Christen E. Luikart of Murphy Anderson in Jacksonville wants to see “more light shed” on the issue of parental leave within the legal profession.
“My situation isn’t unique,” said Luikart, who’s set to be a panelist for the 2018 Florida Association for Women Lawyers summit, running from Oct. 11-13 at One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach.
Luikart’s request for a trial stay was opposed by Miami lawyer Paul T. Reid of Shook, Hardy & Bacon in a move that caused an uproar among female attorneys and led to his swift suspension by the firm.
This occurred just as the Florida Supreme Court was weighing a proposed parental leave rule, which, if implemented, will create a presumption that judges will grant timely requests from lead counsel for three-month parental-leave continuances — unless the delay would significantly thwart a case.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Cymonie Rowe ultimately granted Luikart’s request, pushing the trial back to January.
At the FAWL summit, Luikart is set to discuss the proposed parental leave rule along with fellow panelists Lindsay Tygart of Coker Law in Jacksonville and Amber Donley of the Donley Law Firm in Orange Park.
“I think it needs to be passed,” Luikart said. “I understand why there would be opposition if it was an absolute rule, but it’s more of a presumption, and if there’s a special circumstance that can still be addressed by the court.”
Luikart, “in an abundance of caution,” chose not to discuss her recent trial stay while litigation is still pending, but this isn’t her first pregnancy.
“I ran into, not identical, but very similar circumstances during my first pregnancy where I was lead trial counsel on a case,” Luikart said.
Similarly, Luikart had taken all the depositions and was set for trial around the time her baby was due, so she moved to continue.
“We happened to be in a case management conference, and it came up. Opposing counsel objected and said someone else could step in and just try it,” Luikart said.
Then the judge weighed in.
“The judge was very polite about it and not rude, but he asked me in front of everyone how my body was handling pregnancy and what the doctors had been telling me. He told me that he wasn’t inclined to move it, but if I had a health issue come up I could just call chambers and then it would be readdressed,” Luikart said.
The trial was in Orlando, and Luikart is based in Jacksonville.
“I literally was having dreams that my water was going to break in the middle of trial, and my law partner and I were going to have my baby together and I wasn’t going to be with my husband,” Luikart said.
About a week later, the judicial assistant contacted Luikart to let her know there was a Jewish holiday that week, so the court was moving the trial date. The case ultimately settled.
Luikart, who’s due on Oct. 21, plans to work “up until the moment” she gives birth.
“I still don’t know when that will be, because I had my daughter prematurely, so I’m told to be on the lookout between now and when I’m due,” Luikart said.
In addition to her controversial Palm Beach continuance, Luikart asked to delay a trial in Jacksonville but ”had no problem doing that.”
“In an ideal world, you wouldn’t think that these things would be a problem,” Luikart said.
Luikart said she’s never had an issue with Jacksonville attorneys during her pregnancies, but after the Daily Business Review published an article July 24 describing her Palm Beach case, she became privy to an array of anecdotes from the legal community.
“I’ve had an outpouring of people reach out to me to share their own stories, and it’s been enlightening. I had several men reach out to me, too, and talk to me about issues they’ve had with their wives being pregnant, or just in general, and offering support, which was really nice. It wasn’t unique to women,” Luikart said.
In Luikart’s mind, it’s ”always beneficial to hear it from the horse’s mouth,” so she encourages managing parters in particular to go to the FAWL summit and “just listen.”
“It would be very beneficial to (managing partners), I think, to actually hear the stories of women in the profession,” Luikart said. ”It seems like sometimes when they consider passing a rule like this, they’re kind of in a vacuum making that decision without talking to women that have been through it — especially women who litigate.”