Funding for Florida’s courts has stabilized, but judicial system employees still remain underpaid compared to other branches of government.
Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Ricky Polston made those and other points when he addressed the Bar Board of Governors at its January 31 meeting in Tallahassee.
Polston recounted that a couple years ago the courts were in a perpetual budget crisis because the judicial system relied on filing fees, particularly from foreclosures which had a dramatic decline and left the courts short of their budgeted revenues. Now 77 percent of the budget comes from state general revenues, he said, adding that the court system’s $434 million is 0.6 percent of the overall state budget.
Other priorities, the chief justice said, include:
* A two-year, $18 million effort, with $9.8 million coming this year, to boost pay on judicial branch employees. Polston noted that comparable executive branch jobs pay 11.45 percent more than judicial branch positions, which leads to high employee turnover.
* $4.4 million to address aging courthouses in the Second, Third, Fourth, and Fifth district courts of appeal.
* $14 million for 49 new judges; three on the DCAs, seven circuit court, and 39 county court judges.
* Continuing progress on switching Florida courts from paper to electronic filings. Polston noted that all counties require electronic filing for civil cases and most are accepting electronic filing for criminal cases. The Supreme Court and Second District Court of Appeal are requiring electronic filing for appeals and the other DCAs will be following suit. The court is requesting $4.7 million to buy judicial viewers so judges in criminal cases can handle the electronic files.
* The courts are continuing to attack the backlog in foreclosure cases, handling 20,000 cases a month instead of the normal 6,000. He noted that funding for dealing with foreclosure cases helped buy judicial viewers for civil cases. “Obviously, this is a very important issue that we’re dealing with as a branch and as a state,” Polston said of foreclosures. “We’re diligent to ensure that due process rights of all parties are protected and the integrity of the process is maintained.”
* The Florida Courts E-Filing Authority, which oversees the statewide portal through which e-filing is done, has made great strides in meeting four goals set out by Polston: improve service from its help desk, allow filers to view documents filed through the portal, allow documents — such as judicial orders — to be sent to filers through the portal, and bring uniformity to the filing drop-down menus used in each county through the state.
Polston praised the relationship between the court and the Bar, saying. “The close relationship the Supreme Court and the judiciary have with The Florida Bar is really not replicated all throughout the United States. We enjoy a special relationship, and I attribute that in large part to the leadership of the Bar.”