Florida’s highest court says the state needs 71 additional trial court judges and one for the Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland because of an increase in mortgage and civil cases and demands on reduced staff time by a growth in those who self-represent themselves in legal matters.
With the state Legislature looking to plug a nearly $2 billion shortfall in projected revenue for the next fiscal year, the justices stated in a release Thursday that they need 23 circuit court judges and 48 in county courts.
“We recognize that the funding of new judgeships is an expensive proposition, especially during difficult economic times with diminished state revenues,” the justices wrote. “If monies become available, we encourage the Legislature to give priority consideration to funding the trial courts’ Fiscal Year 2012/2013 Legislative Budget Request for positions to assist with case processing.”
Gov. Rick Scott, in his proposed budget for 2012-2013 released on Dec. 7 called for $434 million in funding for the state court system — $2.8 million fewer dollars than in the current fiscal year — and no new positions.
In February, a similar review had the courts seeking 80 additional trial court judges, 26 in the circuit level and 54 in county courts.
“Our judges continue to absorb the work previously performed by magistrates, law clerks, case managers, and other supplemental support staff lost in the budget reductions of the last several years,” the justices wrote. “Most of these positions provided direct case management, legal research, and adjudicatory support to our judges. Chief judges have advised us that the loss of support staff translates into slower case processing times, crowded dockets, and long waits to access judicial calendars.”
Despite the growing backlog and increase in workload, the courts have also been hit economically as there has been a reduction in filing fees, which the courts rely heavily upon for funding, the justices noted.
The additional judges would boost the number of circuit judges in the state to 622 and county judges to 370. There was no immediate breakdown available on the individual circuit and county needs.
In reviewing the latest requests for additional positions, the justices determined that only one appeals court judge was needed.
The Second District Court of Appeal had requested two additional district court judges. However, the court review indicated the projected caseload would require only one more judge.
By: Jim Turner
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