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January 15, 2013
Court tweaks judicial branch governance plan

By Jan Pudlow
Senior Editor

Term limits for trial court chief judges are delayed until 2015, and language has been clarified about how judges should speak with one voice to the other two branches on budget matters.

In its order on rehearing December 20, the Florida Supreme Court responded on those two matters, but denied the remainder of requests in the comments, after hearing oral arguments about changes to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration, in response to recommendations of the Judicial Branch Governance Study Group.

At oral arguments in September, the justices heard an earful about those two subjects:

* Eight-year term limits for trial court chief judges — actually not recommended by the study group but enacted on the high court’s own motion without first consulting the judges; and

* The directive that the judicial branch speak with one voice, so individual judges meeting with elected officials in the legislative and executive branches need to make it clear they are only offering their personal opinions.

(See story, “Judges have their say on judicial governance rules,” in September 15, 2012, News.)

Briefs arguing vehemently against those rule changes were filed by the chief judges, as well as the conferences of circuit judges, county judges, and district courts of appeal judges, and several voluntary bar associations.

In addressing the controversial term limits issue, the court delayed the effective date until February 1, 2015, at 12:01 a.m., “so that with terms beginning July 1, 2015, judges who have served for eight years or more are not eligible for re-election.”

Not all of the justices agreed about this new term limits provision in Rule 2.215(c).

Justice Canady In concurring in part and dissenting in part, Justice Charles Canady wrote that he would repeal the term limit provisions.

“These provisions have been met with the expression of overwhelming opposition,” Canady wrote. “And no case whatsoever has been made that these term limits are necessary or will be beneficial to the effective administration of justice.”

Justice Fred Lewis continued in his dissent about the whole study group that was intended to strengthen governance and enhance communication of the judicial branch, established in 2009 by then Chief Justice Peggy Quince and chaired by Justice Ricky Polston.

“Today’s order on rehearing demonstrates the truly whimsical nature of this entire effort,” Lewis wrote. “This project was ill-conceived, ill-structured, and totally without proper parameters or full discussion by the court prior to its ill-fated mission.

“Now, a lack of principle has evolved in a ‘delayed implementation’ approach as though the bad policy decisions will improve with age as a vintage wine. To the contrary, not only is the ‘change for the sake of change approach’ misdirected, the implementation of a bad policy does not, and should not, be predicated upon improvement with age.

“In a similar manner, implementation of a good policy should not be delayed to satisfy the personal desires of a very few who, for personal benefit, oppose the policy,” Lewis continued.

“Nothing new has been presented to this court on rehearing that was not previously considered by this court, nor have we failed to consider anything presented on rehearing. The modified decision merely reflects an attempt to silence or placate the voices of some who objected, as do I, to this well-intended but misdirected bad policy that will produce further turmoil and political maneuvering within the judicial branch.”

Justice Barbara Pariente addressed Lewis’ dissent, by describing the study group as engaging “in thoughtful deliberation and analysis” regarding ways to strengthen the governance of the judicial branch.

“. . . I sincerely hope that the amendments will not ‘produce further turmoil and political maneuvering within the judicial branch,’” Pariente wrote.

“To the contrary, over the past 15 years that I have served on the court, I have seen many examples of just the opposite — that is, cooperation at all levels of the judiciary with a common mission to serve the citizens of this state in the administration of justice.

“Lastly, as far as the decision to delay by two years the implementation of term limits for trial court chief judges, the purpose of this prospective application is to ensure an orderly transition to a new chief judge. Since the elections for chief judges are currently scheduled to take place in early 2013 for terms to commence on July 1, 2013, the two-year delayed time period allows for current chief judges to prepare to make it easier for their successor to assume leadership. Simply stated, there is nothing sinister or misguided about our decision to make this particular change prospective,” Pariente wrote.

Regarding the rule about the judicial branch speaking with one voice, the court granted requests for clarification of the language in new Rule of Judicial Administration 2.205(a)(1)(B), as follows:

“Consistent with the authority of the supreme court to establish policy, including recommending state budget and compensation priorities for the judicial branch, no judge, supreme court created committee, commission, task force, or similar group, and no conference (Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges, Conference of Circuit Court Judges, Conference of County Court Judges) is permitted to recommend state budget priorities, including compensation and benefits, to the legislative or executive branch that have not been approved by the supreme court. This subdivision is not intended to apply to judges expressing their personal views who affirmatively make it explicitly clear state that they are not speaking on behalf of the judicial branch.”

Canady also dissented from the court’s decision not to revisit provisions of Rule 2.220(b), relating to the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges.

“I would repeal the provisions of Rule 2.220(b) and undertake further study of the matter in consultation with Florida’s circuit court judges,” Canady wrote.

Canady also dissented from the court’s decision not to revise Rule 2.244(c)(3), which creates the Unified Compensation Committee, to provide for membership of a representative of the circuit court chief judges.

“The chief judges play a crucial rule in the administration of the judicial branch, and their input on this committee would be very valuable,” Canady wrote.

The court acted in Case No. SC11-1374, In Re: Implementation of Judicial Branch Governance Study Group Recommendations — Amendments to the Florida Rules of Judicial Administration.

[Revised: 11-15-2013]