Fla. SC: State needs more trial court judges

Jessica M. Karmasek Dec. 16, 2011, 11:52am


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Legal Newsline) - The Florida Supreme Court said Thursday the state needs 71 more trial court judges and only one more judge in the Second District Court of Appeal.

"We recognize that the funding of new judgeships is an expensive proposition, especially during difficult economic times with diminished state revenues," the Court wrote.

Each year, the state's high court, after using a complex calculation of caseloads, issues its opinion certifying how many new judges are needed throughout the state. The Court's report is an annual requirement under the state constitution.

However, the Florida Legislature has the final say as to whether new judgeships are created and funded.

Of the 71 trial court judges needed in fiscal year 2012-13, the Court said 23 are needed in circuit courts and 48 are needed in county courts.

The Court, in its 12-page opinion, pointed to an increase in mortgage foreclosure filings.

The trial courts "continue to struggle with heavy pending caseloads," it said.

"The absence of additional case processing resources, such as case managers and senior judges, will continue to delay case processing times and pending caseloads in our civil divisions for the foreseeable future," the Court wrote.

"Moreover, this crisis has a ripple effect on the workload of other court divisions as chief judges and administrative judges allocate limited court resources to address demand."

County court workload also continues to increase, in particular evictions and landlord/tenant cases, the Court said.

"In select jurisdictions, some chief judges report that personal injury protection and credit card debt cases are impacting county court workload," it added.

The loss of civil traffic infraction hearing officers in county court also continues to have an impact on county judge workload throughout the state, the Court said.

"In many counties, county judges are hearing traffic cases previously processed by the civil traffic infraction hearing officers," it wrote.

Those litigants representing themselves also are having an adverse effect on the state's court system, both circuit and county courts, the Court said.

"Frequently, self-represented litigants are unprepared for the rigors of presenting evidence, following rules of procedure, and generally representing themselves in court. Consequently, they often require enhanced judicial involvement, which entails lengthier hearings, rescheduled hearings, and court delay," it wrote.

Though the Second District requested two additional judges, the state's high court said its analysis indicates the appeals court does not meet the required threshold. Only one is needed, it said.

The Court's findings come months after Florida Gov. Rick Scott approved a $45.6 million loan so the state court system could continue to operate until spring.

In approving the loan in October, Scott said he recognized the "cash flow challenges" that the court system is facing.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady asked Scott for more funding, pointing to a projected $108 million budget shortfall for the current fiscal year.

The court system's budget is about $361.2 million.

Revenues from fees were expected to be about $432 million. However, that number has been decreased to $272.9 million.

The $45.6 million should keep the system running through March. The rest will have to be addressed by the Legislature next month.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at jessica@legalnewsline.com.

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