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Second DCA courthouse, 15 new judges, COVID funds in final appropriations compromise

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Florida courtsFifty million dollars for a new Second District Court of Appeal courthouse, funds for 15 new judgeships, and money to help the courts cope with the expected surge of post-COVID-19 pandemic cases are in the final budget pending the governor’s signature.

The final 2021-22 fiscal year budget hit lawmakers’ desks around noon on April 27, starting the 72-hour waiting period before it can be finally passed on April 30, the scheduled last day of the session.

The budget funds 10 new judgeships approved by the Legislature last year but were left unfunded when Gov. Ron DeSantis cut the budget because of the pandemic. It funds three judgeships requested by the court last December and two county judgeships not requested by the court.

The budget has $9.5 million for the court system’s pandemic recovery plan; the Supreme Court had requested $12.4 million.

State Courts Administrator Lisa Kiel said the money is appreciated.

“Even as judges have worked hard through the public health emergency, we’ve got a significant pandemic-generated caseload to address as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. Funding for the Trial Courts Pandemic Recovery Plan will be an essential component of a resumption of normal levels of activity in the trial courts. We appreciate the work of lawmakers to make these resources available,” she said.

“Also critical to the trial courts is the funding for additional judgeships, based on the Supreme Court’s last two judicial certification opinions,” Kiel added. “We understood the governor’s veto of the funding for judgeships last year in a time of great uncertainty. But we are very pleased to have the judges requested by the court authorized in the budget.”

All told, the Legislature funded two new circuit judges in the 14th Circuit, two in the Ninth Circuit, and one in the First Circuit. Six new county judgeships were paid for in Hillsborough County and one each in Orange, Lee, St. Johns, and Citrus counties.

The Supreme Court for several years has requested, as one of its top priorities, funds for a new Second DCA courthouse. The court now occupies rented quarters in Tampa after mold and other problems forced the closure of its main courthouse in Lakeland.

Another big ticket item in the new budget addresses a requested $4.7 million for an appellate court case management system. The final budget contains the full amount.

Other specific new appropriations include:

• $737,500 for improvements to the Nassau County Courthouse Annex.

• $350,000 for improvements to the DeSoto County Courthouse.

• $250,000 for early childhood courts.

• $88,000 for the Ft. Lauderdale Community Court.

• $250,000 for the Seminole County Drug Court.

• $124,680 for online dispute resolution.

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