Fla. Senate passes supreme court overhaul

Jessica M. Karmasek Apr. 26, 2011, 4:27pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - The Florida Senate on Monday passed an amendment that would mean an overhaul to the state's Supreme Court.

The amendment is the Senate companion to three bills -- House Joint Resolution 7111 and House Bills 7199 and 7101 -- that passed the state House of Representatives two weeks ago. The bills, proponents say, will modernize and improve the efficiency of Florida's court system.

HJR 7111 expands the number of justices on the high court from seven to 10, with five justices permanently assigned to a civil division and five justices permanently assigned to a criminal division. The governor appoints a Chief Justice for each division, with the overall administrative responsibilities for the judicial branch in the position of Chief Justice of the Court rotating between the chief justices of the civil and criminal divisions on a four-year basis.

The legislation also provides for Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices. A judicial appointment would become automatic if the Senate failed to vote on the nomination within 90 days.

HJR 7111 also expands the ability of each division of the Supreme Court to consider appeals by removing the jurisdictional prerequisite that an express and direct conflict exist between the District Courts of Appeal or the Supreme Court on the same question of law.

The bill further provides the state House of Representatives with "meaningful access" to the files and records of the Judicial Qualifications Commission but maintains the confidentiality of those records unless the House initiates an impeachment proceeding.

In addition, the bill allows the Legislature to repeal a court rule by general law that expresses the policy behind the repeal and allows the court to readopt the rule in conformance with the expressed policy.

The legislation also provides a minimum appropriation for the courts from all revenue sources equal to 2.25 percent of the state's General Revenue.

HB 7101 provides that all members of each Judicial Nominating Commission, or JNC, are appointed by the governor and to a term concurrent with the term of the governor.

The bill terminates the terms of all current members of the JNC, but allows for the reappointment of those members at the governor's discretion.

It also reduces the size of each JNC from nine members to seven and allows the governor to appoint a new member to a JNC if a commission member is unable to complete his or her term.

According to the Tampa Tribune, Budget Committee Chairman J.D. Alexander, R-District 17, filed an amendment to another bill, basically replacing it with language from the House version of the Court bill.

Senators approved the bill, mostly on party lines, the Tribune reported.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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