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Florida Supreme Court sees no need for circuit consolidation

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Supreme CourtCiting the results of a panel’s extensive review, the Florida Supreme Court is recommending that the Legislature not consolidate judicial circuits.

“Based on the committee’s findings and recommendations and our own independent judgment, we do not find that there is a need to consolidate Florida’s judicial circuits,” Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz wrote in the unanimous December 21 ruling, In Re: Judicial Circuit Assessment, No. SC2023-1708.

After the Florida Supreme Court released its opinion, Florida House Speaker Paul Renner’s office released this statement:

“The Speaker put forward a thoughtful and timely request to review how our courts are structured hoping to find economies of scale to better serve Floridians. We appreciate and accept the Supreme Court’s opinion and thank the committee for their diligent work in presenting their recommendation. We do not intend to bring any legislation forward this year regarding circuit court consolidation.”

The ruling refers to the 14-member Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee, chaired by Fourth District Court of Appeal Judge Jonathan Gerber, that Muñiz formed shortly after receiving a June 15 letter from Renner. Renner noted that Florida’s 20 judicial circuits haven’t been adjusted since 1969 despite significant population changes. He suggested that consolidating circuits might lead to “greater efficiencies and uniformity in the judicial process,” and enhance public trust and confidence.

The ruling notes that the process is governed by Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.241.

“Rule 2.241 contemplates that the Court will recommend changes only when adverse circumstances present a ‘compelling need’ for change or when the judicial process would be ‘improved significantly’ by a change…Indeed, the rule advises the Court consider ‘less disruptive adjustments’ before finding that a change in circuits is needed.”

During its five-month mission, the Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee met nine times, conducted public hearings, surveyed practitioners and the public, and evaluated “qualitative and quantitative data” about Florida’s trial court operations before making a unanimous finding that “no need for consolidation” exists, the ruling notes.

“Informed by the work of a subcommittee that studied the potential fiscal impact of consolidation, the full committee concluded that consolidation was unlikely to save money in the trial court system,” the ruling states. “In addition, extensive public input led the committee to conclude that consolidation would not enhance public trust and confidence in the judicial process.”

The committee identified a need for the trial court system to achieve greater uniformity in technology and court processes, but the issues would not be addressed by consolidation, the ruling notes.

“For example, consolidation would not directly affect county-level variations in technology. The committee also noted that reforms intended to promote greater uniformity and transparency in trial court practices are already underway,” the ruling states.

Justices thanked the assessment committee for its hard work and “thorough and thoughtful report,” and “every court system user or member of the public who submitted comments or information to the committee.”

“Finally, we appreciate the Legislature’s interest in and support for the court system. What we learned through this process will undoubtedly help us better serve the people of our state.”

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