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Courts could still run short of funds

Senior Editor Regular News

Courts could still run short of funds

Senior Editor

Chief Justice Canady Despite a $54 million loan to begin the 2011-12 fiscal year, Florida courts still face the prospect of running out of money because foreclosure filings are lagging behind predictions, according to Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady.

Canady addressed the Bar Board of Governors at its July 29 meeting in Palm Beach and said the court will continue to need support from the Bar on legislative issues, particularly on budget matters.

Two years ago, the Legislature created an operating trust fund for the court system, funding it with higher filing fees, particularly on foreclosures. Foreclosure filings eventually became more than 50 percent of the state courts system’s funding.

But in the wake of allegations about forged documents and poorly prepared paperwork, the number of foreclosure filings nationally and in Florida plunged late last year, turning what had been expected to be a surplus in the court operating trust fund into a deficit. The courts needed a $28.5 million loan from other state funds in order to complete the 2010-11 fiscal year without a shutdown of courts.

Recognizing that foreclosure filings remained relatively low, Canady said the Legislature approved a $54 million loan to help the courts through the start of the 2011-12 fiscal year. However, the state’s revenue estimating conference projected that foreclosure filings would pick up later this year, enabling the courts to complete the year without additional borrowing.

“The challenges go on, and we face another shortfall in our budget this year,” Canady told the board. “We have seen a slight uptick in foreclosure filings. If that continues, it still will not be enough to produce the revenues that have been estimated by the revenue estimating conference, so we will again find ourselves in a shortfall.”

The chief justice said he’s setting up meetings with appropriations chairs in the House and Senate and with Gov. Rick Scott’s office to work on a plan for additional loans.

“This is an intolerable situation for our branch and we’ve got to, in the next session of the Legislature, get to the point that. . . we have a funding arrangement that is reliable,” Canady said. “I could understand if the whole government was facing a precipitous decline in revenue that we would be part of the mix, and we would have to suffer like everyone else. But this is not intended to operate this way.. . . It happens our branch is bearing uncertainty in a way that really no one else in government is.

“I believe we have an understanding in the Legislature this is a problem and. . . the governor, he understands this issue,” the chief justice continued. “We’re going to be working diligently to get this resolved, to get us through this fiscal year but then come up with a permanent fix beyond that. We’re going to need your support as we continue this process. We’re grateful for the support you provided [in the spring legislative session], and I know we can count on your support for the future to get a permanent solution.”

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