Fla. County Official Defends Bar Exam Remark
TAMPA, Fla. — A Hillsborough County commissioner offended Florida A&M University alumni when she told them the historically Black university’s new law school won’t boost the number of minority lawyers because “we can’t get them to … pass the Bar.”
Florida A&M alumni were seeking financial support from the county commission for a new law school when Commissioner Ronda Storms said creating a new law school in Tampa for the university will not increase the number of minorities who become lawyers and judges.
“We can get them through law schools, but we can’t get them to … pass the Bar,” Storms said during the meeting.
Several people at the meeting say they were offended. One of the commissioner’s aides says there have been a handful of phone calls and e-mail protesting the remarks.
“How could she not offend you?” asks Mary White Darby, president of the FAMU Tampa alumni group.
Storms says she was not maligning minorities, but was in fact trying to point out an issue about the minimum passing score on the Bar exam. The Florida Bar recently sought to raise the minimum passing score, a move that the Florida Supreme Court is now looking into. Storms says that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has objected to raising the score, saying minorities already are at a disadvantage in taking the test.
“I feel because I happen to be White bread, I’m in trouble here,” she says, adding that she feels certain the real reason she is being attacked is because she spoke against giving the law school any money.
“I understand what they thought I was saying,” Storms told Black Issues. “They see this White woman saying, ‘We White folks have been trying to get you through law school but we just can’t get you to do your part and pass the Bar.’ …That’s not what I said.
“I wasn’t saying we White people are superior. If that’s what people heard, then I understand why they were upset.”
But she maintains that there is a bigger issue at stake than creating a historically Black law school, and that is making sure that the bar passage standards are not raised. Raising the standards, she says, would greatly limit the number of Black judges and lawyers in the state.
According to a brief filed by the NAACP with the Florida Supreme Court, among people who took the Florida bar in February, 74 percent of White candidates passed the Florida and multi-state portions of the exam while only 39 percent of Blacks passed.
“In the court of public opinion, someone has got to talk about minority bar passage rates,” Storms says. “Who’s going to articulate that now?”
FAMU was given approval by state lawmakers and Gov. Jeb Bush to create a law school, but state officials did not specify where the school should be built. The state wants to build the law school in a community willing to match its dollars. City officials in both Orlando and Tampa are interested.
Storms, a lawyer who specializes in child-support cases, apologized for any offense taken, but not for raising the issue.
“Are we supposed to know about this problem but we aren’t supposed to talk about it?” she asked. “I feel like I’m being tarred and feathered. I will grant that I was insensitive, but I will not grant that I am racist.”
Meanwhile in Pensacola, a White man whose lawyer admitted he was a racist was convicted last month of hate crimes in two bombings that terrorized the predominantly Black school last year.
Lawrence Lombardi, 42, an unemployed embalmer who once held a job stocking vending machines at the Tallahassee school, could face up to life in prison as a result of the six-count conviction.
A jury of 10 Whites and two Blacks found the defendant, originally from Columbus, Ohio, guilty on two counts each of possessing and using the pipe bombs, causing damage with explosives and injuring, intimidating or disrupting because of race or color.
“I don’t have any resentment,” says FAMU student body president Derric Heck, a senior architecture major from Brunswick, Ga. “I’m just glad this part of the ordeal is over. Now we can go back to the business of education. It’s business as usual now.”
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