Martha Barnett is one of the Sunshine State’s most influential lawyers. A graduate of both Tulane University and the University of Florida, Barnett was a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in 1997 through 1998 and previously served as President of the American Bar Association from 2000 to 2001. Currently, Barnett is a retired senior partner at the Holland & Knight Law firm.
Barnett is fluent in Floridian. When asked of her favorite Florida person, place, or thing that deserves more recognition, she insists that the state’s agricultural industry is currently undervalued. “When I was a young girl in central Florida, it was the Citrus Belt. Agriculture defined the state of Florida. […] And today I think that because of growth, because of environmental issues, because of things like citrus greening, because the value of land is getting so high, because of environment concerns about water, about pollution, all of these things. Florida is moving away from agricultural base.”
Unknown to many, Barnett is the first female attorney hired by Holland and Knight. In her interview, Barnett is adamant on using her profession to uplift society. “I want to live up to that standard, of being a lawyer who helps people. […] We have a constitutional obligation to the citizens.”
Chris Cate: [0:00:40]Martha, thanks so much for being on the show. You’ve had such an accomplished career here in Florida, but I want to go back to your roots. Can you tell me a little bit about where you grew up, in Florida, and how it shaped who you are today?
Martha Barnett: I grew up in Pasco County Florida, which is in the central part of the state, just north of Tampa, in a town called Dade City. I have to tell my friends, who’ve never been to Florida, it’s not D-A-I-D, dad city, it’s Dade. D-A-D-E. Dade City, [00:00:30] Florida.
My mother was from Pasco County. She grew up in Lacoochee and Trilby, Florida, which are two small communities, north of Dade City. My father was from North Carolina. He was a physician. He was the epitome of what some people would call the old country doctor. He had gone to University [00:01:00] of North Carolina, and graduated, and then went to Tulane Medical School, and was doing his residency in Jacksonville, at what was then Riverside Hospital. Became very close friends, when he was in Jacksonville, with young men his age. Their last name was Cummer. The Cummer family in Jacksonville is still well known, and well respected, and they were very philanthropic in the community. [00:01:30] They were very wealthy, big land owners. And they convinced my father, that he should move to Pasco County, where they had a large cypress mill, in a little town called Lacoochee Florida, and be the mill doctor, and set up a practice. They knew there were not many doctors in that part of Florida.
And so my dad, in his mid 30s, moved to a place he’d never heard of, but because of his close friendship with [00:02:00] people in Jacksonville, who remained lifetime friends. The Cummers not only owned the mill, they had homes there, and they were good friends. So he moves there, and he meets my mother, who’s the local school teacher. And, you know, they were married, and they both spent the rest of their life in Pasco County. My dad had his office, right across from the mill, right next door to it was the commissary, which was typical in a mill [00:02:30] town. And kept that office there til the day he died. Also, we moved from Lacoochee to Dade City when I was in elementary school. He also had an office in Dade City, and of course, the major hospital was there.
So that’s kind of a brief overview of my early life in Pasco County. I graduated from Pasco High School, 1965. Looking back on [00:03:00] it, I realized that … And to this day, I am a strong proponent of public education, because of the quality of education I got in the Pasco County Schools. Even though it was a rural area, small schools, small towns. As I grew, and went to college, and graduate school, and became involved in lots [00:03:30] of activities, I realized that I had first rate teachers. I had a program that was focused on students and education, and they had a variety of kids coming out of a rural area, with mill town, large African American community. And then, some business people. There was a variety of students in the schools, and the quality of education that I got, I think, formed the foundation for [00:04:00] the rest of my personal, as well as business career.
Chris Cate: Was there a particular teacher that inspired you to be a lawyer? Or what was it about the legal industry that led you to that?
Martha Barnett: When I was in high school, I had no idea of being a lawyer. I actually thought I would be a doctor, because that was my role model. Being a teacher was also a role model, because my grandmother and my mother were teachers. But I didn’t … [00:04:30] I just didn’t think that was the career path for me, for a lot of reasons. One of which, I was wise enough to think, “I want more.” I want more opportunity. I don’t want to always live in Lacoochee or Dade City. But I really thought I’d be a doctor. I was not encouraged in that, in school. The comments I got, this is the 60s now, were, “Well, Martha, you can be a nurse.” [00:05:00] And I said, “Well sure. I know I can be a nurse, but I don’t want to be a nurse. I want to be a doctor.” So my thoughts were never about going to law school.
I do have several teachers in my history, in the public school system, that did change my life, and did give me the confidence, and the back bone, to kind of walk a different path. They’re all deceased now, of course. [00:05:30] But, Mrs. Sedwig, Albert Smith, Mr. Blanton, Miss McKillips. These were very significant people in my life. I was a good student. There were several students that were good students, and they actually created programs for us. There were about seven or eight of us, and not only did we have the traditional algebra, geometry, chemistry, physics. [00:06:00] We had advanced math, trigonometry, logic. There were not many of us in the classes, but very sophisticated mathematical courses. I took chemistry, advanced chemistry, physics, advanced physics, learned for the first time about DNA, and I thought, “Dern. I want to be a scientist, but they’ve already discovered it all.” You know, I thought just discovering it. But, created [00:06:30] an appreciation for me, for science and math, and at a level that, when I went to college, I realized I was way ahead of most of the students.
I went to Tulane University myself. I went to the women’s college there. Most of my contemporaries had gone to private schools, or much larger programs. And the only place that I was not, in many ways, ahead of them in the kinds of academics I had, were in [00:07:00] English literature. Just about everything else, I realized … That’s when I thought, I had got a fabulous education in this small community.
Chris Cate: [00:02:47] Well I know that you were the first female attorney hired by Holland and Knight. Can you talk a little bit about what it was like to be a woman practicing law in an industry that must have felt a little bit like a boys’ club at the time?
Martha Barnett: I can. I probably should start by telling you why I decided to go to law school.
Chris Cate: Yeah.
Martha Barnett: [00:07:30] Because it was really one of those chance moments, that probably changed the rest of my life. I met my husband, Rick Barnett, who is an architect in Tallahassee, when I was at Tulane. He was the first guy I met, in 1965. We’ve now been married almost 49 years, so it was a friendship that [00:08:00] blossomed, and has been sustaining for me in many ways. So after we graduated and married, Rick was in the Marine Corps, and I was going to be … He had orders to Vietnam, and I was going to be at least a year, where I really needed something to do. I was in my early 20s, and I decided, of course, I wanted to go to a graduate program. I wanted to continue my education. And [00:08:30] I’d considered many things, including graduate programs in science, to continue to think about the medical side.
And one night we were talking, and he said, “You know …” I said, “Rick, I’m really interested in children, and helping children.” Because I’d seen so many kids in parts of the world that I live, that I knew my life was different than theirs, because I had more resources, and more support, [00:09:00] and I thought that’s just not fair. How do you help kids? How can we go in and build infrastructure, and really help these poor children whose parents want them to have the best, but don’t know how to get it. We talked about a lot of things. He said, “Well, you know, if you really want to help kids in a meaningful way, you could be a teacher. You could be a social worker. You could …” Had a whole different things. He says, “Well, why don’t you think about being a lawyer.” Now this is from somebody who’s not a lawyer, [00:09:30] has no interest in being a lawyer. It’s always been a surprise to me that he said that, and I said, “Well, I hadn’t really thought about it, but that sounds interesting.” He said, “Well lawyers, lawyers are the kind of people who help people. So if you’re a lawyer, you could do this.”
So two things came out of that, for me. One, I went to law school, graduated, had a wonderful experience, and have had a wonderful career. But the other [00:10:00] is the concept that someone thought about lawyers as the group who helped people. That stayed with me all of these years, that comment, and actually has impacted many of the paths I’ve taken, with regard to my professional life, because I want to live up to that standard, of being a lawyer who helps people. And I think the profession, in fact, does that. And that often gets … People [00:10:30] misunderstand the role, the true role of lawyers. I think we get a bad name sometimes. But the true role of lawyers is we take an oath to protect the public. We have a constitutional obligation to the citizens. And we’re also an intimate part of the third branch of government. I’m admitted to practice because of the Supreme Court. It has nothing to do with the legislature, or the executive branch. So lawyers are a very important [00:11:00] part of the justice system. And I’ve said on more than one occasion, that in some ways, my husband Rick, an architect, became the architect of my life, in that casual, late night conversation you have with somebody who’s going to war. Kind of the intimacy and the truth of that led to the career I’ve had.
Chris Cate: Well, let me pick back up where we were, that what it was like being a woman practicing law in an industry that must’ve felt like it was dominated by a boys’ club.
Martha Barnett: The first time I thought about that, was the first day I got to law school, at the University of Florida, is where I went. And I remember walking up, on the day we all met for orientation. And [00:13:00] everybody was milling outside in front of one of the classrooms, waiting to go in. People were nice. I didn’t know a soul. I was a little intimidated by the whole thing. And I remember looking around, and the first thing I thought was, “Where are the women?” Because I’d been part of a women’s college, in a major institution, but none the less, I was around a lot of women, and I didn’t see [00:13:30] any women. Almost none. So I remember thinking, they must be already in the classroom. What I realized, when I got in the classroom, there … This was a small class, because it was when they used to have a summer entering class. There were seven women, out of about 280 people. And that was the first time I realized, “Oh. Maybe this isn’t gonna be like college.”
And there was never, for me, [00:14:00] and issue about it. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder about being a woman. I’ve always been happy to be a woman. Think it’s an advantage to be a woman in this world. But the rules were designed for men. Bathrooms were an issue. There were not that many bathrooms dedicated to women. They were out of the mainstream. Now, a lot of renovations took place at the law school, and that wasn’t a problem very long.
[00:14:30] My first year of law school, I was invited to join the law review, and it’s something people covet. It’s an important activity. And I remember one student coming up to me. I think there were 10 of us invited to join it. One student coming up to me. Gone to great trouble to find me. I wasn’t on the campus at the time. And, with almost this panicked look on his face, and [00:15:00] said, “You’ve just got to not accept the law review invitation.” I said, “Why?” I was confused, frankly. He said, “Well, I’m the next person. And I didn’t make it, and I have to be on law review. I have to be on that, for my career. I have to be on that to get a good job. You don’t need it.” And I looked at him, and I said, “Why don’t I need it?” And he said, “Well, you’re not gonna work. You’re not gonna use your degree.” I went, “Really?” I was almost [00:15:30] speechless, that that was the assumption. Made several assumptions. One, I wasn’t gonna work. Two, this was just something to pass the time, and three, that I was the one right ahead of him. For all he knew, I could’ve been the first one invited on, but I was the only woman, and he made that assumption, that somehow he needed that more than I did.
At the moment, I wasn’t offended. I was, frankly, amused. But over the years I’ve thought about [00:16:00] it, and that next couple of years in law school, and I realized, that’s an attitude of a lot of people here. That might be an attitude of employers, is that, “Well, are we gonna hire a woman?” Because women, of course, are not the breadwinners. They have a husband to support them. Those were the attitudes. That was a real … It was more like, “Isn’t it nice, they want to get an education.” But it’s not serious. So [00:16:30] again, I wasn’t at all offended by that. I probably should have, if I was more worldwide. But I took it as good information to have.
When I graduated from law school, it was … When I entered, as I said, there were seven women in my class. There were less than 10% of the law school were women. I don’t know the actual number, but it was very few. When I graduated three [00:17:00] years later, 25% of the entering class at University of Florida, was women. So in that three year period, was a time of dramatic change, not just in law, but in medicine, in the accounting world, in the vet world. All the professions, engineering, began to see increasing numbers of women. That was a transition period, when I was in law school.
[00:17:30] I applied to a number of places, a number of firms. I had decided to go back to Hillsborough, Pasco County area, because my husband was from that area as well. And I was very fortunate. I had good grades. But I was fortunate. A couple of law firms actually sought me out. They were in Jacksonville, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to Jacksonville, but they were great law firms. None of them had women. None of the firms that I [00:18:00] interviewed had women. And couldn’t have been more accommodating to me. I only had one law firm … Well, I had one law firm offer me a job as a briefing wench. That was the word they used. Of course, I wouldn’t want to be in court, myself. I wouldn’t want to deal with clients myself. But I certainly was good enough to write briefs, and memos, [00:18:30] and those kind of things. That was an interesting offer. Another law firm was prepared to offer me a job, but they said, “We’re not gonna do that until your husband has a job, because you’ll, of course, go where he goes.” I said, “Well, I don’t know that’s true. Whichever one of us gets the job first.” But they thought that was okay to say that.
I was offered a job by Holland and Knight. And I liked the [00:19:00] people there, and I joined the firm in 1973, and I’ve been a part of it, in many roles, from associate up to chairman of the board of the firm, and now retired partner in the firm, for 44 years. [00:02:59) It was interesting for them, because they had never had a woman lawyer. And as luck would have it, unplanned, but I was pregnant, so at that point [00:19:30] in time, I ran the risk of fitting all of the stereotypes of young women, is that in fact, you really didn’t want to be serious about a career. So that was interesting. The firm, they didn’t have a maternity policy, because they’d never had a lawyer be pregnant. I took a week off, when I had my son, who’s now 43 years old. And I think, changed their attitude about women in the profession. At least, in the law [00:20:00] firm. Today, Holland and Knight hires probably more women than it does men, and they’re in leadership roles at all levels.
But 40 some years ago, some of the issues were not just, are you serious about being a lawyer, but what do we do if the partner that you’re working for, has got to travel? Is that appropriate, for you as a married woman, young married woman, to be traveling, somewhere that might be an overnight trip, [00:20:30] with a male lawyer. That was a serious discussion that people had, and any number of the male partners’ wives were not comfortable with that. Now, I made it my business, because I like women anyways, to get to know the wives, so they didn’t view me as a threat. They didn’t view me as somebody that was a problem for them, but that I was more like them than I was their spouses. So those kind of issues, and they were very minor.
Those, by the way, are minor. [00:21:00] But when you’re young and starting a career, and you have to deal with that, they make you think about … I’d never thought about gender roles, until I got in them, and thought, well my responsibility is to be a good lawyer, but you have to have interpersonal relationships with people. The law is about people, about relationships, about a much broader thing. And I decided that I was going to be very [00:21:30] aware of how I presented myself as a young woman in this professional environment, where women had not been. Not only the travel issue.
Another one that today no one would think about was, there was a real concern that women would not work for another woman, that secretaries would not want to work for me. This was a day when we all had our own personal secretary. There were any number of private clubs [00:22:00] that would not allow women to be a member, or even come to the club during business hours, because these clubs were dedicated and devoted to true business people, and women, of course, would change the dynamics of that. Almost all of those, I think there are still a few clubs that have that good ole’ boy nature to them, but those are not issues people have to deal with today.
Women and men have [00:22:30] very different challenges today, and some of that is just a recognition of the demands of a profession like the law, or others. Demands on you personally, professionally, the impact on your ability to have a family, to be a good steward of your parents’ health and wellbeing in their later years, to be involved in your community, all of the things that make a whole person. The challenges I think today, [00:23:00] then for women were even more. And today, those are the biggest challenges I see in a profession like the law, that has less to do with gender than this emerging norm of both people in a family working, and having significant responsibilities. And how do we, as a society, facilitate them in their best efforts to be a professional, but also, a [00:23:30] good parent, a good spouse, and importantly, a contributing member of the community.
Chris Cate: [00:07:20] One of the significant cases you worked on involved the Rosewood massacre, which actually took place in 1923, but you worked on the case much later, obviously. For our listeners who don’t know much about the Rosewood massacre, can you tell me a little about the event, and then how you came to actually work on that case?
Martha Barnett: I’d love to. Rosewood Florida is a small town, near [00:24:00] Cedar Key, again, in the central part of the state, on the coast area. It’s not at the coast, but it’s in Levy County. In 1920s, in Florida, it was what is known as the lynching era. In fact, it was known as the lynching era in much of the South, at the time. Rosewood was an African American community, about 120, [00:24:30] 30 people there. One white family. They had the actual, the general store, but it was an affluent community. The people were landowners. There were several churches. There was a Masonic lodge. There were schools. Several of the families had two story homes, with electricity and lights, and baby grand pianos. It was a very thriving, [00:25:00] affluent African American community. They lived peacefully with their neighbors. For the moment, the town right next to it has jumped right out of my mind. But next to … Sumner. Sumner was about two, three miles away, basically a white community, and the Rosewood families, and the Sumner families lived peacefully together, even though it was [00:25:30] a difficult time, racially, in the South.
And in fact, many of the people in Rosewood worked at the cypress mill, in Sumner. The Cummer family owned the cypress mill in Sumner, as well as Lacoochee, Florida. And to our knowledge, no problems between the communities. In 1923, the wife of, I think, the manager, [00:26:00] boss at the mill, was assaulted, was beaten up, and she alleged that there was a black man, who had come to the house, and attacked her, beaten her. No allegations of sexual abuse, but just violence, and had left. Now, this was witnessed by people who lived in Rosewood, [00:26:30] but who worked in the mill. The mill boss had people working in the house. Sarah Carrier, and her granddaughter Philomena Goins were there. They said that in fact, Miss Taylor, the young wife, had an affair, and her boyfriend beat her up, and in order to avoid her husband knowing that, blamed it on a random act of violence [00:27:00] by an unknown black man.
This word got out, there’d been this assault. The assumption was made that this black man would go to Rosewood, which was an African American community, and that they, of course, would protect and house him. So a mob got together, went to Rosewood, demanded of the leading families to produce this person. They, of course, knew nothing about him. [00:27:30] During that first day, they ran into any number of people, one or two people, on the road. One of the individuals may have given a stranger a ride in a cart, but did not know where they were.
Over the next 24 hours, at least two people were killed, violently killed, by the white mob, trying to force them to give up [00:28:00] this alleged assailant. And the violence escalated over the next week. The tension between the communities exploded. This was being carried, this erupting violence was being carried, interestingly, in all the major newspapers around the country. The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune. People knew something terrible was happening there. The governor was aware of it. They’d [00:28:30] asked him to send in the militia, to protect the communities. He refused to do that. He went on a hunting trip. And within a week, the sheriff and three or four people from Sumner, went to the Carrier home, Sarah Carrier, who had witnessed the assault, who was the matriarch of the community. Went to her home and demanded that they give up this assailant, who was [00:29:00] not there, but shots went through the house, killed the dog. Sarah Carrier was killed.
[00:12:51] As they broke into the house, one of the family members was sitting in the hallway. Between his legs was a child of about eight, Minnie Lee Langley. And he shot and killed the sheriff, and several of the white men. And before the next day was out, [00:29:30] Rosewood had been burned to the ground. People disbursed, never to return. The only home that was not burned was the home of the white family, who had been extremely instrumental in protecting the Rosewood families. The Cummer family, who had the mill, ran their train cars through Rosewood. The way they got the cypress out to Cedar Key, and onto [00:30:00] boats, or to Jacksonville, and onto the port at Jacksonville, they had these flatbed and rail cars. They ran that through the area and allowed the women and children to get on. They would not allow the men. And they took them to safety, most of them to Gainesville or Jacksonville.
About 30 young children, including Minnie Lee Langley, the little girl who was eight years old, all under 12, 13 years old, in their night clothes, in January, in Florida, spent a couple of days in the swamps. [00:30:30] They fled. And as I said, never to go back. What took place at Rosewood was lost in the collective memory of the South. I mean, I characterized it at one time, as collective amnesia. But people knew it had taken place. The people who had left Rosewood because sheriffs and law enforcement [00:31:00] were involved in this, they weren’t gonna tell anybody about it. They were afraid, for the rest of their life, to ever speak of it. And so the survivors, to the extent they had a community, lived under a vow of silence.
They would never talk about it. About 65 years later, maybe a little bit more, the story began to percolate in some of the press, and our law firm had a program, what we called our community services team, which [00:31:30] is essentially a section of the firm that we devoted substantial resources to handling impact cases, that affected civil rights, human rights. It was a pro bono program that we had, and we were asked to consider representing the then survivors of the Rosewood massacre. It was 70 years later, and there were not many. The firm investigated [00:32:00] it, thought about some type of civil rights actions, but because of the length of time that had passed, the difficulty in proving the events. Memory fades. Our clients were the, turned out to be the eleven known survivors at that time, who had been, many of them, the children who went out into the swamps. They were in their [00:32:30] late 60s, 70 years old. Actually, they were in the mid 70s. They were old. Most of them had never received a formal education. So the reliability of them as witnesses, would’ve been difficult, in a court of law.
[00:16:28] And we began to consider, the law firm began to consider other ways to get justice for these survivors. And I, at the time, was head of our legislative governmental [00:33:00] practice, and the lawyer who was heading our pro bono program, was a litigator, and we began to talk about what can we do. And we decided that the state of Florida, while we may not have been able to prove it in a court of law, there was another forum, and that was one, the court of public opinion, as well as the legislature. And that what the survivors, at that point in [00:33:30] their life, really wanted, was the state to acknowledge that it had failed to protect them, citizens of the state, landowners, property owners, that they had failed in a time of extreme crisis, to send in the militia, or to do anything to protect the citizens of Rosewood, or their property. That was a moral obligation the state had then, and we argued that there had not been a [00:34:00] day that had passed, in 70 years, that the obligation of the state, to protect its citizens against that kind of violence, solely because of racial bias, and racial prejudice, that that obligation continued until the very day we were talking about.
So we filed a claims bill in the legislature. Claims bills are generally done for personal injury, or excess damages, when a governmental entity is responsible, and [00:34:30] because of sovereign immunity, you have to go get a claims bill to get fully paid. We decided there was a moral and ethical obligation on the state, and we filed a claims bill. Took several years. Part of it included the legislature funding a study. That’s usually a way the legislature can address an issue, but kill it. You go study it, and then it disappears. But do a study to make sure something in fact, had occurred, in Rosewood. And [00:35:00] smartly, I think, the decision was made to involve the University of Florida, Florida State University, and A&M, three major universities. They gave us some of their best researchers, and they spent a year researching it, and they came back and said, “Yes indeed. There’s lots of documentation. This was a real issue. This did happen. There was loss of life. There was loss of property. There was destruction of an entire community.”
[00:19:11] And [00:35:30] even with that background, our efforts in the legislature were touch and go, because people simply didn’t want to deal with this kind of violence based on racial hatred, and race discrimination. They didn’t want it to come up. But we were successful in passing a claims bill. The living survivors, including Minnie Lee Langley, who frankly became our star witness. [00:36:00] In order to do a claims bill, you have to have a mini trial in the legislature, and we had a hearing before the judiciary committees, in both House and Senate, which evaluate claims bill. Four of our clients testified about Rosewood, about the events of that day. By now, this is in the press all over the country. It’s been covered on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It’s become, again, a big press issue. The place was [00:36:30] packed with reporters, and cameras. And as Minnie Lee and others started to tell their story, I noticed that the reporters stopped writing, cameramen were crying. You could hear a pin drop in this room.
And I remember sitting there. Steve Hamlin was handling the cross examination, examination of the witnesses, and I remember [00:37:00] looking at him, and he later told me, “It’s the best day I’ve ever had as a lawyer.” But I knew then, that we were gonna win, because we had living witnesses to a moment in history, and they were articulate. They spoke of Rosewood in ways that all of us could identify with our hometown, and most importantly, they were not angry. They were not there saying, “Woe is me. [00:37:30] You all are terrible.” They told their story, and it was clear that what they wanted … Money would’ve been nice, but what they really wanted was the state of Florida to say, “We failed you, and we’re sorry.” It makes me tear up a little bit now.
But we did pass a bill. They each got $150,000. We set up a fund of several million dollars, for the family members of the survivors. [00:38:00] In order to get the actual money, you had to have been there, Rosewood, the day it was burned down. But the family members, many of whom had gone on to be … One was the president of a university, been very successful. We set up a fund so if they could prove land ownership, they would be compensated for the value of the property they lost, and set up a scholarship for any descendant of Rosewood, at any time, could go to the state universities. [00:38:30] I will tell you that almost to the person, those who got the money, which was not much. It’s a lot. It was a lot to all of them. Almost to the person, they tithed before they spent a penny on themselves.
So, that’s the Rosewood story. My personal relationship with it, was not only doing the legislative work, but as we did the background work, to prove people [00:39:00] were actually in Rosewood, to prove they lived there, to prove they were property owners, this was a time when land records were not all that accurate, and particularly for black people. That’s an issue that a lot of study has been done, by scholars all over the country, but proving, when you were a minority, in those situations, very difficult to prove land ownership. [00:39:30] So we spent a good amount of time. Death records, land records, birth records, everything we could find to justify and prove to skeptics that these people were there, and had this.
And what I realized, very quickly, is that many of the Rosewood survivors, moved to Lacoochee Florida. Because the Cummer family had a mill in Lacoochee Florida. And as I mentioned to you earlier, [00:40:00] my father was the mill doctor. He was the doctor for a large number of the people who’d lived in Rosewood, and who survived. His name’s on their death certificates. His names on the birth certificates of their children. Philamena Goins, who was a young woman in the Taylor home, in Sumner, who witnessed the assault of Miss Taylor. Philamena Goins was my mother’s best friend, to the extent a black [00:40:30] woman and a white woman, in that time period, could be friends. I knew her. Her son, our net doctor, was the person who brought the Rosewood case to the law firm. He was the person who was our primary client on behalf of the survivors. He was the person who convinced them to break the vow of silence, and go public. My daddy delivered him. I had a personal relationship with many [00:41:00] of the people who became our clients, and their children. For me, it was like, the coincidence was pretty extraordinary to me, and it was like, “Maybe this is why I went to law school.”
Chris Cate: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. No, that’s an incredible story, and the connection. I’m getting emotional myself.
Martha Barnett: Sorry. I don’t do this very often.
Chris Cate: And I know, what time do you have to be [00:41:30] wrapped up?
Martha Barnett: It’s up to you. I’m sorry. I’m talking too much.
Chris Cate: For some of the other questions, you don’t have to go quite as long, because I want to be respectful of your time. But I will change-
Martha Barnett: You can edit all that out, frankly.
Chris Cate: Yeah. And I will edit some of this out. [00:22:31] In 1997 and 98, you served on Florida’s last constitutional revision commission, which reviews and proposes changes to our constitution. It’s a very important role, and Florida’s going through this process again [00:42:00] right now. What are some of your take aways from that process, and what advice would you give to members who are currently serving on the commission?
Martha Barnett: I think Florida is unique, in the many ways that we allow amendments to our constitution, and especially in having a Constitution Revision Commission, which is essentially a citizen’s commission. It is appointed by … [00:42:30] The members are appointed by the Governor, the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, the Attorney General’s a member. The Supreme Court has appointments. But once they’re appointed, they do not serve at the pleasure of the appointing officer. They are appointed, and they are an independent body, that has the right to take proposals directly to the ballot, proposals to amend the constitution directly [00:43:00] to the ballot. That may not resonate with people who are not students of the constitution. But it’s very difficult to amend the constitution, which is the core governing document, as it should be. It’s very difficult to do that. It’s usually done by the legislature with a joint resolution, or it’s done by a citizen’s initiative, which is a multi-year, involved, expensive process. But Florida, [00:43:30] with its wisdom, in 1968, said, “Let’s give the citizens another way to address some of the issues in the core document that governs the state of Florida,” and created this constitution revision commission. I’m not aware of any other state that has this. It’s been somewhat controversial. The legislature, in my judgment, has never really liked it much.
[00:24:44] In fact, when [00:44:00] I was on the commission, one of the proposals was, we don’t need this. Let’s amend the constitution to take it out. But it has the opportunity to address issues that the legislature oftentimes cannot do, because they’re elected officials. They are a different body. They have constituents [00:44:30] that might be narrow. They may have … There are numerical restraints, the percentages you have to get votes to put something on the ballot. They’ve often felt that this bypassed the legislature, and they jealously guard the making laws aspect of their job. But it has proven to be [00:45:00] an extremely important way to give the citizens an opportunity to speak to issues that are important to the citizens, and not just the legislature.
When I was on the commission, it was the second time it had met. The ’77, ’78 commission. Twenty years later, the ’98 commission. Now 20 years later, [00:45:30] the 2017 commission. It was the second time it met. We were a very collegial body, even though the appointing authorities were both Democrats and Republicans. That’s one difference. Today, the appointing authorities were all Republicans, and there is some concern that the collegiality that developed among the ’78 [00:46:00] commission, and the ’98 commission, which allowed people to set aside, perhaps, partisan issues, and look at substantive issues. There’s some concern that agenda may be more politically driven this time. That remains to be seen. But one of the important things … One of the reasons these kinds of commissions are important, is that whatever the recommendations that come out of the commission, do not have to go back to the legislature for approval. [00:46:30] They do not have to go to the court, Florida Supreme Court, for approval.
Chris Cate: [00:27:17] Really? I didn’t realize that.
Martha Barnett: They do not. They go straight to the ballot. That’s pretty powerful. It bypasses some of the other protections built into the constitution, rightly so. But that’s one of the reasons I think the legislature doesn’t like it is they don’t get a second bite at it. Now, this time, there are several legislators [00:47:00] that are actually on the commission. That’s not been the tradition. It’s been designed to be a process for people that are not elected to the legislature, although there have been local government officials on it. So, it’s unique. It’s been effective. It has changed the constitution in ways that I believe have been important. Even [00:47:30] changes that have been discussed, but not actually passed by the constitution revision commission, the educational process that takes place, has been remarkably effective in changing the political dynamics in the state. I’ll give you one example. Every commission has addressed the need for an independent reapportionment commission. And by [00:48:00] the independent legislature, or the courts. Maybe appointed by them, but has independent authority to, every ten years, reapportion the state, to avoid gerrymandering, to avoid packing districts, to try to make sure the promise of one man, one woman, one vote, is reality.
[00:29:04] Of course, it’s extremely political issue. And the first group to suggest [00:48:30] an independent reapportionment commission, actually were great Republican legislators, and Republicans, because they were the minority party. Today of course, the Republicans adamantly oppose a reapportionment commission, and it’s the Democrats trying to create more levity. But every commission, from ’68, which revised the constitution, created the constitution revision commission, ’78, [00:49:00] ’98, we have considered reapportionment commissions. Our commission came the closest to putting something on the ballot, for an independent commission. We actually passed a proposal, had a two vote margin. It was very controversial, but we passed it, and the members of the legislature were successful in getting at least two members to move to reconsider, and it lost by one [00:49:30] vote. So, it came very close. So you think, well that’s really sad. But the truth is, out of that process, came an awareness of the importance, much broader than people had had before.
[00:30:27] Members of the commission, as well as this large constituency for independent reapportionment commission, said, “Well, just because we didn’t get it on the ballot, doesn’t mean we ought not to address the issue. And over [00:50:00] the next 10 years, members of that commission, maybe longer, began the process to create, first, independent commission. Secondly, just constitutional amendments that actually defined the process, not a commission. That led to the fair district, which is well know to people now, fair district amendments, which in this last cycle, almost 20 years later. Last cycle resulted in significant [00:50:30] changes to how Florida reapportions its state. So, to me, it’s not just the results that go on the ballot. It’s the public education. It’s laying a foundation, creating momentum for change. Significant change should take a long time. But that’s one example of how the work of the commission is not just confined to the commission itself, but can have a much broader [00:51:00] impact.
The ’78 commission put a lot of proposals out. I don’t think any of them. Maybe one, but I don’t think any of them actually passed.
Chris Cate: No, I don’t think they did.
Martha Barnett: That year. There was a lot going on, but none of them passed. The ’98 commission, ours, we had eight proposals. All but one of them passed. And people look at, and ask why, and I think there’s many answers to that. One, the ’78 commission also had casino [00:51:30] gambling on the ballot, and the then governor, extremely popular Ruben Askew, decided that his message to citizens was, “Just vote no.” It was too complex to tell them what to vote. Just vote no on everything. So that may have had an impact on it. But when you look at the proposals that that commission put forth, most of them ultimately have become the law, or in the constitution. So the process itself is as important [00:52:00] as what it does.
This current commission is just getting its feet wet. There’s some good people on there. My only concern is that they’ve had a difficult time in coming up with rules, that they have been fighting over rules, and process. Process is important. But if you can’t come together on basic rules, it’s gonna be much more difficult to have the collegiality [00:52:30] to put forth complex proposals. So I’m hoping they’re past that, and that they’ll be very broad minded, and open minded about the possibilities for change, and not get stuck in partisan politics. At least one of the appointing members has a litmus test, and had a list of issues that were absolutely essential to be addressed, and they are important issues. [00:53:00] But I hope that the members recognize that they’re the ones who are independent members of this commission, and they are beholden only to the constitution, and only to the citizens.
Chris Cate: When you look back on … [00:53:30] Let me ask it this way. How is the law industry, when you look back on your career [34:00] … We talked about you in the beginning. How have you seen that change? And in what ways would you still like to see the law industry change?
Martha Barnett: I’ve said on any number of occasions, that during my career as a lawyer, the very face of the profession has changed. Not just in more women, but the diversity of people practicing [00:54:00] law, and I think that’s very good. I think that as a part of the third branch of government, lawyers, judges, the people who are responsible for the administration of justice need to reflect the citizens, in all of the diversity of the citizens. And I think we need to continue to work on that. But importantly to me, the nature of the practice of law is changing, as is [00:54:30] everything else in our world, because of technology and globalization. Legal education is still pretty much the way it was 45 years ago, when I was in school, and 150 years ago, when other people were in school.
There’s a pretty traditional way of educating people to become a member of the bar. And I think we’re at a time in our history, where we’ve got to recognize that being a lawyer is a very [00:55:00] important public responsibility. It’s why we’re regulated, to protect the public, and that we need to focus not just on exposure to the substantive area of law, but to the actual practice of law, to teach more practice ready skills, more skills about how does a lawyer function, not just in a law firm, or a court room, but in society at large. There are very significant responsibilities that are almost on the job [00:55:30] training, once you pass the bar. You don’t have to prove that you know how to practice law, to pass the bar. You simple have to know a lot about the law, and some of the processes. In an age of technology and globalization, those things need to change.
So I would like, and I think law schools as institutions need to address this. Some are. Some aren’t. But that’s one change that I’d like to see. [00:56:00] I also think we, and this is not at all popular. In fact, it’s very unpopular, in many [00:36:30] respects, in Florida, and maybe other states, but I believe, with a global world, and a technological world, that the boundaries that divide states into separate jurisdictions, for admission to the bar, for the practice of [00:56:30] law. A lot of our rules are built around a geographic division that, in reality, does not exist anymore. I can be sitting in my house in Tallahassee, practicing law in India, and nobody will know the difference. So I think we’ve got to begin to think about the law in a global environment. And regulation, the importance of regulation, is not to restrict the ability of somebody [00:57:00] to practice, but to make sure those who are licensed meet the standards, and to protect the public interest. And so that’s a change that’s gonna have to take place.
Chris Cate: [00:37:32] Well, there’s so much more I could ask you about, whether it’s serving as a president of the American Bar Association, or even asking about your husband, who I know is an architect, very well known architect here in Tallahassee, who helped design Joe Campbell stadium here, and the First District Court of Appeals. But I know we’re running [00:57:30] a little bit long on time, so I’m gonna wrap up with just four kind of rapid fire questions that I ask every guest.
The first one is, [00:38:00] who is a Florida leader that you admire, and it could be someone from current times, or someone from the past.
Martha Barnett: Chesterfield Smith.
Chris Cate: I’m sorry, but you’re gonna have to tell me who that is.
Martha Barnett: Chesterfield Smith was, is known by many titles. [00:58:00] One, is the father of the Florida constitution. He was chairman of the 1968 commission, that revised the old 1885 constitution. He was the founding partner of Holland and Knight. He was president of the American Bar Association. He is the person who took me to my first American Bar Association meeting, and any number of years later, stood by my side when I was sworn in as president of the American Bar Association. [00:58:30] He was president of the American Bar Association during the Watergate era, and is the person credited with a statement that many people use, to this day. During Watergate, when then President Nixon fired his special prosecutor, fired other government officials, and refused to release tapes of recordings in the White House, [00:59:00] Chesterfield Smith, on behalf of the legal profession, called for him to do that, and said, “No man is above the law.” That statement, and his strong presence, during Watergate, I think led, many people believe, was what led to Richard Nixon resigning.
Chris Cate: [00:39:41] Wow.
Martha Barnett: So, I could go on and on. He is cited by Tom Brokaw in both of his books, as one of the greatest generation. The entire chapter is on [00:59:30] him. Brokaw pointed out he was a remarkable friend and mentor. I used to think he got up every day, wondering what he could do to make my life better.
Chris Cate: Wow.
Martha Barnett: And then I realized, the more I knew him, and traveled with him, and met people around the world, that there are hundreds of people who felt exactly like I did, that he got up every day wondering how’s he [01:00:00] gonna make my life better. He was just a remarkable man, and I miss him and loved him, but he is the father of Holland and Knight. We were his vision. He saw things other people didn’t see, and he had the strength of character and self-confidence to make those things happen.
Chris Cate: Wow. I’m glad you brought him up, because I know more about him now. What is [01:00:30] a Florida person, place, or thing that deserves more attention than what it’s getting now?
Martha Barnett: [00:40:56] Oh, wow. Citrus industry. Agriculture. Florida’s a growing changing state. When I was a young girl in central Florida, it was the Citrus Belt. Agriculture defined the state of Florida. Tourism [01:01:00] was just beginning. NASA was just beginning. And today I think that because of growth, because of environmental issues, because of things like citrus greening, because the value of land is getting so high, because of environment concerns about water, about pollution, all of these things. Florida is moving away from agricultural [01:01:30] base. I personally think Florida, which is know symbol is an orange, Florida may be approaching a time when we’re not gonna have a citrus industry that can compete in the world. I’d like to see more efforts made to preserve what was a part of our history.
Chris Cate: Good. [00:42:07] What is your favorite Florida location to visit? It can be a city, a restaurant a beach. What’s a favorite place for you to go?
Martha Barnett: Cape Sandblast.
Chris Cate: Cape [01:02:00] Sandblast. Good. And finally, do you have a favorite Florida sports team?
Martha Barnett: University of Florida Gators.
Chris Cate: All right. Well, good. Well, thank you so much for-
Martha Barnett: You’re so welcome.
Chris Cate: Taking this time today. You shared some great stories. I know our listeners are gonna appreciate learning more about them. But thank you so much.
Martha Barnett: Well, thank you for having me. [00:42:36]