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Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel glitch bills refiled

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Candice K. Brower

Candice K. Brower

Florida’s five Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsels are again pushing legislation to address various legal glitches and ensure their attorneys are treated the same as assistant public defenders and assistant state attorneys.

Candice Brower, the CCCRC for the area covered by the First District Court of Appeal, said this year’s bills are close to last year’s effort to address several minor issues that have lingered since the CCCRC system was created in 2007. The CCCRC’s are charged with representing indigents in criminal cases when the circuit public defender has a conflict and representing indigent parents when the state seeks to terminate their parental rights, among other duties.

“Just like last year, it eliminates confusion on our function and purpose,” Brower said. “It allows us to continue to do what we were created to do.”

The bills address a number of matters such as guaranteeing that CCCRC attorneys have the same access to courthouses and court records as public defenders and state attorneys; that their addresses and other personal information are similarly protected; that CCCRC’s have the same authority as state attorneys and public defenders on witness coordination in cases; that CCCRC attorneys have access to confidential Chapter 39 records similar to guardians ad litem, probation officers, and law enforcement; and that CCCRC investigators have the same death benefits as investigators for public defenders, state attorneys, and law enforcement.

“Most people already treat us the same, giving us courthouse access the same and record access the same, but there really isn’t any statutory basis. Some people don’t understand what a regional counsel is,” Brower said. “It highlights who we are just in case there’s any confusion.”

There are also a couple other provisions in the bills. One tweaks the way CCCRCs are appointed. Current law has the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission as well as the current CCCRC make nominations. The bills would remove the CCCRC from that role, but also require the JNC to renominate an incumbent CCCRC if he or she seeks reappointment. The JNC also could nominate up to three other candidates. The governor would continue to make the final choice.

In addition, the bills remove the CCCRCs pay plans from direct oversight of the Justice Administrative Commission, but would continue to mandate they follow state policies and that the plans be reviewed by the Senate president and speaker of the House.

“It wouldn’t change our pay plans, it would allow us to change it if we needed to without having to wait until [the JAC] convenes and go through the process,” Brower said, adding the CCCRCs would then follow the same process as Capital Collateral Regional Counsels.

There was broad support for the bill last year, she said, but they got lost amidst other legislative priorities. She’s hopeful this year will have a better outcome.

The CCCRC bill has been introduced by Rep. Patt Maney, R-Ft. Walton Beach, as HB 383 in the House and by Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, who introduced SB 596 in the Senate.

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