TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida Conference of Circuit Court Judges is tackling a sensitive subject: should a judge be able to postpone a trial when a pregnant lawyer enters her final trimester?
The Florida Bar's executive committee also is reviewing the issue.
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“The diversity and inclusion committee and the rules of judicial administration committee have been asked to form a special task force to look at the issue of granting extensions in court cases for parental leave. The diversity and inclusion committee passed a resolution saying extensions should be granted unless there are exceptional circumstances, but the rules of judicial administration committee has twice voted to refer the issue to the circuit and county court judicial conferences to be addressed as a policy rather than a rule," Francine Walker, spokesperson for The Florida Bar, told The Florida Record.
Allowing for the postponement means that a trial team can remain in place for the duration of the case, providing the client with a continuation of representation. The potential for postponement also would mean that a firm could not use a pregnant (or even potential pregnant) attorney as a means of excluding female lawyers from a case.
There is concern about the effect such a policy would have in allowing a judge to efficiently maneuver through a case, as well as the effect a postponement would have on the other cases they were overseeing.
While the need for such a leave of absence in regards to childbirth is at the heart of the discussion, not far behind it are similar life-changing events, such as adoption and parental leave.
While this rule continues to be debated, Florida's judges are using personal discretion to postpone or keep moving cases forward when presented with a pregnant attorney.
“It’s hard to make a decision right now, because we don’t know exactly what the rule will cover,"
Leora B. Freire, president of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FAWL) told The Florida Record. "There have been various discussions of how it would affect larger firms, smaller firms, men and women."
Freire said the uncertainty has put organizations such as FAWL in limbo.
“FAWL has not yet officially taken a position (on the rule), because it did not come directly out of committee, so we need to wait and see what happens in order to make a decision on what to recommend to our members," she said.