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Legislature approves four new judgeships, remote chambers for justices

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Scales of justice-city scapeFor the first time since 2006, the Legislature has approved new trial court judges for the Florida court system, although only one of the new judgeships was for a seat certified as needed by the Supreme Court.

The measure also permanently establishes a practice authorized in last year’s budget that allows Supreme Court justices who reside outside Leon County to maintain remote chambers. Five of the court’s seven justices are or have been authorized to use that provision.

The Supreme Court in December asked for four new circuit judges — one each in the First and 14th circuits and two in the Ninth Circuit — and four new county court judges, all in Hillsborough County. The court also recommended decertifying two county court judgeships in Brevard County and one in Pasco County.

The Legislature approved one new circuit judge each in the Ninth and 12th circuits and one new county judge each in Flagler and Citrus counties. It did not decertify any of the judgeships recommended by the court.

During House consideration of the bill, HB 5011, Rep. Fentrice Driskell, D-Tampa, asked why the legislation did not follow the Supreme Court’s recommendations on new judges, including the four new county judges sought for Hillsborough County.

Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, replied that “the Legislature and the court share constitutionally a dual role in that process [of creating new judgeships].. . . In negotiations with the House and Senate, these four have been put on.”

The new judicial seats become effective July 1.

In Senate debate, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, said the provision allowing remote chambers for Supreme Court justices has been included in annual budget bills but including it in this law will make it permanent rather than a year-to-year authorization.

The authorization was in the 2018-19 budget and again in the proposed 2019-20 budget.

Last July 2, Chief Judge Charles Canady signed an executive order allowing remote chambers for him (Lakeland), Justices Jorge Labarga (West Palm Beach) and Alan Lawson (Orlando), and then-Justices Barbara Pariente (West Palm Beach) and Peggy Quince (Tampa). On March 4, Canady signed another order allowing remote chambers for new Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck (both in Miami).

The bill passed the Senate 36-0 on May 1 and carried the House 108-2 the next day, and was sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who will get to appoint the four new judges if he signs the legislation.

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