The Florida Bar
Funding Justice: The Summit for Florida's Courts Photos
On Jan. 16, leaders from The Florida Bar, judiciary and business met in Miami to examine what can be done to assure that Florida's courts receive the funding they need to carry out their constitutionally mandated work. Summit-goers heard a presentation about the economic fallout of more than two years of budget cuts that have taken more than 10 percent from court budgets, eliminating many support staffers at a time when filings are increasing, including a record numbers of foreclosures. The summit -- held in conjunction with The Florida Bar's Midyear Meeting -- was cosponsored by The Florida Bar and the Young Lawyers Division.
|Florida Bar President-Elect Jesse Diner welcomed summit-goers and said that lawmakers in the January special session recognized that in the worst of economic times, the courts play an ever-more crucial role in stabilizing the economy by resolving disputes and establishing confidence not only in the courts but also in the institutions that rely on them.|
|Dr. Anthony Vilamil of the Washington Economics Group discussed his findings in a Florida Bar-commissioned report about the ripple effect of court system cutbacks. "In one year, as a result of backlogged cases," said Vilamil, "given the multiplier effect of this throughout the economy and linkages that exist with other industries. . . we are suffering $17.4 billion in lost output."|
|Supreme Court Chief Justice Peggy Quince spoke about seven principles for stabilizing court funding, including Principle 2: Court fees assessed and paid by Florida's citizens to access their court system should be dedicated to the court system.|
|A panel of state business association leaders addressed the court funding summit. One was Barney Bishop , CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, who said lack of respect for the court system is evident by the fact that the entire court budget is seven-tenths of 1 percent of the state budget. "That doesn't sound like a lot of respect," said Bishop.|
|William Large, president of the Florida Justice Reform Institute, said companies are taking their business elsewhere because of legal backlogs in Florida: "Because of cuts to the judiciary in Florida," said Large, "we are seeing Fortune 500 companies moving to Alabama and South Carolina."|
|Supreme Court Justice Charles Canady addressed the issue of court fees not going to the court system. "I'm looking at a chart here that shows the (court) clerks receive approximately $540 million from court-related sources of fines, fees and services charges," said Canady. "Well, that is more than the whole budget for the judicial system."|
|From left to right, Merrick "Rick" Gross, immediate past chair of the Business Law Section; Eugene Pettis, chair of the Judicial Independence Committee; and Judge Kathleen Kroll, 15th circuit chief, were on panel |
of attorneys and judges discussing the fallout of ongoing budget cuts.
|Judge Kroll spoke about the impact laying off case managers has had on pro se litigants. “The first thing is we can’t help them," said Kroll. "There is confusion and the wrong things are filed. So there are delays and additional costs. Families are staying together because the $350 filing fee is too much, and we are seeing more domestic violence.”|
|Eugene Pettis spoke about Judicial Independence Committee efforts to support the courts. “We have to take to the Legislature some solutions," said Pettis. "The court system collects 4 percent (in fees) and we get 0.07 back (of the state’s total budget). If we got half of what we collect back, we’d be much better off. It is mandatory in this time, with pressures on the court system, that the courts and clerks sit down with common solutions. Otherwise, we will continue to have the problem.”|
|Rep. Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff, chair of the House Policy Council, and Rep. Juan-Carlos Planas, chair of the Public Safety and Domestic Security Policy Committee, spoke to the summit. “There’s been an expansion of court clerks’ duties over time." said Bogdanoff. "It’s been done by certain people in the Legislature who favor clerks. . . . We know they are constitutional officers, but all their duties are given to them statutorily. We can move that around. There is no budget oversight. The money goes in and we have no idea how it comes out.” Said Rep. Planas: “We have a Third DCA with leaks and stained carpet. An elevator in the Supreme Court didn’t work. This is the third branch of government. It’s embarrassing we don’t fund it. . . . From my little corner, you have an advocate. I see a change in the House. I see more moderate Republicans.”|