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Canady: ‘Our courts and other institutions of government are strong and resilient’

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Chief Justice Charles Canady

Chief Justice Charles Canady

Courts and other governmental institutions have faced unprecedented strains but have withstood the stresses, underscoring the importance of an independent judicial branch, according to Chief Justice Charles Canady.

Delivering his annual state of the judiciary commentary at the Supreme Court Historical Society’s annual (and this year virtual) Supreme Evening event January 28, Canady also said a Judicial Learning Center is planned to reinvigorate the court’s library.

Canady talked about how the courts are handling the coronavirus pandemic, something he discussed with legislative committees in previous days and with the Bar Board of Governors on January 29.

Canady said courts have been a bulwark against mob rule by upholding the rule of law.

“In recent days, we have all been given reasons to be proud of the performance of courts all around our country,” Chief Justice Canady said. “Relying on reason and facts, courts apply the rule of law without fear or favor. The stark truth is in the absence of a strong and independent system of courts, the rule of law would die and our nation would soon succumb to the rule of mobs.

“All of us can be grateful that our courts and other institutions of government are strong and resilient. But we can never forget that none of the institutions are unbreakable. Their long-term viability cannot be sustained without the support and commitment of a people educated in the ways of liberty and constitutional government.”

The chief justice concluded to society members, “Thank you for what you do in educating the people of Florida about the role of our court in our system of constitutional government.”

Improving that education is part of the goal of upgrading the court library.

In addition to supporting the library’s research role, “We plan later this year to move onto a second topic of study as we investigate ways to create a Judicial Learning Center inside the present library,” Canady reported.

A consultant from the National Center for State Courts is working with the court.

“There are many uses this learning center can serve, including educational outreach, and learning programs that draw on the court’s long and rich history,” he said.

Because of the overlap with the society’s mission, it will be involved with the center’s development and Canady said the NCSC consultant already has talked with many society members. He added more details will be released as the study progresses.

The COVID-19 pandemic will produce lasting changes in Florida’s court system but in-person proceedings “will remain central to the work of our courts,” Canady said.

The Supreme Court and the district courts of appeal have been able to keep business at near normal levels using online hearings during the pandemic, he said. While county and circuit courts have continued to work with largely remote proceedings, limits on jury trials have created a significant number of pending cases.

“Due to the constraints of the pandemic, we have been able to conduct only a very small number of trials,” Canady said. “As we all know, although most cases never proceed to trial, many cases will not be resolved until there is the imminent prospect of a trial. So, cases are stacking up in our trial courts unresolved.”

When trials can resume, judges will face “a backlog of unprecedented magnitude” that will be “a monumental undertaking” to address, he said. The court is working with legislative leaders for the resources to address that backlog.

Canady told the House Judiciary Committee meeting two days before the society event the trial courts had held more than 400,000 video hearings and other proceedings and will dispose of 2.8 million cases this year. Delayed proceedings, delayed filings, and cases prompted by the public health emergency and related economic conditions mean there are still projected there would be an extra 1.1 million cases by July 1, more than would otherwise be pending except for the pandemic.

The courts have found, Canady said at the society event, that remote proceedings have helped to reduce the cost and burdens of litigation.

“Going forward, I believe we can improve the responsiveness, accessibility, and efficiency of the courts through the appropriate use of these means,” he said. “Traditional, in-person proceedings will of course remain central to the work of our courts.”

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