Canady lays out path for courts’ return to normalcy
'And I am pleased to report that — after 15 very long months of laboring under severe constraints — all of our courts are now moving back to normal operations'
Despite resolving more than three million cases since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown virtually all jury trials, there will remain more than one million unresolved cases in Florida above what would normally be expected as of July 1, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.
And while jury trials are resuming, the courts will continue to rely on remote proceedings to help address the backlog, Canady said as he delivered the annual State of the Judiciary address June 11 during the Bar Convention’s General Assembly.
“I am pleased to report that the state of Florida’s judiciary is strong,” Canady said. “And I am pleased to report that — after 15 very long months of laboring under severe constraints — all of our courts are now moving back to normal operations.
“Our courts — like Florida’s lawyers — have been through an extraordinarily challenging time during the pandemic. But despite the arduous circumstances of the last 15 months, judges and lawyers throughout Florida have continued the work of justice,” he said.
Through that work, 3.1 million cases have been handled since the pandemic.
“This was possible because Florida’s judges and lawyers quickly adapted to the use of the technology for remote proceedings,” Canady said. “Even with our best efforts, however, a serious backlog of cases has developed in our trial courts. We currently project that on July 1 Florida’s trial courts will have pending about 1.1 million more cases than we would expect in normal times.”
The backlog will be addressed by working with circuit chief judges on case management strategies and using resources in a special legislative appropriation, the chief justice said, but it will still take time.
“And it will, of course, require not only the application of intense judicial labor and staff support, but also the cooperation and energetic engagement of the lawyers with cases pending on our trial court dockets,” Canady said.
“Returning to conducting jury trials on a scale that matches or hopefully exceeds pre-pandemic levels is obviously the key to working our way out of the backlog,” he continued. “We know that in addition to the cases that ultimately will need to be tried, many more cases will only be resolved through settlement when the imminent prospect of a trial looms. As we ramp up jury trial proceedings, we necessarily will give priority to criminal cases. We are keenly aware of the critical importance of moving forward with the speedy resolution of pending criminal cases.”
And while in-person jury trials return with an end to masking and social distancing, other pandemic changes — especially remote proceedings — will remain, he said.
“Although I know that most of us are looking forward to less Zoom in our lives — I know I am — we recognize that remote proceedings can continue to play an important role in ensuring that we serve litigants in the most efficient and cost-effective way possible. The exact scope of that role needs to be thought through carefully,” Canady said. “With input from the Bar’s rules committees and other interested parties, the Supreme Court will soon be considering a range of rules proposals to regularize measures regarding remote court proceedings. It is important that we strike the right balance between in-person proceedings and remote proceedings to ensure that we serve the people of Florida effectively and fairly.”
The chief justice added, “I am grateful to all the people in the court system who responded so well to the difficulties of the pandemic. I applaud the judges, court staff, justice system partners, and lawyers all across the state who quickly pivoted to the use of remote proceedings. Making that transition and implementing the other measures necessary to protect the health of participants in court proceedings presented a multitude of administrative issues.”
Canady particularly praised circuit chief judges, the Workgroup on the Continuity of Court Operations chaired by Ninth Circuit Judge Lisa Munyon, the Office of the State Courts Administrator under Lisa Kiel, and Bar leaders for working to meet and overcome pandemic obstacles. He noted the continuity workgroup was originally scheduled to end in July 2020, but has continued as the pandemic and its related problems multiplied.
He also thanked his fellow court justices calling them all good friends and adding a personal note on the pandemic’s impact — the two newest justices, John Couriel and Jamie Grosshans, have yet to sit on the dais in the Supreme Court to hear an in-person oral argument.
Speaking of President Dori Foster-Morales, he said, “She has truly been a champion for Florida’s lawyers throughout her term as president…. I do not know of anyone who would have been better suited to skillfully navigating the Bar through the unprecedented days of the last year. Dori, President-elect [Michael] Tanner, the whole Board of Governors, and the Bar staff under the able direction of [Executive Director] Josh Doyle all worked diligently to keep the work of the Bar moving forward and to keep Florida’s lawyers connected.”
Canady concluded: “As lawyers and judges we all have the great privilege of bringing equal justice under law to the people of the amazing, wonderfully diverse state of Florida. Best wishes to you all as we carry on the mission of justice and move forward into the post-pandemic world. I am confident that The Florida Bar has an outstanding year ahead under the leadership of Mike Tanner.”