Supreme Court orders judicial circuit consolidation study
The Florida Supreme Court has appointed a committee to consider whether a consolidation of the state’s 20 judicial circuits is warranted.
Acting June 30 in Administrative Order No. AOSC23-35, the court created a Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee that will be chaired by Fourth DCA Judge Jonathan D. Gerber.
In a June 15 letter, House Speaker Paul Renner asked the court to consider whether a consolidation of the state’s existing judicial circuits is warranted, noting the current boundaries of the judicial circuits have been in place since 1969, “notwithstanding the significant population and demographic changes of the past 50 years.”
Speaker Renner suggests that consolidation of circuits “might generate substantial cost savings and increase public trust and confidence in the judiciary through greater efficiency and uniformity in the judicial process,” according to the order.
“Without expressing any view on the merits at this time, the Court agrees that the question of whether there is a need to consolidate Florida’s judicial circuits deserves thoughtful consideration and careful study,” Chief Justice Carlos Muñiz wrote. “To that end, and to aid the Court in making its ultimate determination, the Court believes it would be beneficial to appoint an assessment committee as contemplated by rule 2.241.”
The Supreme Court’s specific instructions and charges to the Judicial Circuit Assessment Committee are as follows:
- The committee must limit its findings and recommendations to whether there is a need to consolidate (ie., reduce the number of) Florida’s judicial circuits;
- In making its findings and recommendations, the committee must assume that district court of appeal boundaries will remain unchanged;
- The committee’s findings and recommendations must be governed by the criteria set out in Rule 2.241; and
- Before making its findings and recommendations, the committee must confer with the chief judges and other representatives of the courts, court budget commissions, The Florida Bar, and the public, as required by Rule 2.241, as well as with other justice system entities it deems appropriate.
The Court directed the committee to report its findings and recommendations to the chief justice, through the state courts administrator, by December 1.
Others appointed to the committee include:
- Stacy Butterfield, Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, Polk County
- Judge Keith Carsten of the Ninth Judicial Circuit
- Chief Judge-elect Shawn Crane of the Sixth Judicial Circuit
- Braxton Gillam IV of Jacksonville who serves on the Board of Governors
- Chief Judge Glenn Kelley of the 15th Circuit
- Judge Christopher Kelly of the Seventh Judicial Circuit
- Judge Robert Lee of Broward County
- Laird A. Lile of Naples who serves on the Board of Governors
- Carlos Martinez, the Public Defender for the 11th Circuit
- Chief Judge-elect Diana Moreland of the 12th Circuit
- Melissa W. Nelson, State Attorney for the Fourth Circuit
- Judge Linda Nobles of the First Circuit.
- Judge Margaret Steinbeck of the 20th Circuit
The Office of the State Courts Administrator will provide staff support.
Under Florida Constitution art. V, §9, if the court determines that there is a need to increase, decrease, or redefine judicial circuits, it must certify its findings and recommendations to the Legislature. Florida Rule of General Practice and Judicial Administration 2.241 also sets out detailed factors for the court’s consideration and gives an overarching instruction to “balance the potential impact and disruption caused by changes in judicial circuits…against the need to address circumstances that limit the quality and efficiency of, and public confidence in, the judicial process.” Under the rule, before recommending a change in “judicial structure,” the court must consider “less disruptive adjustments” to judicial branch operations.