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Point of View: Crucial support for backbone of Florida court, justice system

President of The Florida Bar Columns

Photo of Michelle SuskauerFacing an increasing number of key vacancies in critical positions and a growing disparity between starting salaries offered by Florida’s court system and comparable private sector employers, the Florida Legislature wisely agreed to a $10.3 million appropriation for the state’s judicial branch to address these issues.

In addition to these much-needed funds, the Legislature provided critical pay increases for certain assistant state attorneys, assistant public defenders, assistant regional conflict and regional counsel, Guardian ad Litem attorneys and elections commission attorneys. The Legislature also approved four new trial court judges for our state’s increasingly busy courts.

The Legislature made the right decision to slow, if not stop altogether, the migration of court employees leaving for higher-paying positions in local or state government or the private sector. And, hopefully, the Legislature’s action will provide much-needed relief to longtime workers who have been forced to seek secondary employment just to provide for their families.

As part of the overall $91.1 billion proposed state budget, the court system funds will not be used for an across-the-board pay increase; instead, they will be strategically allocated to target specific recruitment and retention issues that the system is currently experiencing. Court services like foreign language interpreters, chief technology officers, digital court reporters and trial law clerks are among the critical functions that will be addressed.

Likewise, additional funds for certain government attorneys will slow turnover and enhance recruitment while rewarding these dedicated public servants in the third branch.

The Legislature’s decisions are more than a show of good faith to these dedicated men and women, they also ensure that Florida’s justice system functions properly and efficiently.

These allocations demonstrate that our elected leaders appreciate this important business tenet: to recruit and retain the best, most qualified people, you must show them that they matter.

Now, the final decision to direct these critical resources to Florida’s courts and justice system partners moves to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has long stated his desire to have an efficient state that serves all its citizens well.

I’m confident that our governor will send the right message to Floridians, especially the hard-working justice system professionals, that we need a strong and efficient court system by approving these allocations as part of the overall budget.