With jury trials still a ways off, is settlement an option?
“Settle your cases.”
That’s the advice 19th Circuit Chief Judge Lawrence Mirman gave those Zooming in to President Dori Foster-Morales’ recent Virtual Town Hall meeting.
Mirman said civil litigators are fooling themselves if they believe when the pandemic subsides and the courthouse doors swing open there will be extra senior judge time or additional resources available to move the backlog of cases that have been building for the past five months.
“The reality is, on the administrative side, we are hoping just to have what we had before,” Chief Judge Mirman said.
He said COVID-19’s financial impact on the state budget will be in the billions and that will trickle down to the courts.
A late July Revenue Estimating Conference report showed that collections for so-called “Article V” fees during the 2019-2020 fiscal year were already $48.3 million below a December estimate. The brunt of the reduction is already being felt by Florida’s court clerks, who depend on the revenue to fund their daily operations and are facing furloughs and workforce reductions.
Mirman said the courts may not even “see the same level of efficiency we saw before” the pandemic.
“The Legislature has been very good to us, but we have to understand the stress that they are under,” Mirman said. “I think they will do everything they can to help us but. . . . ”
Foster-Morales asked if judges are conducting more case management conferences and doing other things like setting discovery deadlines to keep cases moving even though there are no firm trial dates.
Chief Judge Mirman said he has instructed the judges in his circuit to order repeated mediations.
“I want to commend the lawyers because I have actually seen them settle cases that I thought would never settle,” Mirman said. “I’m inferring from that that maybe the litigants kind of had a moment of conscience…and see this case for what it really is and make a case go away. I know that sounds kind of Pollyannaish, but I think it has actually happened.”