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Second Circuit would lose exclusive jurisdiction over some state cases under proposed bill

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Suits challenging the constitutionality of state laws would be heard in any circuit across Florida instead of exclusively in the Second Circuit under a bill that passed the Senate Judiciary Committee April 1.

The bill provides that a case challenging the constitutionality of a law or naming a statewide official as a defendant which now must originate in the Second Circuit (some types of cases can now be filed in other circuits) could be transferred away from the Second Circuit by mutual agreement of the parties or by the clerk of the Supreme Court, who would randomly assign cases to other circuits.

“Right now any action brought [against the state] originates in the Second Circuit solely because of the location of the Capitol,” said Sen. Kelly Stargel, R-Lakeland, sponsor of SB 1630. “That began in 1948, before we had. . . easy access across the state. This [bill] allows the venue at random to go across all of the circuits to allow more . . .  input from the entire state on issues that are important to the state.”

Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-Miami, opposed the bill.

“I understand to some extent there might be some consternation that only those in [the Second] Circuit could serve [in such cases] and rule on constitutional challenges. But our system is designed to have uniformity and predictability and this change seems to be too sweeping a change,” he said.

Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Lady Lake, said the present system gives the Second Circuit outsized influence on matters of statewide importance, adding, “I think this is an excellent improvement to the fairness and distribution of the system.. . . I think it’s a great improvement to justice being blind.”

The bill passed 4-2 with Rodriguez and Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, voting no.

With the session half over, it must still clear the Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and the Appropriations Committee, and no companion legislation has yet been filed in the House.

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