Two Local Commissioners Call for More Diversity in the Courtroom

By: Julie Montanaro

Tallahassee, Fla. -- Two county commissioners are calling for more diversity in Florida courts.

They called on both the state attorney and the public defender to hire more minority lawyers.

Some say it's all too common, a black defendant with a white lawyer, a white prosecutor and a white judge.

Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor and Gadsden County Commissioner Brenda Holt say that needs to change here in the second circuit and every circuit.

"We want to hold them accountable for hiring African Americans," Bill Proctor, Leon County Commissioner, said.

"The judge, they don't look like you,” Brenda Holt, Gadsden County Commissioner, said. “The public defender you don't know, don't look like you. The bailiff doesn't look like you. The prosecutor doesn't look like you ...and they ask you to make a deal."

Holt and Proctor applauded the state attorney for boosting the ranks of black attorneys in his office with recent hires; it's up to three out of 41.

"We don't really distinguish between what their race is when we hire 'em, “Willie Meggs, State Attorney, said. “If they're good we want them."

In the public defenders office there are two black attorneys and two hispanic attorneys out of 62.

"I agree there should be as much diversity as possible and I've worked very hard at it over the years, but if you take a snapshot at any particular time, it has not been that easy to recruit and retain minority attorneys," Nancy Daniels, Public Defender, said.

The commissioners are asking the Florida Supreme Court to reassess diversity in the court system.

The bottom line, they say, is that the accused deserve better representation, and deserve to see more people of color working in court.

Commissioners say they would also like to see more community outreach so young people can learn more about their legal rights and responsibilities.

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