone in the Sunshine State is projected to almost double by 2015.

Karl, Retire? Right

We should have known better. Fred Karl has no intention of retiring, now that he's vacating the job as Tampa city attorney.

"I'm gong to do some consulting work here in Tampa," says the former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, though he'll only say it's legal consulting work. "I'm hoping to stay involved in the city's new ethics ordinance. I helped to get that set up. It's a nonpaying job. I don't have a hobby, so I want to do something when this job is over."

Karl did say one thing for certain: "I'm not going into a law firm; that's for sure."

In the meantime, Karl is looking forward to his 80th birthday - May 14. His family plans a celebration the day after in Sarasota, where they're renting condominium space. He is especially looking forward to seeing his grandchildren. All but one of the 15 is expected to attend.

Battle continues

Tampa attorney D. Russell Stahl won a battle in what is about to become a major conflict with the city of Tampa. A 13th Circuit jury recently awarded his client, Ramiro Companioni Jr., $18 million for injuries he suffered in 1996 when a city-owned pickup truck pulled out in front of his motorcycle.

Bill Terry, special counsel to the city, will seek a court order to reduce the award, says retiring City Attorney Fred Karl. If unsuccessful, Karl says, the city will appeal the verdict to the 2nd District Court of Appeal.

That threat doesn't faze Stahl, however. He is familiar with the appellate process. He just recently settled a long-running civil dispute between a client and Allstate Insurance Co., which involved a stop at the 2nd DCA and oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court (Flores v. Allstate, Case No. 0028-2281).

Even if he prevails through the appellate process, Stahl still faces the challenge of finding a state legislator to sponsor a claims bill on his client's behalf. Because of sovereign immunity laws, Stahl must get legislative approval for any claim that exceeds $100,000.

Revolving door

An Internet site sponsored by the bail bond industry is taking state judges in Manatee, Sarasota, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach to task for releasing criminal defendants without bail. (Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties are among those listed as "compliant.")

The group, calling itself the Concerned Citizens for Pre-Trial Compliance, operates the Web site called

Problem: "Judges in our society have become ideologs (sic), they want to make laws instead of interpreting them."

Solution: "Judges are accountable to the people who elected them, if they are not then it is the taxpayers moral duty to remember them at the ballot box."

Wrong place

The chief judge of the 2nd District Court of Appeal has taken pity on a beleaguered receptionist at the court's new Tampa home.

Over the winter, the appeals court moved its Tampa operations from a downtown courthouse to the Stetson University College of Law's satellite campus, which recently opened a mile or so north of downtown along the Hillsborough River. The unconventional location of a court inside an academic building has presented a problem.

Litigants are trying to leave paperwork with the Stetson receptionist downstairs in the lobby of the beautiful Mediterranean-style structure. The DCA has no clerk's personnel from its Lakeland headquarters stationed in Tampa. The court's Web site requests all documents to be filed in Lakeland.

But that hasn't stopped a few litigants, mostly of the pro se variety, from insisting on their right to drop off their motions where they'll be arguing their case. The DCA judges use a Stetson courtroom for law students to hear appeals in Tampa.

The harassment of the receptionist has compelled Chief Judge Chris W. Altenbernd to issue his first administrative order of 2004. It reads, in part: "Any documents that are left at the Stetson reception desk will not be docketed or filed in any court file of the Second District Court of Appeal."

Clear enough?


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