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Chief Justice Canady: Courts are making headway in clearing case backlogs

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Pledges a ‘careful, deliberative process’ as the court considers recommendations from two court committees

Chief Justice Charles Canady

Chief Justice Charles Canady

The Supreme Court values its close relationship with the Bar, considers pay raises for trial court judges a top priority, and case management is paying off when it comes to reducing a backlog of cases.

Those are just a few things Chief Justice Charles Canady told the Board of Governors at its January 21 meeting in Tallahassee.

Chief Justice Canady opened his remarks praising the Supreme Court’s collaboration with The Florida Bar and its leaders.

“It is a wonderful relationship,” he said. “It is a relationship where there’s mutual respect, I’m very grateful for the collaboration that we have.”

Referring to the 60-day legislative session that convened January 11, Justice Canady said a 10% pay raise for circuit and county court judges is the Supreme Court’s top priority.

He said he felt “very encouraged” after a conversation with legislative leaders, but he cautioned that “we have a long way to go” before the session ends and lawmakers approve a budget.

“We’ve fallen down among the states in the compensation for trial court judges in a pretty dramatic way over the last 10 to 15 years,” he said. “I think we’ve got a lean system. Our trial court judges work hard, and I think we need to recognize that through appropriate compensation.”

Turning to COVID-19, Canady said a pandemic-related backlog of cases has created an “unprecedented challenge.”

The good news, Chief Justice Canady said, is that a Supreme Court order featuring “some pretty aggressive case management” that he issued in April, AOSC20-23 has resulted in “quite a dramatic reduction.”

Between July and December last year, the backlog in circuit civil fell 36%, and the backlog in county civil fell 26%, Justice Canady said.

“So, I’m very pleased with that,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got more to do.”

The court may take further steps, Canady said.

“I’m looking at how we can replicate the success that we’ve had with circuit civil and county civil, to address the backlogs that exist on those other dockets, and there will be more coming on that,” he said.

Justice Canady said he’s aware that meeting the challenge hasn’t been easy.

“I know that for the trial court judges and trial lawyers who are dealing with this, it’s a stressful time, because there is pressure,” he said. “And I appreciate that, and we’re grateful for the work that’s been done to address these cases.”

Referring to a July rules petition filed by the Supreme Court’s COVID-19 Workgroup, which focuses on remote technology, Canady said it represents an attempt to “potentially incorporate things we’ve learned during the pandemic and the successes we’ve had during the pandemic, the efficiencies that we’ve realized in the processing of cases.”

Oral argument for the rules petition, which has drawn scores of comments, is set for February, Chief Justice Canady said, adding that he was unable to discuss it in further detail.

However, he said proposed amendments to Family Law and Juvenile Court rules related to remote technology were put on a separate track and will soon be posted for public comment.

Canady also referred to numerous changes to Rules of Civil Procedure and Rules of General Practice and Judicial Administration that are being proposed by the Judicial Management Council’s Workgroup on Improved Resolution of Civil Cases.

Second District Court of Appeal Chief Judge Robert Morris, the workgroup chair, called the proposal a “paradigm shift,” when he made a lengthy presentation to the Board of Governors in December.

“Now I know there’s a lot of interest in the subject, there’s a lot of concern about the subject,” Chief Justice Canady said. “The court has directed that those rules proposals be published for comment.”

Canady urged Bar members, rules committees, and any interested members of the public to submit comments.

“We understand the magnitude of some of those proposals, and it is important that we have full input and deliberate fully as we consider those proposals,” he said.

Chief Justice Canady also pledged a “careful, deliberative process” as the justices weigh the recommendations of the Supreme Court’s Special Committee to Improve the Delivery of Legal Services.

In a December 29 letter to Canady on behalf of the board, Bar President Mike Tanner wrote that special committee proposals to test allowing nonlawyer ownership in law firms, fee splitting with nonlawyers, and broadly expanding the work paralegals could perform “would be so profoundly transformative of the practice of law in Florida that they should not be allowed, even on a test basis, without clear and compelling empirical data that they will help solve access to justice in a meaningful way with little or no risk to the public.”

Canady said he appreciated the Bar’s concerns.

“I want to tell you, that whatever happens coming out of that report, if anything, will only happen after there’s full collaboration with the board, and full opportunity for input from the members of the Bar and the public,” he said.

Justice Canady said the collaboration between the Supreme Court and the Bar underscores their shared mission.

“Of course, all of us are here to serve the people of Florida,” he said. “That’s what’s it’s all about. I believe our profession does a good job of serving the people.”

Tanner said he agreed.

“It is very important to us that we have that interaction with you, we value our relationship and our communication with the court very much,” he said.

In other action, the board:

• The board accepted proposed amendments to Bar Rule 3-5.2 that would put in place procedures to emergency suspend lawyers facing felony charges in state or federal court.

• The board declined to adopt a Disciplinary Procedure Committee proposal to amend Bar Rule 3-7.2 that would have required Florida Bar members who enter a diversion program for any reason, or who receive a censure or reprimand in another state, to notify The Florida Bar.

• Learned from Board Technology Committee Chair Paige Greenlee that a much-anticipated Florida Bar Tech Support Helpline should be operational February 1. The service, promoted primarily to solo and small-firm members, proved popular in a Beta test.

• Approved a Rules Committee proposal to amend Bar Rule 1-3.5 (Retirement). The proposed amendments would require retired lawyers to affirmatively state their retired status when they indicate Florida Bar membership and prohibit retied lawyers from holding themselves out as able to practice Florida law unless they are certified as emeritus lawyers. The Supreme Court will have the final say.

• Heard COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery Task Force Co-Chair Sia Baker-Barnes report that panel is making significant progress on its review of the potential for a fully automated, remote platform for the resolution of small-value civil claims. Task force members have surveyed Bar members and are meeting with platform providers, she said.

• Previewed a Florida Bar Foundation video promoting the group’s “One Promise” campaign that connects volunteer lawyers with Pro Bono Matters training, resources, and support to assist low-income Floridians with legal issues. The video featured testimonials from President Michael Tanner, former Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince, and other prominent lawyers and judges.

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