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Justice Labarga's speech at the 2016 FCPIO conference

March 18, 2016

Jump to the the Charges to FCPIO Members

 On behalf of the Court, let me thank all of you for attending this very important training program for court public information officers.

I am privileged today to give all of you your official charge under the new statewide Communications Plan approved just this past December by the Court.

As you know, FCPIO is an important part of this plan.

Earlier in this program, you heard about the importance of making sure that the people of Florida routinely see that their state courts are truly achieving justice.

This idea is not new.  It rests on a principle of law that our courts have followed for a very long time.

It usually is phrased this way: “Not only must justice be done; it also must be seen to be done.”

You are the people now charged with the duty to make sure that justice is seen by the people of Florida.

We must make sure that the customers of our court system understand on a daily basis the importance of the Third Branch of government and of the determined efforts we make to achieve justice.

Why is this necessary?

Let me give you just one of many examples.

When the legislative session ended last week, the budgets for the largest single component of our state judiciary – the trial courts – was cut by $2.7 million.

And this cut has occurred as part of a long trend in the legislature to deny much needed funding to the state courts.

Your budgets, your salaries, and your judges’ salaries have remained flat for a decade now.

There are many reasons for this disturbing trend.

But one of the reasons, frankly, is that our courts are not doing the best job we can to communicate to the people about how important our judiciary is.

If you don’t think the legislature listens to the people, think again.

They especially listen to key segments of the public, especially the business community.

I sometimes hear judges say that courts don’t do PR.

That statement was true enough up until the early 1990s.

But we as judges are foolish if we cannot recognize how much the world of communications has changed since the World Wide Web came along in the 1990s.

In the past, we relied on what we now call the Traditional News Media to tell our story to the public.

And that model worked well for a long time.

With so many big cities, Florida had some truly outstanding newspapers that spent a lot of money telling the people about how our courts achieve justice here in our state.

But that world has vanished.

The great newspapers have rapidly lost their readership, their advertisers, and their ability to spend money telling the story of what we do here in the state courts.

The biggest media companies in the world today now are corporations like Google and Facebook, and they are not telling the people of Florida what they need to know about our judiciary.

The bottom line is that we must start telling our own story using every tool at our disposal.

If we do not – If people do not understand and appreciate the many ways we achieve justice – If we do not tell our own story, then you are going to see many more years ahead when the legislature underfunds the courts.

I am not telling you that the solution is an easy one. Far from it.

It will take many years to reverse the current trend.

And even then, we will need to maintain constant vigilance in getting information out to the public.

Let me give you another example.

In 2004, one of my predecessors – Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead – was confronted with implementing a constitutional change called Revision 7.

Revision 7 shifted the burden of funding a large chunk of the local trial courts away from county government budgets and onto the state budget.

For a while, it appeared that the legislature would simply use Revision 7 as an excuse to actually cut the funding of the trial courts from previous levels.

Chief Justice Anstead realized that the traditional news outlets – which were just beginning their long decline – were not telling the story of what actually was happening here.

So Chief Justice Anstead traveled the state visiting every media outlet that would have him. He used the resources of The Florida Bar and employed public relations techniques.

He created news stories that otherwise would have been ignored.

He drew attention to the threat facing the trial courts.

He especially targeted the business community and made sure they understood how badly business litigation would suffer in an underfunded state court system.

And it worked. Revision 7 was fully implemented by the legislature.

There are many of you here today whose jobs might not exist if Chief Justice Anstead had not made this effort.

We now have reached a point where the kind of effort made by Chief Justice Anstead must be implemented on a statewide level.

The guidelines for implementing this effort are contained in the new State Courts Communication Plan that all of you now have seen.

For that reason, today I am charging you to go out and begin implementing this new plan – and do so enthusiastically, because the continuing independence of our courts is at stake.

In giving you this charge, there are seven key goals I want to leave you with:

1. Work with your staff in the years ahead to recognize opportunities to deliver positive messages promoting your court and the important work it does. We must tell people the good things we do.

2. Remember the importance of the plan’s emphasis on speaking with one voice by incorporating the Plan’s key court messages in your official court communications. There must be consistency in our message to the public.

3. Strive to find new and creative solutions that allow your court to communicate more clearly and meaningfully with all of your audiences. The technology we use today may be replaced by something even better in the future, so keep your eyes open for it.

4.  Adopt new technologies and improved methods that enhance public access to court information and improve your ability to successfully communicate with the people we serve. Courts must adapt to the 21st Century’s methods of communicating.

5. Work to improve your internal communication with your own judges and your staff to increase the flow of information and improve the work environment in your court. Make sure your own staff knows what your goals are as a court.

6. Become the communications leader and a champion for improving communications efforts in your court. The courts need people who will lead our new communications effort and understand what a truly great opportunity it is.

7. In the years ahead, continue to build a network of information professionals like FCPIO that support each other and work together to improve all aspects of court communication. We must work as a team.

In conclusion, I want to say how grateful I am that FCPIO and the National Center for State Courts pulled together this conference so quickly after the adoption of our Communications Plan.

I personally view the implementation of this Plan as one of the major legacies of my administration as your Chief Justice.

And with that, I am now officially charging all of you to go out and put this Plan into effect.