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Judge Sasso leads way in establishing the new Sixth District Court of Appeal

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The new court's headquarters will be located in Lakeland and the plan is to have it up and running January 1, 2023

Florida's district court of appealsJudge Meredith L. Sasso is leading the effort to implement the new law creating a Sixth District Court of Appeal that will be housed in Lakeland and realigns the jurisdictional boundaries of the existing First, Second, and Fifth appellate districts.

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7027 on June 2, which authorizes the creation of the first new state appellate court district since the Fifth DCA was created in 1979. The new court is scheduled to begin hearing cases January 1, 2023, and is composed of the Ninth, 10th, and 20th circuits.

The court will be headquartered in Lakeland and assume the Second District court’s facilities there, according to the Office of the State Courts Administrator. The original legislation provided $50 million for the construction of a new courthouse for the Sixth DCA, and DeSantis vetoed that appropriation, but retained other funding and staffing necessary to establish the new court.

In June, then-Chief Justice Charles Canady appointed Judge Sasso the interim chief administrative officer for the Sixth DCA. Sasso, who currently sits on the Fifth DCA, is also chairing the Workgroup on the Implementation of an Additional District Court of Appeal to help ensure all operational, fiscal, and other relevant matters are addressed and the district court of appeal is fully operational by January 1, 2023. (Fla. Admin. Order No. AOSC22-18.)

Judge Meredith L. Sasso

Judge Meredith L. Sasso

Sasso is charged with managing the myriad operational and fiscal components that are necessary to activate and maintain a district court of appeal, including recruiting and hiring employees, overseeing judicial and case management, and the assessment and implementation of technology requirements, among others.

Other members of the workgroup include:

• Fourth DCA Marshall Daniel DiGiacomo

• Fifth DCA Chief Judge Brian D. Lambert

• Second DCA Chief Judge Robert Morris

• First DCA Clerk Kristina Samuels

• Second DCA Judge John K. Stargel

• Fifth DCA Judge Dan Traver

Others appointed by the court to serve as ex officio non-voting members, include:

• Fourth DCA Judge Jonathan D. Gerber, chair of the Legislative Committee of the Florida Conference of District Court of Appeal Judges

• Second DCA Judge Stevan Northcutt, chair of the Appellate Court Technology Committee

• First DCA Judge L. Clayton Roberts, chair of the District Court of Appeal Budget Commission

Charles R. Crawford will serve as acting marshal for the Sixth DCA, according to OSCA. Prior to joining the new court, Crawford served 10 years as marshal for the Fifth DCA. He will be subject to a confirmation vote by the judges of the Sixth DCA in January 2023.

“A constitutional officer, the marshal is responsible for the executive oversight and management of all nonjudicial operations at the court, including security and facility operations, budget and finance, payroll and human resources, public information, administrative records, and computer operations,” OSCA said in a statement. “Recruitment efforts are underway to hire other key staff members for the new court.”

Judge Sasso, who is also a member of The Florida Bar Appellate Court Rules Committee, has retained former State Courts Administrator Lisa Kiel to assist in getting the new DCA up and running.

In addition to creating the Sixth DCA, the new law realigns the boundaries of the First, Second, and Fifth districts. The changes to the appellate districts are also effective January 1, 2023, as follows:

• The First DCA will be composed of the First, Second, Third, Eighth, and 14th circuits.

• The Second DCA will be composed of the Sixth, 12th, and 13th circuits.

• The Fifth DCA will be composed of the Fourth, Fifth, Seventh, and 18th circuits.

• The Sixth DCA will be composed of the Ninth, 10th, and 20th circuits.

“The law provides for the assignment of the existing judges among the affected DCAs based on current residency and authorizes seven new judgeships considering anticipated workload among the districts,” according to OSCA. “Nine judges will serve on the Sixth District Court of Appeal, with one judge transitioning from the Second and five judges transitioning from the Fifth District Court of Appeal.”

The governor will appoint the remaining three judges of the Sixth DCA and will appoint four judges to the realigned Fifth District Court of Appeal. Section 15 of HB 7027 states: “Effective January 1, 2023, a current district court of appeal judge residing in a county, the district of which is realigned under this act, shall be a district court of appeal judge of the new district where he or she resided on December 22, 2021. On January 1, 2023, the Governor shall recommission any judge whose district was modified by the realignment of districts pursuant to this act.”

Efforts to create a new Sixth DCA Judicial Nominating Commission are already underway.

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