Measure to protect judicial assistants’ privacy falls short
A bill to keep personal information about judicial assistants confidential — similar to the protections afforded judges and law enforcement personnel among others — passed the Florida Senate but fell short in the House.
SB 746 got a 40-0 vote in the upper chamber on April 26 and was sent to the House. It was not acted on when the session ended on May 4.
Sponsor Sen. Tom Wright, R-Port Orange, said judicial assistants serve as intermediaries for their judicial bosses, since judges can’t have ex parte communications with litigants. Judicial assistants do scheduling and other contacts with parties and lawyers and that can make assistants the focus of their ire.
Wright said he had a list of at least 24 instances where judicial assistants had been threatened or otherwise improperly contacted by parties unhappy with their cases.
According to a staff analysis of the bill, “[S]everal trial court judicial assistants have reported that attorneys, litigants, or a litigant’s family members have held the judicial assistant responsible for an adverse decision made by the judge. These judicial assistants reported instances of a litigant or litigant’s family members showing up at the judicial assistant’s home, contacting the judicial assistant on his or her personal cell phone, making threats against the judicial assistant, or naming the judicial assistant in a civil law suit.”
The bill would have made confidential a judicial assistant’s and family members’ addresses, dates of birth, and telephone numbers, along with the family members’ places of employment.
While the legislation sailed through the Senate, its House counterpart, HB 635, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, R-Deland, passed the Civil Justice Subcommittee 15-0 but was not taken up by its other two committees of reference and so never reached the House floor.