After more than 20 years of involvement with The Florida Bar Foundation, it is my privilege to serve this year as president, and in particular to serve alongside the Foundation’s new CEO and executive director, Bruce Blackwell.
Those of us who know Bruce immediately understand what a blessing it is to the Foundation and to the cause of justice that he has agreed to lead us into the next era. Those who do not know him soon will. Bruce’s wisdom and acumen, his passion for helping the underserved, and his infectious enthusiasm for doing what is right — and doing it with a smile — are now being applied full-time to the many challenges facing civil legal aid in Florida.
His first order of business was to lead the successful effort to secure a $6 million loan from The Florida Bar to help bridge the gap between the exhaustion of the Foundation’s reserve at the end of this fiscal year and an anticipated rise in interest rates that should begin to restore revenue from Florida’s Interest on Trust Accounts Program in 2016.
We are extremely grateful to The Florida Bar and its members for their support, and we know the loan would not have happened if the Board of Governors did not have full faith and trust in the Foundation not only to repay the loan but also to make the highest possible use of the funds. This will involve increasing access to justice through the use of innovative technology and the training and support of legal aid providers and pro bono attorneys in its use, as well as some changes in the way we structure our grantmaking.
As we move forward, we intend to put a strong emphasis on transparency, communication and inclusion. This will be critical if we are to enjoy the full commitment of our board and all of our stakeholders in helping us advance, in collaboration with The Florida Bar and the Florida Supreme Court, a comprehensive access to justice initiative. We need to speak with a common voice to ensure that everyone hears our message and understands what we are doing and why.
Fairness, equality in the eyes of the law, and a means of legal redress for those whose rights have been denied are more than just values we hold dear. These things are critical to the functioning of our democracy. They provide for a healthier society, a better environment for business, and a better quality of life for everyone, not just the disenfranchised.
With IOTA revenue running at just over 25 percent of what it averaged for the 20 years ending in 2009, we can quite literally no longer afford business as usual. And while nobody likes change but a baby in a wet diaper, change is inevitable. We must embrace it or be left behind as change overtakes us.
Hon. Emerson R. Thompson, Jr.
About Judge Thompson
Senior Judge Emerson R. Thompson Jr. took office as Foundation president July 1. He has been on the Foundation board since 1995 and previously served from 1991 to 1993. Prior to his retirement in 2008, Thompson served as a county, circuit and appellate judge. He was appointed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal in 1993 and was chief judge from 2000 to 2003. Previously, he was a trial judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit, where he was elected chief judge by his colleagues. In 1994, he was one of three finalists whose names were submitted to Gov. Lawton Chiles for appointment to the Florida Supreme Court. Thompson received his law degree from the Florida State University College of Law and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida.