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Court certifies need for more judges, asks for no more cuts

first_img· Three additional circuit court judges for the 20th Circuit;· Two additional circuit court judges each for the Seventh, Ninth, 10th, 13th, 14th, and 19th circuits; and· One additional circuit court judge each for the Second, Eighth, 11th, 15th, and 18th circuits.The court also certified the need for 39 new county court judges, as follows:· Six additional county court judges each for Duval, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties;· Five additional county court judges each for Hillsborough and Palm Beach counties;· Two additional county court judges each for Volusia and Orange counties; and· One additional county court judge each for Columbia, Marion, Alachua, Polk, Brevard, St. Lucie, and Lee counties.The court did not ask for any new DCA judges, “bolstered by the fact that the district courts have not requested the certification of any additional judgeships this year.”“With the $49 million budget reduction the courts have experienced over the last two fiscal years, judicial dockets are full, scheduling is problematic, and case processing times are delayed,” Quince said. “Clearance rates are falling and backlogs are developing. Unfortunately, we anticipate that this trend will continue unless further steps are taken to stabilize court funding.”Toward that end, Quince said the court is encouraged by the creation of the State Courts Revenue Trust Fund in the special session as an initial positive step by the Legislature to address the courts’ funding needs.“This court strongly encourages the Legislature to maintain court funding at a level that allows the court system to meet its constitutional obligations,” Quince said. “In better economic times, we encourage the Legislature to authorize the circuit and county court judgeships certified in this opinion.” March 15, 2009 Managing Editor Regular News Court certifies need for more judges, asks for no more cuts Court certifies need for more judges, asks for no more cuts Mark D. Killian Managing EditorAsking for new judges when the state is scrambling to plug multi-billion dollar holes in the budget is wishful thinking at best. But in order to fulfill its constitutional obligation, the Supreme Court asked for 68 new judges in its annual certification opinion.“There is limited value in certifying judicial need when the justice system, including court support staff, supplemental judicial resources, and staffing complements in state attorney and public defender offices, are being reduced to such a degree as to seriously impede the administration of justice in the courts,” Chief Justice Peggy Quince wrote February 26 in In Re: Certification of Need for Additional Judges, Case No. SC09-173. Nonetheless, the court asked for 29 new circuit judges and 39 new county court judges.Although the court identified its judicial needs in the opinion, Quince said the court system’s primary concern is with the reductions to court support staff and supplemental resources.“During these challenging economic times the court recognizes that all branches of government must do their share to help balance the state budget, and the judicial branch has participated in that effort,” Chief Justice Quince said. “Nonetheless, there comes a time when making necessary adjustments in order to sustain budget reductions cascades into crippling the daily operations of an entire branch of government.”Quince said in the 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 fiscal years, the state court budget has been cut by 12 percent — from $491 to $433 million — resulting in the loss of 87 case managers, 22 magistrates, 28 law clerks, 18 due process positions, and 68 court administration staffers. An additional 21 positions were lost in the just completed special session.“In total, 301 positions have been eliminated throughout the state courts system, 243 of which were in the trial courts,” the chief justice said. “The loss of these resources is now being felt in every community throughout Florida, and the gains made under the constitutional amendment to provide an equitable level of services in the trial courts regardless of where one lives have been compromised.”Quince said perhaps no other group is more endangered when court resources become scarce than children and families. In particular, the loss of case managers in the family division directly impacts the level of justice afforded to children and families in matters such as custody, visitation, paternity, child support, dependency, delinquency, termination of parental rights, and domestic and repeat violence cases.“Typically, family law case managers are the stewards of cases moving through the various stages of the family court process,” said Quince, adding case managers perform intake, screening, evaluation, monitoring, tracking, coordinating, scheduling, referral activities, and a battery of other functions that enable cases to proceed smoothly and timely through the process. “When case manager positions are reduced or eliminated, these tasks fall upon the presiding judge.”Quince said that is an inefficient use of judicial resources, delays case processing, reduces service referrals that can be made, and diminishes the amount of judge time available for adjudicating cases.The loss of 22 magistrates also adversely impacts support for the adjudicatory process in the trial courts because they perform certain quasi-judicial functions that are routine, computational, or managerial in nature, requiring judges to absorb their work.“This inevitably contributes to case processing delays,” Quince said.The loss of 28 staff attorneys and law clerks has also impacted judicial workload and the movement of cases, especially in post-conviction criminal cases, including post-conviction capital cases, Quince said.The loss of funds to hire civil traffic infraction hearing officers also has had a substantial impact on the operations of the county courts, Quince said.“They are an economical and effective resource that enables county court judges to spend more of their time adjudicating heavy county criminal and civil caseloads,” said Quince, noting the budget for traffic hearing officers was substantially reduced in the last fiscal year, and due to the uncertainty regarding additional reductions this fiscal year, no funding for this resource has been allocated during the current fiscal year.Now that the special session has been completed, Quince said what remains of this budget will be allocated to the circuits so that traffic hearing officers will be on line once again, although their availability will be limited.“The loss of this resource on a permanent basis would be two-fold: first, county court judges would spend a larger portion of their time presiding over traffic matters; and second, more cases would be dismissed when judges cannot hear them within the required timeframe,” the chief justice said. “The end result is case delay and backlog in county court and the loss of revenues resulting from fines imposed.”Quince said the court is also concerned about the relationship between the certification of new judgeships, specifically those judges who would be assigned to criminal divisions, and the staffing complements of state attorneys’ and public defenders’ offices.“We relate the criminal justice system to a three-legged stool comprised of judges, state attorneys, and public defenders,” Quince said. “If one leg is compromised, the stool cannot function as designed. Authorizing judgeships without corollary funding for state attorneys and public defenders creates an imbalance in the criminal justice system. We encourage the Legislature to provide for sufficient staffing of state attorneys’ and public defenders’ offices whenever a judgeship is authorized and designated for the criminal division.”Using a case-weighting system based on accepted standards of measurement in determining the need for additional judges, the court certifies the need for 29 new circuit court judges, distributed as follows:· Five additional circuit court judges for the First Circuit;· Four additional circuit court judges for the Fifth Circuit;last_img

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