first_img Court calls for 56 new judges Assistant EditorThe Florida Supreme Court, in its annual certification opinion, said Florida’s courts need 56 new judges — two on the district courts of appeal, and 54 for the trial courts.Of last year’s 49 total judgeships requested, only 18 were funded. This year, the opinion asked for one more court judge for both the Second and Fourth district courts of appeal.An additional 33 circuit judges and 21 more county seats made up the 54 trial court judgeships requested. Broward County, the 17th Circuit, saw the largest increase with five new circuit judges and three new county judges. Dade County, the 11th Circuit, was also certified for five circuit judges, and Hillsborough County, the 13th Circuit, for three circuit and three county court seats.Other circuit certifications included three new judges in the 20th Circuit, two judges each in the First, Fifth, Ninth, 15th, and 19th circuits, and one each in the Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, 10th, and 14th circuits. In the county courts, Columbia, Duval, Lake, Marion, Pasco, Bay, Brevard, Seminole, and Collier counties each were certified for their one judgeship requested. Certified for two seats was Orange County, and Broward and Palm Beach counties received certification for three judgeships each.Of the 35 circuit judgeships requested by the circuits, 33 were recommended by the court, denying one each in the 16th and 18th circuits. With only one out of the three requested county judgeships approved in Dade County, 21 out of 23 county seats have been certified.According to the opinion, the district courts of appeal have been conservative in their requests for more judgeships despite a steady rise in the number of annual filings in the past 10 years, and the addition of only one new judgeship in the Fifth DCA in 1999. In that 10-year span, total DCA filings have increased by 27 percent.The opinion noted that the district courts have focused on alternatives to additional judgeships, such as the development of case management systems, increasing senior judge time, and the use of information technology and central staff attorneys.Despite these improved procedures, the need for new judges in the Second and Fourth districts is more evident than ever, with rising caseloads and increasing populations. The opinion pointed out “efficiency measures implemented by the district courts are no longer adequate to offset the need for additional judgeships.”As for the trial courts, since 1999, when the justices switched over to Delphi methodology in determining a need for additional judgeships – a system which weighs cases by the amount of time to be spent according to the type of case – the legislature, which mandated use of the method, has funded only 30 percent of the judges certified.“We now must report to the legislature,” the opinion said, “that this increase in judgeships has proven insufficient to address the overall judicial need in Florida’s trial courts.”Having emphasized in the past the need for adequate allocation of judicial resources, including emphasis on time allotted to juvenile delinquency and dependency cases, the court acknowledged the strides being made in trial courts in this arena, but recognizes there is more that needs to be done.Said the opinion, “Existing judicial resources are strained by the nature, complexity, and volume of certain civil cases; the significant growth in the number of family law cases.. . . and the creation and expansion of effective, but labor-intensive, specialized case processing techniques.”Other issues cited that impact trial court workloads included filings (which saw a 3 percent increase from fiscal year 1999-00 to fiscal year 2000-01 and are estimated to grow at a similar rate), the presence of gangs, the number of migrant workers or other transient populations, major tourist attractions, and a changing demographic that has seen a significant growth in non-English speaking residents, and thus necessitated more court interpretations in Florida.Noting that 1998’s Revision 7 to the Florida Constitution required that a greater portion of trial court operating costs be borne by the state and that the state faces other budget challenges, the opinion said:“The proper funding of the judicial branch ensures that our citizens’ constitutional right of access to their courts and the fair and timely resolution of disputes are protected. We recognize the many difficult challenges confronting the legislature over the next several years. We also acknowledge and appreciate the legislature’s demonstrated commitment to proper funding of the judicial branch and are confident that commitment will be sustained during implementation of Revision 7.”As a footnote, the court said, “If the full complement of judges requested in certifications since 2000 had been funded, it is certain that the present need for additional trial judges would be significantly less.”The opinion, In re: Certification of Need For Additional Judges, case No. SC02-2568. March 1, 2003 Daniel Staesser Assistant Editor Regular News Court calls for 56 new judgeslast_img