Are there enough mediators for higher threshold county courts?
Florida Bar members should not be concerned that an impending restructuring of Florida’s trial courts — designed to shift more civil cases from circuit to county courts — may create a shortage of county certified civil mediators.
A closer look at procedural rules should ease concerns, says Susan C. Marvin, chief of alternative dispute resolution for the Florida Dispute Resolution Center, an arm of the Office of State Courts Administrator.
“You are not the first person to contact us with this question,” Marvin said. “There seems to be a lack of information about what the state court rules of procedure currently say.”
For the first time since 1992, Florida lawmakers agreed earlier this year to revise the “amount in controversy” threshold that determines whether a civil lawsuit is filed in county or circuit court.
Beginning January 1, the threshold rises from $15,000 to $30,000. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, described it as a “quiet restructuring” that will make county courts “much more relevant on the civil side.”
State court administrators have been working for the past year to prepare for the change, which comes after months of deliberation by a working group of appellate, circuit and county court judges, and other stakeholders appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.
The working group identified a few potential challenges, including a lack of jury rooms in some satellite court facilities. But working group members concluded that more creative scheduling by chief judges could solve the problem, if it becomes necessary.
Court administrators say it is difficult to accurately predict how many more cases will flow to county courts because filings aren’t tracked by the amount in controversy. The legislation calls for a follow up report.
Recently, “a handful” of people contacted Marvin’s office to express concern that there might not be enough county court-certified civil mediators to meet the new demand.
But Marvin said 1.720 (j) of the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, “Appointment of Mediator,” does not require the use of county court-certified civil mediator in county court cases.
“The only rule that specifies a subject-matter type [of certified mediator] is the appellate rule,” Marvin said.
According to the latest statistics, there were 5,621 individuals certified as mediators in Florida in July.
Of that figure, 3,126 were certified circuit mediators, and 2,014 were certified county mediators.
Certified family mediators, (2,257), certified appellate mediators, (455), and certified dependency mediators, (230), made up the rest.
Marvin said it’s possible that administrative orders in some of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits could require the use of county court certified mediators in county court cases, but she is not aware of any.
“I guess I would say if the trial court circuits have AOs that specify county, they may want to look at that,” Marvin said. “That would be an easy fix, I think.”