ORLANDO – The key message in a seminar presented by the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) at the Florida Bar’s June convention was that women should “never give up,” according to FAWL President Leora Freire, who put together a course and panel focused on helping women make their way through the judicial nomination process. 

FAWL’s presentation “Road to the Bench: Getting On, and Through, the JNC” was presented on June 16 at the Florida Bar event.

Women in law was one point of focus throughout the conference following a Florida Bar study highlighting discrimination and other difficulties for female lawyers. The convention also included a showcase presented by the Young Lawyers Division’s Commission on Women on advancing women in the legal profession.

“Keep trying; keep applying because Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) panels change, the pool of applicants change, governors change, and your experiences change over time as well,” Freire told the Florida Record. “All of those factors play a role, and all of them change at different times.”

Freire said FAWL’s portion of the conference also covered the steps involved in the judicial nomination process.

“Other than the overarching message to keep trying, there was the obvious advice about making sure your application is completed fully and properly, how to handle some difficult questions, how to select your references, and general advice about the process,” Freire said.

The conference came while Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was facing public scrutiny in connection with her ties to presidential candidate Donald Trump and her recent interview with Anderson Cooper of CNN following the shooting at an Orlando nightclub.

The controversy surrounding Bondi’s ties to Trump stems from reports that she accepted a contribution from Trump for her personal re-election campaign while her office was considering whether to participate in an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University. A Trump family foundation reportedly contributed $25,000 to Bondi’s re-election efforts in September 2013. After the check from the Trump foundation was received, the Florida attorney general’s office decided not to take part in the Trump University investigation. The contribution also allegedly breaks rules related to political contributions from charities.

In an interview with Cooper following the Orlando nightclub shootings, Cooper questioned Bondi on statements made in court in 2014 that if Florida recognized same-sex marriages performed in other states, that recognition would “impose significant public harm” to Florida residents. Bondi told Cooper in the interview that she never said she did not like homosexuals, and that her previous comments only reflected her desire to abide by the state’s constitution.

While Freire declined to comment on Bondi, the specific incidents surrounding the public outcry and how they relate to the need for or challenges related to a greater female presence in the law, she did say “FAWL’s mission is to seek gender equality, which includes equality on the bench and in the profession as a whole.”

“We need to have the same opportunities made available to women and men, which would allow women to elevate within their organizations at the same pace as men,” Freire said. “The numbers show we are simply not there yet. We still have work to do.”

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