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Bill to shield judicial assistants’ personal information clear first hurdle

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Sen. Tom Wright

Sen. Tom Wright

Another attempt to exempt the personal identifying information of judicial assistants from public records laws is moving through the Florida Legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-1 on January 17 to approve SB 50 by Sen. Tom Wright, R-Port Orange. HB 75, a companion by Rep. David Smith, R-Winter Springs, has yet to be heard.

The measures are designed to restrict access to information that can identify or locate current and former judicial assistants and their spouses and children, Wright told the committee.

Judicial assistants interact daily with “defendants and plaintiffs,” because the judges they serve can only communicate with parties in open court, Wright said. Many judicial assistants have received threats from dissatisfied litigants, he said.

“We’ve had situations where our judicial assistants’ children have been approached on the school yard,” he said. “I’m sure that’s quite scary for those judicial assistants who are just trying to do their jobs.”

The measure would grant judicial assistants the same protection that Florida law already gives to judges, justices, and other public officials, Wright argued.

A staff analysis determined that as of December 2022, there were 1,022 judicial assistants in Florida. The figure includes 335 serving county court judges, 606 serving circuit court judges, 71 serving district court of appeal judges, and 10 serving Supreme Court justices.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said she agreed that judicial assistants deserve protection, but she said she was concerned that the bill as written was “overly broad.”

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee will weigh HB 75, the companion measure, on January 26.

The 60-day legislative session begins March 7.

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