For Immediate Release: May 4, 2011
In a short-lived victory for Floridians, clearer heads prevailed in the Senate when they rejected the House’s plan to split the Supreme Court into civil and criminal divisions, add more justices and give the Governor the power to appoint the chief justice. But tucked in the budget agreement between the House and the Senate is $400,000 to fund a study of whether a split court would be more effective and what that impact would be. The study, which would begin immediately with a final report due to the legislature in December, would also examine the staffing of the courts, the judicial merit retention system and whether the judicial nominating commission is forwarding “the best candidates for Florida.”
A review and evaluation of the court’s efficiency would be welcome and ensure transparency for taxpayers. But the stated goals of the report make it difficult to believe there will be anything fair and impartial about the review. The actual purpose and intent of the report ought to raise a lot of eyebrows—and a lot of questions. Will it be competitively bid in the sunshine? Are they really going to pay $400,000 for 5 months of work? Do they have someone in mind that has the kind of expertise to study the range of issues outlined in the bill? How would a consultant make all of the qualitative judgments expected? What are the criteria for who will be conducting the study, such as what qualifications they have? Most concerning is the intent to pass judgment on the “quality and quantity” of case law decisions. The Speaker of the House is spending taxpayer dollars to fund a study that virtually everyone agrees is not needed. Moreover, our state is facing critical cuts in many areas where legitimate needs exist. The money would be better spent on education and healthcare.
Florida’s judicial system serves as an important third branch of government and cannot be placed under the Legislature to determine the quality of case law outcomes.
A fair and impartial court system is vital to the proper functioning of our society and is necessary to ensure that all disputes are resolved according to the rule of law and our constitution, and not partisan political influence.
Here’s what members of the Coalition for Fair and Impartial Courts are saying:
“Measuring the “quality” of judicial opinions is nearly impossible. It is subject to the observer’s perspective about the result reached in the opinion. It is also unclear what the legislature intends to do if the study finds that judicial opinions are somehow of “poor quality.” Would justices be required to take a class in remedial opinion-writing? These funds would be much better spent in determining the needs of the trial courts and how their heavy caseloads can be alleviated.”
- Raoul Cantero, Former Florida Supreme Court Justice
“The provision in the budget for a “study” of the Florida Supreme Court workload and staffing and the judicial nominating and retention systems is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to revive the failed and ill considered attempt to “pack” the Court and undermine the independence and impartiality of our judiciary. No study is needed to confirm what the citizens of our State already know — that our current judicial system works well and requires no “fixing” or “tinkering.” The $400,000 earmarked for this study would be much better spent on more trial judges and critical support staff, so that the judiciary, a co-equal branch of government, does not continue to be starved for resources.”
- Neal R. Sonnett, Former President, American Judicature Society and Dade County Bar Association