By Craig Waters
Director, Florida Supreme Court Public Information Office
The State Courts System
By Craig Waters
Article V of the Constitution of Florida establishes state courts in which judicial power is vested and provides for the creation, organization, jurisdiction, and administration of the judicial branch of Florida. A revision to Article V, adopted by the voters of Florida on March 14, 1972, effective January 1, 1973, established a uniform state courts system consisting of the following courts:
The Supreme Court
District Courts of Appeal
There can be no other courts established by the state or any other body, although there are administrative law tribunals designed to enforce certain kinds of regulatory statutes. Before the 1972 revision, Florida had a confusing patchwork of courts that differed greatly from county to county and was under no central authority. The 1972 revisions placed the entire state courts system under the administrative control of the Chief Justice, though chief judges of the lower courts retain substantial discretion in administering their own courts. This was the first time Florida had a unified state courts system.
In 1998 voters approved another constitutional amendment, effective July 1, 2004, requiring the state to fund most court functions under a unified state courts’ budget. Previously, counties paid a substantial portion of local court costs. Counties still pay for some things, notably security, construction, and maintenance of local courthouses. By contrast, all appellate court costs and expenses are paid by the state legislature.
Starting in 2020, the jurisdiction of the county and circuits courts was adjusted. In general, county courts now have jurisdiction only over disputes involving $30,000 or less. Disputes involving larger amounts must go to the appropriate circuit court.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court is the chief administrative officer of the judicial system and is chosen for a two-year term by the majority of the seven members of the Supreme Court. The selection of the chief justice is based on managerial, administrative, and leadership abilities, without regard to seniority alone. A chief justice may serve successive terms limited to a total of eight years.
The chief justice may be removed by a vote of four justices. If a vacancy occurs in the chief justiceship, a successor is chosen promptly to serve the balance of the unexpired term. Terms of the chief justices begin July 1 in even-numbered years. The chief justice oversees the state courts’ budget and has the power to assign justices or judges to temporary duty in any court statewide on which the judge is qualified to sit.
The chief judge of each district court of appeal also is chosen for a two-year term by a majority of the judges of the district court of appeal and is responsible for the administrative supervision of the district court of appeal. The selection of a district chief judge is based on managerial, administrative, and leadership abilities, without regard to seniority alone.
A district chief judge may serve for successive terms not exceeding eight years. In the event of a vacancy, a successor is chosen promptly to serve the balance of the unexpired term. If the chief judge is unable to discharge these duties, the judge longest in continuous service or, as between judges with equal continuous service, the one having the longest unexpired term and able to do so, will perform the duties of chief judge pending the chief judge’s return to duty.
A district chief judge may be removed as chief judge by the supreme court, acting as the administrative supervisory body of all courts, or by a two-thirds vote of the active judges of the district court.
Each circuit has its own chief judge who is chosen from among the circuit judges and is responsible for the administrative supervision of the circuit courts and county courts in that circuit. The chief judge must be a circuit judge who possesses managerial, administrative, and leadership abilities, and is selected without regard to seniority alone.
The circuit chief judge is chosen by a majority of the active circuit and county court judges within the circuit for a term of two years commencing on July 1 of each odd-numbered year, or if there is no majority, by the chief justice, for a term of two years.
A circuit chief judge may be removed as chief judge by the supreme court, acting as the administrative supervisory body of all courts, or may be removed by a two-thirds vote of the active judges.
If a circuit chief judge dies, retires, fails to appoint an acting chief judge during an absence, or is unable to perform the duties of the office, the chief justice of the supreme court will appoint a circuit judge to act as chief judge during the absence or disability, or until a successor chief judge is elected to serve the unexpired term.
When the office of circuit chief judge is temporarily vacant, the duties of court administration will be performed by the circuit judge having the longest continuous service as a judge or by another circuit judge designated by that judge.
B. Public Information Offices
On June 1, 1996, the Florida Supreme Court established its first Public Information Office to assist the media, oversee public communications, and handle other public information matters. Nearly all of the information provided by this office is available online. Press inquiries should be directed to the Public Information Office at 850-414-7641 or by email. In addition, the Office of the State Courts Administrator established its own Public Information Office in 2017. Each of the 27 divisions of the State Courts System has its own Public Information Office, as officially recognized by the 2016 State Courts Communications Plan. Information and contact information for all court PIOs are available on the website of their nonprofit professional association, the Florida Court Public Information Officers (FCPIO).
No person is be eligible for the office of justice or judge of any court in this state unless that person is an elector of the state and resides within the jurisdiction of that court. No judge or justice can serve after reaching age 75 years. Retired judges or justices can be appointed to temporarily sit on cases, but only if there is no conflict of interest in doing so.
To become eligible for the office of justice of the Supreme Court or judge of the district court of appeal, one must have been a member of The Florida Bar for at least 10 years. To be eligible for the office of judge of the circuit court, one must have been a member of The Florida Bar for at least five years. A county court judge must be a member of The Florida Bar.
D. MERIT RETENTION OF APPELLATE JUDGES
Justices of the Supreme Court and judges on the district courts of appeal are first put in office by the governor, who must select from a list of three to six names submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Afterward, they face election at the end of their terms in a process called merit retention. Voters have the opportunity only to say yes or no as to whether the justice or judge will remain in office. If voters say no, the governor will appoint a replacement from a new list submitted by the nominating commission.
After appointment by the governor, the justice or judge must stand for a merit retention vote in the next general election that is more than one year after the date of appointment. Afterward, the justice or judge serves a six-year term and will again stand for merit retention election at the end of each term. This process repeats itself until the justice or judge reaches mandatory retirement age or leaves office for other reasons.
E. APPOINTMENT AND ELECTION OF TRIAL JUDGES
Trial judges stand for election in nonpartisan races every six years. However, if a vacancy occurs before the end of the judge’s term, the governor appoints a replacement in a manner similar to the way appeals judges are chosen. Any candidate for judicial office, even if not yet a sitting judge, is bound by special ethical rules. These are contained in Canon 7 of the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct.
F. PROHIBITED ACTIVITIES
All justices and judges must devote full-time to their judicial duties. They cannot practice law, hold office in any political party, or engage in partisan activities. Standards for judicial ethics are established in the Florida Code of Judicial Conduct approved by the Florida Supreme Court.
The Judicial Qualifications Commission is a body independent of the courts and the other branches of government. It polices judicial conduct. The JQC has the authority to recommend discipline for misconduct, ranging from a public reprimand to removal from office. Other possible punishments include suspension from office and fines. The Florida Supreme Court has the final say in what, if any, punishment is imposed for misconduct as a judge. In addition, the JQC can recommend that the Supreme Court order the mandatory retirement of judges because of medical issues that leave them unable to perform the duties of office.
If a Supreme Court justice is charged with misconduct, the other justices automatically are removed from the case and the matter is decided by senior judges from the lower courts sitting as a temporary Supreme Court. A list of pending JQC cases is available online.
All investigative documents held by the JQC are confidential under the state Constitution until it files a Notice of Formal Charges — roughly the equivalent of a finding of probable cause — with the Clerk of the Florida Supreme Court. At that point in time, the Notice and all future filings sent to the Clerk become public record and are posted on the Supreme Court’s website on its Judicial Qualifications Case page.
The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate the admission of persons to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted. Two agencies assist the Court. The Florida Board of Bar Examiners investigates the backgrounds of attorney candidates, administers tests to them, and makes recommendations to the Supreme Court regarding their admission to The Florida Bar. The Bar in turn regulates the profession and recommends disciplinary action for attorneys who violate the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. The Florida Supreme Court has the final decision in whether to impose discipline on attorneys, which can range from an admonishment to disbarment.
The Florida Supreme Court’s longstanding practice has been to give deference to the Bar Examiners and The Florida Bar when they are engaged in fact finding about ethics charges. It is unusual for the Supreme Court to ignore their findings and recommendations entirely. The Bar Examiners are a body completely separate from The Florida Bar and have their own separate governance structure. It is common for people to mistakenly assume, for example, that The Florida Bar administers the Bar Exam, but this is not true.
II. Appellate Courts
A. THE SUPREME COURT
There are seven justices of the Supreme Court of Florida. Five justices are necessary for a quorum, and four justices must concur for there to be a decision of the court. Thus, the Supreme Court cannot take any action until at least four members agree to the decision and at least five members participate.
When a recusal is made, judges from lower courts can be assigned to temporary substitute duty by order of the Chief Justice if there is a need. Judges serving in temporary duty are called ‘Associate Justices’ of the Court. They always are chosen when needed from among the chief judges of the district courts of appeal on a rotating basis beginning with the First District and proceeding through the Fifth District, repeating continuously.
The actual members of the Supreme Court are called simply ‘Justices,’ except for the ‘Chief Justice.’ This practice differs from that of the U.S. Supreme Court, where the “Chief Justice” always sits with “Associate Justices” and there is no possibility of appointing temporary substitute Justices.
The Florida Supreme Court must hear appeals from final judgments of trial courts imposing the death penalty and from orders of the trial court in bond validation proceedings, district court of appeal decisions declaring invalid a state statute or a provision of the State Constitution, and public service commission rulings on electric, gas, or telephone rates or service.
The Supreme Court may review any decision of a district court of appeal that expressly affects a class of state officials, expressly declares a state statute valid, expressly construes a provision of the state or federal constitution, expressly and directly conflicts with a decision of another Florida district court of appeal, or is certified by a district court to pass on a question of great public importance or to be in direct conflict with a decision of any other district court of appeal. In addition, the Supreme Court may hear other matters on a discretionary basis by issuing writs of prohibition, mandamus, quo warranto, habeas corpus, and all writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court relies heavily on special commissions and committees to advise it about matters related to statewide court governance and administration. In addition, there is a standing advisory body called the Judicial Management Council (JMC) that helps the Court formulate policy and implement needed reforms throughout the judicial branch statewide. The JMC was designed to function as a body that can respond swiftly and dynamically to administrative issues the branch is facing. This is achieved through the creation of workgroups, each of which is charged with specific tasks and then ceases meetings when its tasks are completed.
As of October 2020, the salaries of all Justices including the Chief Justice were $227,218.
B. DISTRICT COURTS OF APPEAL
Five district courts of appeal have been established. The number of appellate judges in each district, as of August 2020, are as follows:
|District||Number of Judges|
The number of judges is set by law. Here is a map of the geographical boundaries of the district courts of appeal as they existed in August 2020:
The district courts of appeal are composed of the following judicial circuits:
- The First District Court of Appeal is composed of the First, Second, Third, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Judicial Circuits. This is roughly the North Florida area and includes Pensacola, Tallahassee, Jacksonville, and Gainesville.
- The Second District Court of Appeal is composed of the Sixth, Tenth, Twelfth, Thirteenth, and Twentieth Judicial Circuits. This is roughly the West Central Florida area and includes Tampa, St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples.
- The Third District Court of Appeal is composed of the Eleventh, and Sixteenth Judicial Circuits. This is Miami-Dade and Monroe counties and includes Miami and the Keys.
- The Fourth District Court of Appeal is composed of the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Judicial Circuits. This is Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee, and Indian River counties. It includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach.
- The Fifth District Court of Appeal is composed of the Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eighteenth Judicial Circuits. This is roughly the East Central Florida area and includes Orlando, Ocala, Daytona Beach, St. Augustine, and Melbourne.
A panel of three judges considers each case and two judges must concur to render a decision. The district courts of appeal have jurisdiction to hear appeals that may be taken as a matter of right from final judgments or orders of trial courts, not directly appealable to the Supreme Court or a circuit court. This can include murder cases in which a sentence less than death is imposed, because the Supreme Court only has exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving an actual death sentence.
The district courts of appeal have the power of the direct review of administrative action. The district courts of appeal may issue writs of habeas corpus, mandamus, certiorari, prohibition, quo warranto, and other writs necessary to the complete exercise of its jurisdiction. As a practical matter, the vast majority of appeals in the state are heard by the district courts, not the supreme court.
As of October 2020, the salaries of all judges of the district courts including the chief judges were $174,641.
III. Trial Courts
The number of judicial circuits and the number of circuit judges and county judges as of August 2020, are as follows:
|Judicial Circuit||Circuit Judges||County Judges|
The number of trial judges is set by state statute.
A. JUDICIAL CIRCUITS: COUNTY BREAKDOWN
- The First Circuit is composed of Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, and Walton counties.
- The Second Circuit is composed of Leon, Gadsden, Jefferson, Wakulla, Liberty, and Franklin counties.
- The Third Circuit is composed of Columbia, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor counties.
- The Fourth Circuit is composed of Clay, Duval, and Nassau counties.
- The Fifth Circuit is composed of Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, and Sumter counties.
- The Sixth Circuit is composed of Pasco and Pinellas counties.
- The Seventh Circuit is composed of Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns, and Volusia counties.
- The Eighth Circuit is composed of Alachua, Baker, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, and Union counties.
- The Ninth Circuit is composed of Orange and Osceola counties.
- The Tenth Circuit is composed of Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties.
- The Eleventh Circuit is composed of Dade County.
- The Twelfth Circuit is composed of DeSoto, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.
- The Thirteenth Circuit is composed of Hillsborough County.
- The Fourteenth Circuit is composed of Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, and Washington counties.
- The Fifteenth Circuit is composed of Palm Beach County.
- The Sixteenth Circuit is composed of Monroe County.
- The Seventeenth Circuit is composed of Broward County.
- The Eighteenth Circuit is composed of Brevard and Seminole counties.
- The Nineteenth Circuit is composed of Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, and St. Lucie counties.
- The Twentieth Circuit is composed of Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, and Lee counties.
B. CIRCUIT COURTS
The circuit courts constitute Florida’s trial courts of general jurisdiction. Most trial matters are heard here. These courts have exclusive original jurisdiction in all actions at law in which the matter in controversy exceeds $30,000, exclusive of interest and costs; in proceedings relating to probate, domestic relations, juveniles, criminal felonies, and competency; and all cases in equity. Circuit courts also decide appeals from county court rulings and administrative bodies of local governments.
As of October 2020, the salaries of all circuit judges including the chief judges were $165,509.
C. COUNTY COURTS
The county courts constitute Florida’s trial courts of limited jurisdiction, hearing less significant cases. These courts have jurisdiction in all actions at law in which the matter in controversy is $30,000 or less, exclusive of interest and costs, and in small claims cases. Small claims cases are decided here.
As of October 2020, the salaries of all county judges were $156,377.
D. CIVIL TRAFFIC INFRACTION HEARING OFFICERS
An amendment to Article V, Sec. 1 authorizes establishment of civil traffic hearing officers to preside over civil traffic infractions. In 1989, the Legislature designated specified noncriminal traffic infractions, established procedures for infractions processing, and authorized the adjudication of traffic infractions by civil traffic hearing officers. Pursuant to statutory authorization, the Florida Supreme Court adopted rules for practice and procedure for the civil traffic infraction hearing officer program. The hearing officers are subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct with some exceptions. The hearing officers have powers analogous to a county judge’s powers regarding traffic infractions, with some limitations. Appeals from hearing officer decisions are to the circuit court.
IV. Office of the State Courts Administrator
The Office of the State Courts Administrator (OSCA) was created in 1972 as the arm of the Supreme Court designated to assist the chief justice as chief administrative officer of the State Courts System. The OSCA serves as the principle point of contact for communication between the judicial branch, the legislature, the governor, and state agencies. The OSCA is also responsible for collecting and compiling uniform financial and other statistical data or information reflect of the cost, workloads, business, and other functions related to the state courts system. The office conducts research, planning, and policy development functions at the branch level, and assists in the development of recommended improvements in the system, usually in coordination with judicial committees. This office oversees the preparation of state court system budgets and provides other financial administration for state funds. Continuing education for judges is another key role of the OSCA in supporting an effective judiciary. Additionally, the OSCA provides the administrative services of personnel, payroll, human services, education and training for court system personnel, and contracting and procurement.
The purpose of the OSCA Budget Services office is to develop budget requests and implement operating budgets for the Florida Judicial Branch. The Budget Services office provides court managers with budget information that is necessary for prudent financial decisions and serves as a liaison on technical budget matters between the courts and the other branches of government. The office helps ensure that the State Courts System fulfills the constitutional and statutory mandates relating to budgeting (see Article III, section 19(h), Constitution of the State of Florida, and Chapter 216, Florida Statutes). Major functions and tasks include:
- Prepares the annual legislative budget request and other budget schedules as required by Chapter 216, Florida Statutes, for all trial and appellate courts;
- Monitors legislative activities related to the Judicial Branch budget and takes action as needed;
- Develops and implements operating budgets for the trial and appellate courts;
- Prepares budget amendments for the trial and appellate courts;
- Manages rate and salary budgets for the trial and appellate courts;
- Provides technical support to trial and appellate court personnel;
- Provides staff support to court-appointed committees, sub-committees, and ad-hoc workgroups that are responsible for recommending policy relating to Judicial Branch budgeting;
- Provides information to the Legislative and Executive branches, regarding the State Courts System budget on behalf of State Courts System budget entities;
- Participates in special projects related to improving financial management of the trial and appellate courts; and
- Disseminates fiscal information for use by internal and external decision makers, including budget analysis and monthly management reports.
Innovations and Outreach
The Innovations and Outreach Unit performs a critical staffing role for the Judicial Management Council and the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. The Unit, which reports directly to the State Courts Administrator, also handles special projects and referrals designed to advance the mission of the judicial branch. The Unit takes an enterprise view of challenges facing the branch and identifies opportunities to promote accessible, fair, effective, responsive, and accountable justice. Specifically, this Unit is responsible for:
- Identifying innovations throughout the state courts system as well as nationally.
- Staffing the Judicial Management Council and the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice and their subcommittees.
- Facilitating the development of the judicial branch’s long-range strategic plan and assisting in the implementation of the plan’s goals.
- Overseeing cross-unit working groups to implement judicial branch initiatives and statewide legislative changes to court operations and jurisdiction.
- Composing and producing administrative publications such as the Florida State Courts Annual Report and the Full Court Press newsletter.
- Creating e-learning modules for employee training.
- Managing web content on internet and intranet websites.
- Coordinating organizational development initiatives within the Office of the State Courts Administrator.
- Identifying, applying for, and managing grants to advance branch priorities.
Finance and Accounting
The purpose of the OSCA Office of Finance and Accounting is to manage the State Courts Systems finances in accordance with applicable statutes, laws, rules, policies and procedures, generally accepted accounting principles, and requirements of the Governmental Accounting Standards Board. In order for the Florida Judicial Branch to perform its constitutional and legislative mandates, as well as fulfill its mission and goals, it must maintain a statewide accounting system that supports an effective and efficient infrastructure for the courts. Major functions and tasks include:
- Ensures the timely processing of payments and depositing of state revenues on behalf of the state court system;
- Reconciles state accounts and revenues for the state court system;
- Maintains state court system’s accounting system and financial records;
- Processes departmental payroll and distributes payroll and other state warrants for the state courts;
- Coordinates the annual fixed asset inventory;
- Maintains the official fixed asset records for the state court system;
- Provides financial data to management of the state court system;
- Provides financial data to the Department of Banking and Finance for inclusion in the State of Florida’s financial statements (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report); and
- Maintains the statewide accounting system for the state court system.
The OSCA General Services office is involved with the purchase of goods and services for the Florida Supreme Court, district courts of appeal, and trial courts. Procurement policy direction and oversight is provided to court administration personnel at the trial court and appellate court levels. This includes the review of purchase requisitions and contracts to ensure compliance with court purchasing policies and state law. General Services is also involved with grant management, the purpose of which is to oversee the administration of grants, grants-in-aid, and state financial assistance contracts involving the trial and appellate courts, county commissions, and private vendors. Major functions and tasks include:
- Develops uniform state purchasing directives and guidelines that integrate the use of efficient technologies and other automated resources in the State Courts Systems procurement functions;
- Trains relevant trial and appellate court purchasing officials;
- Develops statewide loss control, safety, and security guidelines to enhance safety and security in all trial and appellate court facilities;
- Ensures appropriate foundational planning guidelines for the justification and acquisition of real property space for the trial and appellate courts;
- Provides supply and mail room management for the Office of the State Courts Administrator;
- Manages records retention for the Office of the State Courts Administrator;
- Coordinates emergency preparedness planning for the entire State Courts System, including training and technical assistance for all trial and appellate courts; and
- On behalf of the trial and appellate courts, performs grants and contract administration, to expedite the receipt of funds and services and to ensure compliance with the applicable statutes, laws, rules, policies, and procedures.
The purpose of the OSCA Human Resources Office is to develop and administer all functions of the Florida State Courts Systems uniform personnel system. A quality work force is the most important resource of any organization. In order for the State Courts System to perform its constitutional and legislative mandates, as well as fulfill its mission and goals, it must be able to attract, recruit, and retain a high-quality work force. Major functions and tasks include:
- Recruitment and selection
- Trial and appellate court classification and pay
- Payroll administration, including the processing of all monthly, bi-weekly, and supplemental payrolls, for all state-funded positions in the trial and appellate courts
- Benefits administration, including health insurance and supplemental benefits processing and troubleshooting, for all state-funded positions in the trial and appellate courts
- Identify and disseminate staff development opportunities for the State Courts System
- Employee relations, including handling civil rights complaints, for the State Courts System
- Personnel records management
- Staff support to the Personnel Subcommittee of the Trial Court Budget Commission
- Attendance and leave processing (calculation, audit, and reports), for all leave-accruing state-funded positions in the trial and appellate courts
- Position control for the State Courts System
- Retirement counseling for all state-funded positions in the trial and appellate courts
- Maintain data bases including equal employment opportunity (EEO) data base for the Judicial Branch and current and historical judicial data base
- Annual State Courts System Pay Plan development
- Provide training/make training available on various human relations issues, e.g., sexual harassment, the Americans with Disabilities Act, cultural diversity, and the civil rights complaint procedure
The purpose of the OSCA Office of Court Services is to provide research and evaluation support services to all components of the Florida State Courts System, including technical assistance and monitoring of court programs; research; data analysis; and staff support of court committees that effectuate policy for critical activities of the Judicial Branch. Major functions and tasks include:
- Data maintenance for the trial and appellate courts, including data collection, user support, training, quality control, auditing, and validation;
- Data analysis for the trial and appellate courts, including statistical analysis, forecasting survey design and analysis, and performance and accountability measurement analysis;
- Workload measurement analysis for judicial certification of judgeships and the development of funding formulas for various court support resources;
- Special court studies, including staffing of Supreme Court committees;
- Provide statistical and methodological support on State Courts System surveys, evaluations, samples, and formulas;
- Branch coordination and liaison with national, state, and local government organizations and private organizations, relative to court policies and procedures and court support services;
- Manage and administer the court interpreter program;
- Provide technical assistance to the trial courts on jury management, case management, and court reporting issues;
- Administer the impanelment of the statewide grand jury;
- Review all local trial court rules for jury selection; and
- Other court support functions involving trial and appellate court operations, monitoring, and compliance as directed by the Supreme Court.
Office of Information Technology Services
Evolving computer-assisted information management and communications technologies offer substantial opportunities for the Florida State Courts System to improve its efficiency, effectiveness, and accessibility. The purpose of the OSCA Office of Information Technology Services is to assist the Florida courts in maximizing these advancing technologies through planning, organizing, directing, and coordinating information technology. Major functions and tasks include:
- Plan, organize, direct, and coordination information technology for the judicial branch;
- Manage the State Courts Systems information technology budget;
- Research and develop various technologies and computer applications for the appellate and trial courts, including information technology security;
- Design, develop, support, and enhance various court computer applications;
- Manage, support, and enhance the State Courts Network, including video teleconferencing services;
- Manage the Internet/Intranet infrastructure;
- Staff support for activities associated with the Florida Courts Technology Commission, which affect all levels of Florida courts;
- Staff support for activities associated with the Appellate Court Technology Committee;
- Procurement and support of computer hardware and software, primarily for the appellate courts;
- Support Center (Help Desk) services for both appellate and trial courts;
- Develop technology policies, procedures, and standards for the State Courts System; and
- Facilitate access to and support of various computer applications critical to the work of the trial and appellate courts, and access to on-line legal research facilities.
Floridians depend upon a court system that is staffed with highly competent and skilled judges and court personnel. The Office of Court Education provides judges and court personnel with education and training programs that prepare them to administer justice fairly, effectively, and in a professional and competent manner. The office works with judges and court staff from across the state who are actively engaged in education delivery. Judges serve as program leads and faculty for the numerous judicial programs and colleges that are offered throughout the year. Court personnel serve in a similar capacity for education programs geared toward non-judicial staff. Oversight of this comprehensive system is provided by the Florida Court Education Council, a group that is appointed by the Florida Supreme Court and is comprised of representatives from all tiers of court. Major functions and tasks include:
- Planning and conducting comprehensive judicial education offerings to Florida judges and court staff (includes all phases of the development and administration of live and distance programming);
- Creating and updating various publications and bench guides to ensure that judges and court staff have access to materials that are timely and pertinent to their work;
- Serving as staff for the Florida Court Education Council, including various subcommittees and activities, and implementing Council directives;
- Managing the Court Education Trust Fund, including budgeting, record keeping, and processing of travel reimbursement vouchers, purchase orders, invoices; and
- Managing the Continuing Judicial Education system and related reporting requirements.
General Counsel’s Office:
The purpose of the OSCA General Counsel’s office is to address legal issues relating to the administration of the State Courts System (SCS), and to provide legal advice to OSCA, the Florida Supreme Court, and State Courts System. Major functions and tasks include:
- Assisting the State Courts Administrator, as directed, with OSCA administrative functions;
- Reviewing, editing and approving Court Committee and OSCA work products, including Commission
- and Committee reports and recommendations for action by the Supreme Court and/or Chief Justice
- acting in an administrative capacity;
- Conducting presentations, seminars and other meetings on a variety of topics and issues
- relating to the management of the State Courts System;
- Providing legal research, analysis, and advice on administrative matters for the trial and appellate courts;
- Drafting, negotiating, and reviewing contracts and grant agreements for the State Courts System;
- Preparing legal documents, including petitions, responses and memoranda of law, on behalf of the Judicial Branch;
- Overseeing lawsuits and administrative claims brought against courts, judges, and other court personnel;
- Monitoring legislation, preparing fiscal notes and judicial impact statements, drafting abstracts of new legislation,
- acting as liaison between judges and legislative staff, and providing advice on implementation of statutory changes;
- Providing legal support to Supreme Court commissions, committees, and workgroups; and
- Responding to requests for information from the Legislative and Executive branches.
The OSCA Office of Court Improvement provides training and technical assistance related to problem-solving courts and family courts, conducts research and analysis of various court processes, designs data-supported solutions and professional development initiatives for judges and support staff, and aids in the implementation of meaningful reforms to enhance access to justice and promote public trust and confidence in the judicial branch. Current projects include problem-solving courts standards and certification, the Florida Courts Opioid Initiative, DIY Florida, the Florida Drug Court Case Management System, the Florida Dependency Court Information System, dependency court improvement initiatives, delinquency court improvement initiatives, and domestic violence court improvement initiatives.
Major functions and tasks include:
- Recommending process improvement, including operational guidelines and case management procedures, and providing ongoing technical assistance to judges and court staff;
- Monitoring improvements in court case processing to meet the goals of the initiatives;
- Staffing Supreme Court steering committees charged with the responsibility of developing model standards of practice and instituting positive advancements in trial court processes; and
- Outreach, training, and education for judges, court staff, and other court stakeholders.
Dispute Resolution Center
Ensuring that court-related professionals are properly qualified contributes to a process that is fair for litigants, victims, and witnesses, and helps maintain the overall high standards of the Florida justice system. The primary purposes of the OSCA Dispute Resolution Center are to ensure that mediators who provide services that impact on the adjudicatory process have the appropriate qualifications and training; to regulate and discipline certified and court-appointed mediators and qualified and court-appointed parenting coordinators; and to expand the range of dispute resolution options available in Florida. Major functions and tasks include:
- Develop standards/codes of conduct, continuing education requirements, and other rules governing mediators and parenting coordinators;
- Conduct training;
- Certify mediator and parenting coordinator training programs;
- Certify mediators;
- Regulate and discipline certified and court-appointed mediators, including ensuring compliance with standards of practice;
- Publish lists of certified mediators;
- Conduct assessments, including evaluating the effectiveness of mediation programs;
- Provide technical assistance and support to mediation and arbitration programs;
- Staff the Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy, Mediator Qualifications and Discipline Review Board (mediator grievance body), Mediator Ethics Advisory Committee, Mediation Training Review Board, and Parenting Coordinator Review Board; and
- Evaluate the feasibility of expanding mediation to new areas of law.
The OSCA Office of Legislative Affairs serves as liaison between the state courts system and the legislative branch on legislative activities that may impact the judicial system. In addition to the legislative branch, the Office serves as a point of contact for the state courts system when information is requested by the executive branch and other government-related entities. The courts are an independent branch of state government but operate interdependently with the legislative and executive branches to provide optimum government service to the people of Florida. Open lines of communication among the branches allows us to better serve the people.
Resource Planning and Support Services
The purpose of the OSCA Office of Resource Planning and Support Services is to help ensure that the judicial branch has sufficient resources to perform its constitutional functions and sufficient and equitable funding to support those resources. The Office of Resource Planning and Support Services develops and implements resource funding methodologies for allocations, requests, and reductions; prepares revenue forecasting and monitoring, with participation in the Article V Revenue Estimating Conference; and is the liaison support for clerks of the circuit court budgetary and other related issues. Major functions and tasks include:
- Staff support to the Due Process Workgroup, Funding Methodology Committee, and Trial Court Budget Commission;
- Provide assistance to staff of various judicial committees or workgroups as needed, including funding formula, workload and resource analysis support to the Trial Court Performance & Accountability Commission, Court Statistics and Workload Committee, Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy, Court Interpreter Certification Board, County Court Jurisdiction Workgroup, and Commission on District Court of Appeal Performance and Accountability;
- Development and maintenance of funding methodologies (methodologies for the official elements of the State Courts System and ad hoc methodologies, such as cases over the flat fee and resolving civil disputes for allocations and legislative budget requests);
- Development of forecasts for future revenues and trends to be presented at the Article V Revenue Estimating Conference;
- Legislative bill analysis including funding analysis of proposed legislation with a fiscal impact;
- Judicial e-filing resource needs and cost estimates;
- Monitor trends in daily, monthly, and yearly revenues (Projected vs. Actual Revenues);
- Provide staff support to the Judicial Staff Representative Chief Justice Designee to the CCOC Executive Council;
- Tracking potential funding shortfalls and excess;
- Evaluating the impact of economic trends on court system filings and the potential impact to revenues;
- Analysis of fees, fines, and court costs;
- Technical assistance to the circuits;
- Conduct criminal conflict cases over the flat fee payment analysis.
Craig Waters is the director of the Florida Supreme Court’s Public Information Office and a longtime member of The Florida Bar’s Media & Communications Law Committee. Prior to attending law school, he was an award-winning reporter with the Gannett Newspapers based in Tallahassee. Graphic images in this article are courtesy the Florida Supreme Court.
[Revised: August 2020]