Florida Supreme Court Certification Of Need For Additional Judges
Although probably not timed to coincide with Christmas the Florida Supreme Court has published its annual “wish list” for additional judges in the state court system. Each year, before the next legislative session which begins in early March, the Florida Supreme Court is required under Article V, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution, to certify to the Florida legislature the number of judges (except Supreme Court justices) that will allow the state court system to function effectively. For as long as I’ve been practicing in Florida the Court has always requested more judges than the Florida legislature is willing to provide for in the state budget.
For fiscal year 2014/2015 the Court is certifying the need for a total of 49 judges – 46 in the trial courts and 3 in the appellate courts. Of the 46 trial court judges the Court finds a need for 7 additional judges in the circuit court (where the amount in controversy is at least $15,000.00) and 39 in the county courts (where the amount in controversy is between $5,000 and $15,000.00 and includes small claims where the amount in controversy does not exceed $5,000.00). In an Appendix to the Court’s report one can see which counties the Court believes need more judges. In Palm Beach County, the Court sees no need for additional circuit court judges but does find a need for 6 additional county court judges.
The Court notes that the need for more judges is to “promptly resolve disputes, and ensure that children, families, and businesses receive the proper amount of judicial attention for their cases.” As mentioned in the report, however, the underlying reasons for more judges are higher jury trial rates; statutory revisions requiring additional hearings for certain types of cases; diminished support staff such as law clerks and judicial assistants (which cause some judges to have to do their own legal research and scheduling of hearings); and, the effect that self-represented, or pro se, litigants have on the court’s time and resources in that they are often “unprepared for the rigors of presenting evidence, following rules of procedure, and generally representing themselves in court.” The upshot of the court system being short of judges is that judges are less able to devote adequate time to hearings due to their overall workload. This says the Court,“is of particular concern as it strikes at the essence of access to the courts as well as public trust and confidence in our courts.”
Because the judiciary is a co-equal branch of government along with the executive and legislative branches, and because someday you may find yourself seeking legal redress, I urge you to contact your state Senators and House members and request that they continue to provide adequate funding for the state court system. Below are links to the House and Senate websites for you to contact your representatives.