Adequate funding of Florida’s courts is necessary to ensure justice for all Floridians. An overburdened and underfunded system can fall behind in honoring the constitutional requirement for a speedy trial for criminal cases, and delays in civil cases can stretch over years.
The courts in Florida are funded by the Legislature and the counties – an expense that accounts for less than 1 percent of the state budget.
Florida’s courts typically generate about $1 billion a year, which is more than what is needed to support court operations. However, a significant portion is spent on noncourt programs and services. The State Courts Revenue Trust Fund was created to give the courts a dedicated funding source, with revenue from court filing fees. However, the trust fund relied heavily on foreclosure filing fees for revenue. Unpredictable swings in foreclosure filings make the judicial branch budget susceptible to volatility beyond its control.
Because of this market uncertainly, general revenue was then used as a primary funding source for the courts, though court users continue to pay for the courts system through court-related revenue flowing into the general revenue fund. Although general revenue now pays for more than 75 percent of the courts system’s budget, the judicial branch continues to experience fiscal instability.
The Florida Bar:
- Supports adequate funding of the state courts system, state attorneys’ offices, public defenders’ offices, court-appointed counsel, and the offices of the clerks of the circuit and county courts performing court-related functions.
- Supports legislation consistent with the Supreme Court of Florida’s certification of need for new judges.
- Supports adequate funding for civil legal assistance to indigent persons through the Florida Access to Civil Legal Assistance Act.
- Supports an adequately funded federal justice system and judiciary.
Beginning with its inception in summer of 2010, the ABA Task Force on Preservation of the Justice System has understood that adequate funding for state courts is imperative for access to justice and for the United States to fulfill its promise of equal justice under law. At the same time, it is critical that state courts systems adopt the most effective tools, strategies and approaches available to enhance resources. These initiatives should be based on principles of effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.
Florida overhauled its state courts system in 1972 with the adoption of Article V to the Florida Constitution. Approximately 14 different types of courts of varying jurisdiction were deleted as a result of Article V. The implied intent of the Article V amendment was to create a uniform twotier (county courts and circuit courts) trial court system following rules of procedure with statewide consistency.
In 1982, the state implementated of the Summary Reporting System (SRS), which is overseen by the Office of the State Courts Administrator. The SRS provides OSCA with data that assist the Supreme Court in its management and oversight role.
Another implied promise of Article V was eliminating the dependence on fines and filing fees set by judicial officers who were influenced by the need to fund their courts and generate revenue. The most important goal implied in Article V was to create a statefunded, independent judicial branch of government that would include all courts in the state.
On Nov. 5, 1998, voters approved Constitutional Revision 7, which addressed Article V funding. Under this revision, the state funds the expenses and operating capital outlay of the Supreme Court and the District Courts of Appeal, as well as judicial personnel costs and expenses for circuit and county courts. The counties pay for the building and maintenance of court facilities and the salaries of support staff for the county courts.
However, counties have continued to shoulder a substantial portion of the costs of operating the trial courts and related functions.
By judicial order, Florida’s Trial Court Budget Commission is charged with establishing budgeting and funding policies and procedures consistent with judicial branch plans and policies, directions from the State Supreme Court, and in consideration of input from Supreme Court committees and from the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges and the Florida Conference of County Court Judges.
The commission makes recommendations to the Supreme Court on the trial court component of the annual judicial branch budget request, advocates for that component, makes recommendations on funding formulas and budget implementation, and monitors trial court expenditure trends and revenue collections. It also recommends to the Supreme Court trial court budget reductions required by the Legislature.
The internal audit of the state courts system is conducted by the Office of Inspector General.
- For the 2016-17 fiscal year, there are 4,343.5 full-time equivalent positions funded in the State Courts System, including 99 in the Supreme Court, 445 in the district courts of appeal, 2,954 in the circuit courts, and 644 in the country courts. (Office of the State Courts Administrator)
- Appropriations for the State Courts System for the 2016-17 fiscal year totaled $521,715,884, which is 0.6% of the total state appropriations of $82,153,146,465. (Office of the State Courts Administrator).
- For 2016-17, the Legislature appropriated $10,411,919 for the Supreme Court; $350,000 for Administrative Funds; $60,800,172 for District Courts of Appeal; $337,497,012 for circuit courts; $87,976,693 for county courts; and $1,012,411 for the Judicial Qualifications Commission. (Office of the State Courts Administrator)
- The 2016-17 state budget included an additional $4.7 million for the State Courts System over the previous year. In spite of the increase, the total appropriation was $37 million below the judiciary’s request.
- Florida’s courts system accounts for only 0.6 percent of the state’s total budget but has declined by almost 11 percent since fiscal year 2007-08.
- Florida courts generate approximately $1 billion in revenues each year, which is almost double what is needed to support court operations. Legislators and the courts agreed to dedicate revenues from court filing fees to the State Court Trust Funds. However, some filing fees have been directed away from the State Court Trust Funds and toward general revenue.
- In the 2014-15 Florida State Courts Annual Report, the most recent report available, the courts identify several areas in which additional funding is required. The State Courts System’s highest priority is additional recurring funds for the recruitment and retention of highly qualified court personnel and judges.
In its 2017-18 budget request, the State Courts System is seeking:
- Second-year funding of $6,388,909 in recurring salary dollars, effective July 1, 2017, to continue addressing a wide range of staff salary issues affecting the State Courts System. Similar requests were not funded in the last two state budgets.
- $21,846,048 ($6,001,836 nonrecurring) to develop and maintain case management systems, refresh and maintain aging court reporting equipment and provide a minimum level of technology services in counties for the benefit of court users. None of the statewide technology needs related to case processing and due process were funded in the 2016-17 budget.
- $6,288,545 ($2,412,526 nonrecurring) to foster the quality and availability of court interpreting services provided in the trial courts amid growth in the non-English-speaking population.
- $3,336,380 ($119,950 nonrecurring) for case-management resources and $3,123,415 ($95,960 nonrecurring) for staff attorney resources to assist in the processing and management of cases through the judicial system.
- $418,701 ($337,340 nonrecurring) to improve data management and reporting capabilities of the court system by installing regional servers and taking other steps that will enable the capture of significantly more case activity information from clerks of court.
- The Supreme Court has certified the need for 12 additional trial court judges for Fiscal Year 2017-18: four in circuit court and eight in county court. It also recommended the decertification of six county court judgeships. The court certified the need for 24 additional circuit and county judges for FY 2016-17; the budget provided no funding for any new judges.Prepared by The Florida Bar Department of Public Information and Bar Services and the Office of the State Courts Administrator.